HS2 Historic Environment Strategy collaboration

John Halsted, HS2 Ltd

The HS2 Historic Environment Research and Delivery Strategy (HERDS) is currently being applied across the route of HS2 Phase 1 in advance of construction of the new high-speed railway. As a response to the scale of the scheme extending over 200km in length, and the need to maximise public benefit, a strategy was devised which placed the emphasis on a series of research objectives. Those objectives were formulated through a resource assessment for the route, collating existing historic environment data and placing that within a broader regional and national context.  In addition, existing regional and national research agendas were consulted. To provide a focus to the many and varied research priorities set out in the exiting research agendas, it was apparent that if objectives were going to form the focus of historic environment works it would be necessary to refine key priorities for research. Along with those academic research priorities it was recognised that themes should also be developed for community engagement and the development of skills in the sector.

A series of workshops were, therefore, set up which included representatives from higher education institutions reflecting a broad variety of specialisms both period-based and methodological. It is important to stress that all academic consultees kindly volunteered their time to attend workshops and discuss research priorities. The key priorities from those workshops were then taken forward and developed into over 50 Specific Objectives within the HERDS document. The themes for those objectives ranged across all recognised archaeological periods from the Palaeolithic through to the 20th century, including archaeology, geo-archaeology and built heritage and included both route-wide and more locally specific questions. Importantly, specific community engagement objectives were also built into the strategy and focussed upon themes such as landscape change, exploring cultural identities and sharing stories along with inspiring the next generation. 

During the implementation of the historic environment strategy, and during the planning phases for fieldwork which are an integral part of a large-scale infrastructure scheme, follow -up workshops have also been held to refine the approach to specific methodologies such as investigating and identifying Palaeolithic deposits and considering the origin and development of open field systems during the early medieval and medieval periods.  These have formed part of a series of more regular round tables and consultations between the historic environment teams working on the route, and Historic England, which have aimed to discuss the application of the objectives established in the HERDS document, during fieldwork practice.

Engagement with communities has included both themed talks both to local societies but also within venues aimed at engaging a broader audience participation, school engagement programmes, student placements, participation in archival research and the recording of monumental structures at St James Gardens, Euston as well as hands-on sessions looking at architectural remains and artefacts at St Mary’s, Buckinghamshire.  

One interesting development, clearly accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has been the development of webinars which have enabled not only the sharing of visual resources, but which have enabled virtual site tours including the use of aerial UAVs as well as live on the ground broadcasts. This has arguably enabled us to reach broader audiences and has facilitated virtual access to sites which may otherwise have been difficult in a construction environment. The historic environment programme and community engagement are currently ongoing, and the research and engagement themes established through collaboration with the higher education sector are informing those works, which will combine to form the legacy for historic environment forHS2 Phase 1. 

Find out more about HERDS: