Exmoor National Mapping Programme


The usefulness of aerial photographs for mapping archaeology was demonstrated as early as the 1920s. However it took until the 1960s for this tool to be fully recognised and the 1980s for a fully fledged methodology to be developed. This took the form of the National Mapping Programme (NMP), methodology developed in 1992 by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) to exploit the potential aerial photographs have for studying buried archaeological remains. Since the merger of the Royal Commission and English Heritage in 1999 the programme has been carried out or funded by English Heritage and latterly by Historic England.

The Exmoor NMP project is one of a number of surveys carried out as part of this ongoing programme. Descriptions of all past and present NMP surveys can be found on the Historic England Recent Research pages.

Exmoor National Mapping Programme

Viewing aerial photographs with a stereoscope

The Exmoor NMP survey was designed to provide the Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record (ENPHER) with contextual landscape data to inform the management of the historic environment of Exmoor, and  to provide the ENPHER with high quality graphical and interpretive baseline data, to enhance the Countryside Archaeology Advisor’s (CAA) advice in response to agricultural land-management proposals.

Work began in March 2007 and was completed in July 2009. During this time more than 10,000 aerial photographs were examined. Historic environment information identified on the aerial photographs was interpreted, mapped to a consistent standard in a digital geographical information system (GIS) and recorded in the English Heritage National Monument Record database. Over 2200 previously unrecorded archaeological features were identified and nearly 600 further records were enhanced. This data has now been transferred to the Exmoor National Park HER where it will form an important element in the development of Exmoor’s HER, improve the quality of the data available to the Historic Environment Service for day-to-day management, and be available to the public for research.

The Archaeology of Hill Farming on Exmoor- front cover

Key outcomes of the survey include improvements in our understanding of the extent of Second World War activity on Exmoor and developing our knowledge of the previously little-studied area of medieval and post-medieval reclamation on the moors and surrounding parishes. The results of each NMP survey are disseminated by a variety of means. In this instance, key elements will be summarised in these NMP web pages whilst a more detailed account is available in the publications Exmoor National Park National Mapping Programme: Management and Summary Report and The Archaeology of Hill Farming on Exmoor, the latter of which is available from National Park Centres or Historic England's online shop.

The future of NMP

Priority for future NMP surveys will be given to projects in areas where the NMP methodology will have greatest benefit or where there is the greatest threat of change to the historic environment. NMP is likely to have greatest benefit in those areas where we know the existing record of the historic environment is inadequate, or where arable farming is most damaging to buried remains. NMP will also be particularly valuable in landscapes that have seen considerable archaeological aerial reconnaissance, but where the results have not been analysed and in those areas where the results of NMP can feed directly into management plans, for instance the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty.

The long term aim remains to complete the analysis and mapping of archaeological information on aerial photographs for the whole of England, but this will take many years.

Cain Hegarty

Further Reading

Barber, M. 2011. 'A History of Aerial Photography and Archaeology: Mata Hari’s Glass Eye and other stories'. English Heritage.

Bewley, R, 2001. 'Understanding England’s Historic Landscapes: An Aerial Perspective'. Landscapes 2, 74 – 84

SEM8115 Hegarty, C. and Toms, K. 2009. 'Exmoor National Park NMP: Management and Summary Report'.  Exmoor National Park Authority.

Horne, P. (forthcoming). 'The English Heritage National Mapping Programme'.

RCHME. 1960. 'A matter of time: An archaeological survey of the river gravels of England prepared by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England)'. H.M.S.O.

Historic England's Recent Research pages