UCL News


House of Lords committee says UK cultural heritage under threat

16 November 2006

A House of Lords report published today warns that the UK's cultural heritage is under threat as the knowledge and skills required to preserve physical artefacts are being lost.

In 'Science and Heritage', the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee argues that unless the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and other leading heritage bodies take the issue seriously, the UK will lose its reputation as a leader in the science of conservation, and there may be irreversible damage to works of art, rare books and historical buildings.

Professor May Cassar, Director of the UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage, served as a Specialist Adviser to the committee throughout its deliberations, and UCL President and Provost Professor Malcolm Grant gave written and oral evidence at the inquiry. In his submission, he described conservation science as an area that is potentially rich with multidisciplinary opportunity appropriate to an institution such as UCL, but where strategy and funding are both elusive.

The report points out that, while the DCMS has focused on widening access to cultural heritage, this has also hastened its deterioration. The committee calls for the Government's policy on sustainability to be applied to the heritage sector - in other words, recognising that future generations have an equal right of access. This requires that conservation, based on sound science, be given a higher priority.

The committee also calls on those in the heritage sector - museums, universities, charities, libraries, and others - to work together to develop a broad-based, national strategy for heritage science.

Commenting, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, Chairman of the Committee, said: "Britain was for a long time at the forefront of conservation techniques. This reputation was built in the mid twentieth century with the development of science-based conservation at the National Gallery and British Museum. However this key conservation research is now undervalued in Britain, in particular by DCMS, at the same time as our priceless cultural artefacts face not just the familiar threats of wear and tear, but new threats such as climate change."

Professor May Cassar runs an MSc in Sustainable Heritage, which attracts conservators, architects, archaeologists, surveyors and curators from around the world. It is accredited by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and supported by the National Trust and English Heritage.

To read the full committee report or to find out more about the UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage, follow the links below.