4x4 Vehicles Damage the Historic Landscape of the Mendip Hills Aonb

Illegal off-roading by 4x4 vehicles on one of England's most special places, the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), has caused substantial damage to the historic landscape at the Charterhouse lead works in Blackmoor Reserve, near Blagdon, Somerset.

English Heritage staff have discovered deep ruts and surface erosion to delicate surfaces forming part of the former lead and silver mining complex, which is protected both as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Scheduled Monument.

The damage has been reported to Avon and Somerset Police who are investigating this serious case of heritage crime. Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 it is a criminal offence to cause damage to a Scheduled Monument.

The site, owned by Somerset County Council, is in the centre of the Mendip Hills AONB.  Andy Mallender, Project Development Officer for the AONB said: "There is mounting concern about the damage being caused to the protected Mendip Hills landscape by an irresponsible minority of off-road drivers. They are damaging valuable wildlife and heritage sites and putting other people's safety at risk.

"We aim to assist the police in tackling this problem and encourage anyone who believes vehicles or motorcycles are using public rights of way or open country illegally to report it to the police using the 101 telephone number."

Mark Harrison, Policing and Crime Advisor of English Heritage said: "Damage to rural archaeological monuments from irresponsible or uninformed off-road driving is a serious issue and can often result in major damage and disturbance to sites. Wheeled traffic, whether bikes or off-road vehicles, can quickly erode historic earthworks and can cause very substantial harm to irreplaceable heritage sites.

"I'm sure the vast majority of off-road drivers would be appalled to realise that their activities may have damaged an important archaeological site. It is very difficult to find those responsible for this kind of damage and we call on local people to be vigilant in reporting any such activity they may encounter."

Hugh Beamish, Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage said: "We hope by highlighting the damage caused that it will discourage others from carrying out the same mindless act. Heritage crime erases history, defaces the landscape, threatens the viability of churches, defiles the memory of our war heroes and melts away our great art and artefacts."

Heritage crime such as this is defined as 'any offence which harms the value of England's heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations'. It includes offences such as architectural and metal theft, illegal metal detecting, graffiti, and vehicle nuisance. English Heritage, the Police (through the Association of Chief Police Officers), and the Crown Prosecution Service are currently spearheading a national programme to tackle Heritage Crime.