Project Profile

Project Title :

Otterburn Conditions Management Survey

Client :

Defence Estates

Type of Work :

Heritage Management Survey

Project Gallery 

Barrow, Otterburn Ranges   Ruined farmstead  
Lime kilns   Bunker  
Pillbox   Tank  


Conditions Survey of Otterburn Military Training Camp

Protecting the Past

Otterburn military training camp opened in 1911, partly in response to the new demands of mechanised warfare which was to change the face of modern combat forever. Since opening, hundreds of men and women have slogged across the 90 square miles of breathtaking but harsh Northumberland upland, in training for virtually all of the major conflicts of the last 100 years. Evidence of their endeavours can be seen across the landscape from First World War practice trenches to nuclear bunkers, abandoned tanks and countless shell holes. However, these form just a small percentage of the vast range of archaeological and historical sites found scattered across the Otterburn estate, making it one of the most significant multi-period landscapes in the country.

Managing this unique landscape is a constant challenge for Defence Estates who must balance issues of conservation with the requirements of the military and the 31 tenant farmers who work the estate. To help inform a long term strategy for the management of Otterburn's heritage assets, NAA was commissioned to undertake a conditions survey of all the recorded archaeological sites across the range. This was a major undertaking, involving the location and assessment of 803 heritage assets across some 23,085 hectares of high moorland. The nature of these assets ranged from burial cairns, settlement sites, field systems, Roman roads and marching camps to shielings, bastles, farmsteads, limekilns, coal workings, and even contraband whisky stills.

In advance of the survey, all the sites were plotted onto modern maps and a GIS built for the project. This was loaded onto hand-held palm computers enabling details of condition, land use and potential threats and issues, to be entered on site during the field survey. Two field teams were then sent out to find and assess each of the sites. This took some considerable time, obviously having to fit works around the military training schedule which always took priority, and saw the two teams working in some extreme weather conditions. Working on a live firing range, safety was of paramount importance throughout the project and a strict H & S policy was agreed and operated with the MOD.

Of the 803 sites recorded, 30 were excluded from the survey for various reasons, largely isolated findspots or documentary references; any ambiguous sites were always checked in the field. A further 169 sites (21%) were searched for in the field but not located, leaving a total of 604 sites surveyed and assessed. The location of each site was carefully recorded with a six figure grid reference using a GPS, they were then photographed, recorded and assessed. In general, despite the volatile nature of the range, the vast majority of Otterburn's heritage assets (65%) were considered to be of low vulnerability. Of those recorded as being of high or medium risk, the main cause for concern was the result of agricultural rather than military practices. During the survey a further 38 new sites were also identified.

At the end of the project an illustrated report was produced summarising any conditions issues and making recommendations for long term preservation and management of the historic environment on the estate. Accompanying the report was a gazetteer of all the recorded sites which included a photograph of each heritage asset and summary of condition and vulnerability. The GIS data was also updated and used to produce a series of maps identifying each site across the project area according to high, medium and low risk, as well as good to poor condition. This information has since proved invaluable for both the general day-to-day management of the estate and the formation of a long-term conservation strategy, as well as micro-management on a site by site basis helping ensure that any available resources are directed to where they will have the greatest impact.