HADRIAN’S Wall was built by the Romans to fend off warring northern tribes – but today the valuable icon could face being vulnerable to damage of a different kind.

Stretching 73 miles from coast to coast, Hadrian’s Wall has become a tourism hotspot. But now this UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of our ancient treasures, is under threat because of a delay to a new heritage payments scheme for farmers.

And this delay has led to the National Trust warning that monuments, including Hadrian’s Wall, are being put at risk.

The accusation by the Trust, claiming that the Government were ‘downplaying the importance of heritage’, came as a number of events were announced this week for a historic festival to mark the anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall.

A year of exhibitions, plays, crafts, talks and walks is underway to celebrate the 1900th birthday of Hadrian’s Wall.

Organisers have already planned more than 50 events which aim to transport participants back to the year 122AD – when the wall’s construction began under the Roman Emperor Hadrian (for more information on these visit 1900.hadrianswallcountry.co.uk).

News and Star: Solway Hadrian's Wall festival Solway Hadrian's Wall festival

And as historians were getting ready to celebrate 1,900 years of Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site taking place a little-known section of the Wall running between Tarraby and Houghton, was unveiled last weekend.

The new fragment of Hadrian’s Wall lies in a 23-acre field purchased in November 2020 by well-respected farmer, Susan Aglionby, who pledged the land would remain in the family and would never be built on.

“There will never be 200 little houses built in this field,” she vowed.

The land is adjacent to Susan’s Farm, a Care Farm, a registered education charity, undertaking education for all ages and caring for some of the most vulnerable in the local community.

“This is very exciting for us,” added Susan. Educational visitors to the farm will have an opportunity to study the layers of history represented in this fragment named by David Breeze as the “disappearing ditch”, together with the regenerative farming that has begun to be practised on the field, already divided into five, to allow for rotational grazing.

News and Star: Unveiling of new information panels detailing a little known section of the Roman Wall that runs between Tarraby and Houghton. 2022.Unveiling of new information panels detailing a little known section of the Roman Wall that runs between Tarraby and Houghton. 2022.

The farm has been organic since 2003 and accredited “Pasture for Life” for the last two years.

Interpretation boards were unveiled by Professor David Breeze, an expert on the Roman Wall and Warren Allison, the president of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society.

Professor Breeze told a watching crowd of invited guests that he had first became aware of the site of archaeological importance a year ago.

He said: “It was from someone I had never heard of and they told me they had just bought this field and it had a piece of Hadrian’s Wall on it.

"We believe a Medieval droveway ran along the top of the upcast mound adjacent to the ditch and line of the Wall.

"Some of the fragments of the hedges which formerly lined it are still visible. It was probably used to drive animals from farms to towns and villages.”

Payments to reward farmers for looking after the environment on their land are also supposed to compensate them for preserving Britain’s historic monuments and archaeology, but Ingrid Samuel, Director of Historic Environment at the National Trusts said: “December’s announcement sees nature as a side show, and an optional one at that, but it also risks erasing or damaging history.

"Farmers need a clear message to manage land in ways that lock in care and accessibility of our historic landscapes alongside work to address the nature and climate crises.”

The first phase of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) launched in November with the Government set to reward farmers for keeping their soil covered in winter and reducing runoff from their land to reduce water pollution.

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The SFI is part of plans to phase out EU-era subsidies by 2024, with a move towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices instead of blanket payments based on land ownership.

But plans to include dry stone walls, traditional farm buildings and burial sites have been pushed to the back of the queue.

Dr Julia Aglionby, executive director of the Foundation for Common, and trustee of Susan’s Farm, described the move to push back the payment date as ‘very shortsighted’.

“The Trust are correct. Farmers want to do the right thing, but they want to be paid to maintain our heritage, otherwise ancient monuments, like Hadrian’s Wall, will be at risk with land they are on becoming overgrown and scrubbed up.

"Putting these payments back to 2025, there is no guarantee there will be money in the budget then for maintenance.”

Ms Samuel added: “The historic features in our countryside, from stone walls to ancient monuments, are a really important part of what makes rural landscapes special for everyone who visits, lives or works in them. Farmers are often the guardians of this shared heritage.

"We are therefore disappointed that the scheme unveiled [just before Christmas] does nothing to allay our fears that the Government is downplaying the importance of heritage and the need to help farmers care for the historic features on their land.

"To push back the early introduction of the planned ‘heritage standard’ to 2025 shows Defra hasn’t grasped how natural and cultural heritage is so intertwined in the farmed landscape.

“More concerning is that there is only a requirement to protect against damage to historic features in the current plans. This would miss a unique opportunity to enhance the rich and distinctive heritage of our countryside while providing wider public benefit.”

Despite being relegated to a ‘second tier’ priority within the old England Rural Development Programme (covering existing agri-environment schemes like Environmental Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship), heritage funding has been popular with farmers, and it has been a success story, keeping many vulnerable monuments from at risk status.

Agricultural activity poses one of the greatest threats to Britain’s historical sites. Several parts of Hadrian’s Wall are in an unsatisfactory condition, according to the Heritage at Risk register compiled by Historic England.

The 73-mile long construction dating back around 2,000 years to the days of the Roman Empire is at risk from arable ploughing, as well as damage by sightseers at the popular Unesco world heritage site.

Other vulnerable landmarks include ancient burial sites, Romans villas and the remains of medieval forts.