Cash for divers recovering artefacts


London wreck team with gun carriage. (Picture: Historic England)

New funding is to be provided to save artefacts at risk of being lost unless urgently recovered from protected shipwrecks by divers in England.


Ever since the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, volunteer scuba divers have worked to record and monitor nationally important shipwreck sites, 54 of which are currently protected under the legislation.

Now Historic England (HE), MSDS Marine and the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) have embarked on a pilot project using a £13,000 grant from the Aurelius and Headley Trusts, plus additional HE support.

Recovery of material from wreck-sites is allowed only under an HE licence issued on behalf of the government, while the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage dictates that this can be brought to the surface only if conservation funding is in place, and a receiving museum has been secured.

“For many years now budgets have been so tight that sometimes delicate wreck material at risk of loss has had to be left on the seabed,” says NAS CEO Mark Beattie-Edwards, adding that the new funding means that “groups trying to save our heritage will not need to raise the funds themselves”.

The funding will be made available to wreck licensees for the rest of 2021 and next year and will be used to increase capacity at the HE Maritime Conservation Facility in Portsmouth. Recoveries must be agreed in advance with HE.

HE says that maritime archaeology has the potential to reach new audiences around the country. It cites the example of Southend Museum, which in 2018 saw 14,000 people visit an exhibition dedicated to artefacts recovered from the 17th-century London protected wreck in the Thames Estuary. HE had funded the excavation by Cotswold Archaeology, which incorporated the licensee dive team.

*****  The NAS has announced that Peter Green, CEO at business engagement group National Maritime, has joined its board of trustees. “We’re looking forward to his fresh pair of eyes and thinking in our work as well as his experience of dealing with coastal and estuarine enterprises,” said the society’s CEO Mark Beattie Edwards.


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