Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Watching brief, groundwork monitoring

In practice, archaeological watching briefs are formal programmes of observation and investigation conducted during operations carried out for non-archaeological reasons, where there is a possibility that it may impact on archaeology. The programme will result in the preparation of a report and ordered archive.

The purpose of a watching brief is:

  • to allow, within the resources available, the preservation by record of archaeological deposits, the presence and nature of which could not be established (or established with sufficient accuracy) in advance of development or other potentially disruptive works.
  • to provide an opportunity, if needed, for the watching archaeologist to signal to all interested parties, before the destruction of the material in question, that an archaeological find has been made for which the resources allocated to the watching brief itself are not sufficient to support treatment to a satisfactory and proper standard.

A watching brief is not intended to reduce the requirement for excavation or preservation of known or inferred deposits, and it is intended to guide, not replace, any requirement for contingent excavation or preservation of possible deposits.

A watching brief may arise:

  • in response to a development which threatens the archaeological resource;
  • as part of the planning process (as outlined in the National Planning Policy Framework);
  • as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • outside the planning process (e.g. ecclesiastical development, coastal erosion, agriculture, forestry, and countryside management, works by, or on behalf of, public utilities and statutory bodies)

A watching brief may therefore be instigated or commissioned by a number of different individuals or organisations, including local planning authorities, national advisory bodies, government agencies, private landowners, developers or their agents.


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