The Chilterns has been influenced by thousands of years of human activity, leaving traces that tell rich and historic stories.
The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is an ancient landscape with traces of bygone eras and previous settlers still visible today. The area is rich in Bronze Age barrows and field systems, Iron Age hillforts, medieval churches and deer enclosures, 18th-century sawpits, and 20th-century military trenches. Historic towns and villages stand out, with buildings and churches in characteristic flint, brick, and timber materials. While parish and private records, folk memory, and artefacts attest to the relatively recent lives, work, culture, customs, beliefs and politics of locals. All of these things create layers of evidence for human activity and settlement that provide a timeline for the evolution of the landscape and help define what is special about the Chilterns.
In the AONB there are:
- Listing Buildings: 47 Grade I; 2,2026 Grade II; 116 Grade II*; and 2 Grade II* at risk
- 94 Conservation Areas
- 113 Scheduled Monuments
- 8 Scheduled Monuments at risk
- 19 Registered Parks and Gardens (4% of the area of the AONB)
Image: Church of St Mary Magdalene, Flaunden, copyright Nigel Cox (Creative Commons Licence).
Developments can lead to the destruction of sites of national importance and the alteration of the character, cultural heritage and spirit of the Chilterns AONB. For example, the construction of HS2 will erase a section of Grim’s Ditch, a Scheduled Monument. Unsympathetic design choices, inappropriate locations for development, unsuitable materials, and lack of knowledge and time in the planning process are all risks to the historic environment of the Chilterns.
Changes in land management:
The decline of traditional agriculture and industry has led to changes in land and woodland management, and the funding given to farmers for protecting heritage assets is uncertain.
Sites and landscapes left unprotected:
While designated assets, such as Listed Buildings, Registered Parks and Gardens, and Scheduled Monuments are protected, their wider setting, which is often integral to their character, is not. The approach to designation takes a site-specific, rather than landscape-scale, approach. Also, the majority of known archaeological sites are ‘undesignated heritage assets’, so lack any statutory protection at all.
The condition of the Chilterns’ designated assets (Listed Buildings, Registered Parks and Gardens, and Scheduled Monuments) has remained largely stable in the recent past. This is due to statutory protections and proactive management from owners. Only two Listed Buildings are designated ‘At Risk’ by Historic England, along with eight Scheduled Monuments.
Lack of understanding and engagement:
The heritage of the Chilterns is less well recognised and understood than other protected landscapes, making its protection and presentation much more difficult. Limited resources are also a problem for many agencies involved in tourism and heritage promotion.
Ensuring a future for our past
A ‘voice for archaeology’ in the Chilterns AONB, ensuring that the millennia-long story of the region is shared with the millions who live in and visit.
The Chilterns Heritage and Archaeology Partnership (CHAP) is an exciting new initiative being launched by the CCB this November. CHAP will be a driving force in the conservation and sustainable management of archaeological assets in the Chilterns, working in partnership with organisations and communities throughout the region for lasting, positive change. The story of our interconnectedness with nature will be shared, and opportunities for diverse Chilterns’ communities to participate in the discovery of the past will be created. We aim to better understand the present, and plan for the future.