National Heritage Science Strategy

The National Heritage Science Strategy (NHSS) provides a road map for heritage science research in the UK. We work to raise the profile of the NHSS with funders and researchers, to support its delivery and to address gaps in heritage science research.

Refreshing the National Heritage Science Strategy

In 2010 the National Heritage Science Strategy (NHSS) was produced to address the report of the 2006 House of Lords Science and Technology inquiry into Science and Heritage. The inquiry found that the sector was fragmented and under-valued and recommended that the “heritage sector should come together in developing a broad-based national strategy for heritage science”.

Seven years have passed since the strategy was published and it is time to take stock of what the sector has achieved, what has yet to be done, and what new opportunities and challenges will arise.

There have been significant changes in the environment in which heritage science operates, not least, political and funding structures. Key drivers for a refresh of the strategy include:

  • The establishment of UK Research and Innovation, and associated changes within the Research Councils
  • The government’s Industrial Strategy and the need to be explicit about the role of heritage science in economic growth, research and innovation, skills development, and the country’s productivity.
  • Brexit and the potential impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on access to skills and expertise, collaborative research, funding, infrastructure and goods and materials.
  • The publication by the UK Government of the Culture White Paper and the Digital Strategy.
  • The publication of the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) heritage strategy.
  • The launch of the European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science, and the UK hub.

During 2017, the National Heritage Science Forum is encouraging the sector to review the objectives of the 2010 strategy and to present the sector’s goals in a way that more clearly aligns to wider national initiatives.

For 2018-2023 it is proposed that heritage science positions itself within the broader UK heritage industry, and that the strategy is framed around four areas for strategic outcomes. These are:

Research and innovation - A physical and digital infrastructure that ensures the UK's world-leading heritage science research and innovation takes place across the UK. Mechanisms that support the growth of specialist interdisciplinary research, together with accessible funding streams.

Economic benefit - Improved innovation and commercial exploitation of research as a result of academia, heritage and industry working together more effectively. Improvements to the translation of research into practice so that it is accessible to both large organisations and SMEs.

Skills and knowledge development - Opportunities to develop heritage science skils and knowledge from school age onwards, resulting in a multi-skilled and diverse volunteer and workforce.

Wellbeing - Better use of heritage science's unique position at the intersection of the sciences, arts and humanities to create opportunities for more people to be involved in an increasingly diverse range of interactions with heritage to improve physical and mental wellbeing, and social cohesion.

NHSF is seeking input on how academia, heritage and industry can work together to achieve these outcomes. The Forum is working through its member organisations, workshops and other engagement activities to develop the refreshed Strategy.


Background: the 2010 strategy

The 2010 strategy identifies eight themes for action under two main objectives:
  • Demonstrating the public benefit of heritage science; increasing public engagement and support for it:

1. Increasing public benefit, by developing better ways to understand, demonstrate and measure the economic and social benefit of heritage and heritage science.
2. Developing policy - aligning heritage science work with wider national priorties, and addressing the internal gaps in knowledge and practice identified in the three NHSS reports (see below)
3. Public engagement and support, through the development of public activities and a renewed focus on championing public access, enjoyment, understanding and support for heritage science.

  • Improving partnership within the sector and with others by increasing collaboration to help practice make better use of research, knowledge and innovation, and to enhance resources, funding and skills:

4. Improving understanding of cultural heritage through collaborations and the development of new and better investigative methods
5. Improving preservation of the historic environment and conservation practice, identifying sustainable measures such as low energy methods of environmental control
6. Using resources better, through partnerships, collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and skills
7. Building future capacity, by encouraging the use of heritage science in schools and promoting opportunities for study.
8. Strengthening links with other sectors such as universities and industry

Read the 2010 National Heritage Science Strategy

Report 1: The role of science in the management of the UK's heritage
The document defines heritage sub-sectors used in the report series. It identifies typical materials and contexts within which they are found, summarises principal decay mechanisms, their monitoring and management. It addresses gaps in knowledge and practice, highlighting a lack of detailed information on rates of deterioration and thresholds at which damage occurs.

Report 2: The use of science to enhance our understanding of the past
Reviews the main drivers for, and types of, scientific investigation of cultural heritage. The report considers the frequency of use of techniques and areas for improvement for each sub-sector. It concludes that investigation should be driven by focused research questions (rather than by available equipment), that results should further public understanding and engagement with cultural heritage, and that there is a disparity in the quantity of output between and within the heritage sub-sectors.

Report 3: Understanding capacity in the heritage sector
Provides an overview of who heritage scientists are, how many they are, where they work across field sub-sectors. It investigates areas lacking people to provide for current needs, and considers training routes into heritage science and current funding. The report recommends finding better ways of measuring and demonstrating benefits from budget allocations.

The Forum is delivering the National Heritage Science Strategy by:

Sharing information and resources

  • Sharing research priorities to improve collaboration, build research partnerships and stimulate new and better approaches to understanding cultural heritage
  • Publishing information on funding for heritage science
  • Sharing information on, and access to, technical equipment
  • Sharing information on jobs, research opportunities and internships

Raising the profile of heritage science

  • Coordinating policy responses on behalf of the heritage science domain
  • Building public engagement and support by creating opportunities to engage with heritage science research and heritage scientists
  • Developing ways to understand, demonstrate and measure the economic and social benefit of our heritage and of heritage science

Building capacity for heritage science

  • Promoting training, skills development and research opportunities
  • Mapping demographic trends in heritage science employment to ease the transition from training to career
  • Creating opportunities to work with schools to spark the interest of the researchers of the future
  • Strengthening links with other sectors to enhance resources and skills for heritage science
  • Reviewing the funding of heritage science research to identify gaps in knowledge and skills