Last edited 10 Jun 2021

Heritage definition

Heritage is a term often used when referring to conservation and the historic built environment. But what does it actually mean?

English Heritage (now Historic England), in Conservation Principles (2008) provided this definition:

All inherited resources which people value for reasons beyond mere utility.

Providing more detail, ICOMOS, in the International Cultural Tourism Charter (2002), stated that:

Heritage is a broad concept and includes the natural as well as the cultural environment. It encompasses landscapes, historic places, sites and built environments, as well as bio-diversity, collections, past and continuing cultural practices, knowledge and living experiences. It records and expresses the long processes of historic development, forming the essence of diverse national, regional, indigenous and local identities and is an integral part of modern life. It is a social dynamic reference point and positive instrument for growth and change.

The particular heritage and collective memory of each locality or community is irreplaceable and an important foundation for development, both now and into the future.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines a heritage asset as:

A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having a degree of significance meriting consideration in planning decisions, because of its heritage interest. Heritage asset includes designated heritage assets and assets identified by the local planning authority (including local listing).

The HS2 London-West Midlands Environmental Statement, published by the Department for Transport in November 2013, suggests that:

Built heritage is; '...a structure or building of historic value. These structures are visible above ground level.'
Buried heritage is; '...a heritage asset beneath ground level, which may include earthworks.'

Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance, For the sustainable management of the historic environment, Published by Historic England in 2008, defines heritage as: ‘All inherited resources which people value for reasons beyond mere utility.’

It defines cultural heritage as: ‘Inherited assets which people identify and value as a reflection and expression of their evolving knowledge, beliefs and traditions, and of their understanding of the beliefs and traditions of others.’

And natural heritage as: ‘Inherited habitats, species, ecosystems, geology and landforms, including those in and under water, to which people attach value.’

A Guide To Climate Change Impacts, On Scotland’s Historic Environment, published by Historic Environment Scotland in October 2019, defines intangible cultural heritage as: ‘traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.’

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