Glossary of conservation terms

A glossary explaining the terms used in building and archaeology conservation and designation. For example during a planning application involving a listed building or scheduled monument; when going through the listing or scheduling process; applying for archaeological licences; creating a Design and Access Statement or Heritage Impact Assessment.

This glossary’ includes some of the terms you might come across when working with local councils or the Historic Environment Division (HED) in Northern Ireland on conservation projects and consents.



Work intended to change the function or appearance or part thereof a heritage asset.

Archaeological evaluation

A limited archaeological investigation to understand the nature and extent of below-ground archaeological remains within a site.

Archaeological impact assessment 

A largely desk-based exercise, incorporating the results of a site walkover survey and other specialist surveys as required to identify the potential impacts of a development proposal upon archaeological assets, and upon potential new archaeological sites and features. It assesses the significance of assets, the magnitude of impact of development, and recommends mitigation. May also be referred to as Heritage Impact Assessment.

Archaeological licence

A licence is required under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995 to search for archaeological objects or to carry out an archaeological excavation in Northern Ireland. It is an offence to undertake a search for archaeological objects in absence of an archaeological licence.

Archaeological monitoring

A formal programme of observation, investigation and recording of any archaeological remains which may be encountered during the initial phases of a development, for example topsoil stripping or site preparation works. Also known as a Watching Brief.

Archaeological planning conditions

Conditions which are attached to planning approvals which must be met to allow the proposal to be acceptable to applicable archaeological planning policies.  See also Historic Environment Advice and Guidance in the Planning Process.

Archaeological programme of works (POW)

A written document prepared by an archaeological consultant which describes archaeological works to be undertaken at a site. For planning conditions it must set out a detailed archaeological mitigation strategy specific to the archaeological potential of the site and to the nature of the development. It is also used for associated excavation licence applications. Also referred to as a Written Scheme, Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI), or Method Statement.


Those characteristics that most truthfully reflect and embody the cultural heritage interests of a heritage asset.



The process of managing change to a heritage asset in its setting in ways that will best sustain its heritage values, while recognising opportunities to reveal or reinforce those values for present and future generations.

Conservation area

An area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance, designated under the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 Section 104.

Conservation management plan

A strategic document that defines what is significant about an individual heritage asset or historic place, establishes management principles and informs the approach to future work.


Any relationship between a heritage asset and its setting, including other places and its past, relevant to the values of that heritage asset.


See also ‘The List

  • Listing Criteria:
    The key criteria for listing are architectural interest and historic interest. A building can be listed for either criteria but in most cases it will have both. The overall test is that this interest must be considered ‘special’.
  • Non-Statutory Criteria for Scheduling Monuments:
    These criteria are used for assessing the importance of a monument and considering whether scheduling is appropriate. The criteria should not be regarded as definitive, but rather as indicators which contribute to a wider judgement based on the individual circumstances.

See the document Criteria for the Scheduling of Historic Monuments and the Listing of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, with associated procedures.


The law provides that buildings and other structures that pre-date 1st October 1973 and are within the curtilage of a listed building are to be treated as part of the listed building. It is therefore important to assess the extent of the curtilage of a listed building prior to carrying out any works including alteration.  For listing maps and clarification about curtilage, contact the Historic Environment Division listing queries inbox  – quoting the HB (Historic Building) reference number.


Design and access statement

A single document that explains the design thinking behind a planning application. It provides a framework for applicants to explain and to justify how a proposed development is a suitable response to the site and its setting.

Designated heritage asset

A World Heritage Site, State Care Monument, Scheduled Monument, Area of Significant Archaeological Interest, Listed Building, Conservation Area, Area of Townscape/Village Character, Local Landscape Policy Area or Protected Wreck Site.


The recognition of particular heritage interest(s) of a heritage asset by giving it formal status under legislation or policy intended to sustain its significance.


Removing a building from 'The List'.


See also below ‘Permitted Development’. Definitions for Development are set out in the document:  Development management Practice Note 03 – Meaning of Development and the Requirement for Planning Permission on the following page:


Environmental impact assessment

A comprehensive multi-discipline study to identify the full range of potential environmental effects of a development proposal. Also known as an Environmental Statement (ES) or EIA.


The act of assessing current evidence against established criteria to determine whether a heritage asset meets the relevant test for protection – see also criteria for listing and scheduling.


The process of archaeological investigation of remains involving a programme of controlled, intrusive fieldwork with defined research objectives which examines, records and interprets archaeological deposits, features and structures.



The material substance of which places are formed, including geology, archaeological deposits, structures and buildings, construction materials, decorative details and finishes and planted or managed flora.


Geophysical survey    

A non-intrusive method of assessing below-ground archaeological potential using a number of methodologies including ground penetrating radar (GPR), resistivity and magnetometry.



Change for the worse, here primarily referring to the effect of inappropriate interventions on the heritage interest of a heritage asset.


All inherited resources which people value for reasons beyond mere utility.

Heritage asset              

A building, monument, site, place, area or landscape identified as having cultural significance.

Heritage, built

Built Heritage is a collective term for heritage assets of local, regional or international significance because of their heritage value(s).

Heritage, cultural        

Inherited assets which people identify and value as a reflection and expression of their evolving knowledge, beliefs and traditions, and of their understanding of the beliefs and traditions of others.

Historic environment                                                        

All aspects of the environment resulting from the interaction between people and places through time, including all surviving physical remains of past human activity, whether visible, buried or submerged, and deliberately planted or managed flora.


The Historic Environment Record of Northern Ireland (HERoNI), holds information on all elements of Northern Ireland's historic environment in the form of databases, written records, maps, photographic, drawn and digital material.



May refer to Visual Impact, an impact upon visual aspects of the setting of a heritage asset, or to Physical Impact, a direct impact upon the physical remains of the asset.             


A measure to the wholeness and intactness of a heritage asset and the survival and condition of those elements that contribute to their significance.


Any action which has a physical effect on the fabric or appreciation of a place.


(The) List                   

Listed Buildings are those designated through listing as being of ‘special architectural or historic interest’ under Section 80 of the Planning Act (NI) 2011.

Section 80—(1) The Department—

(a )shall compile lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest; and

(b) may amend any list so compiled. ‘The List’ is a register of those buildings.  See The ‘List of Buildings’

Listed building          

A listed ‘building’ can be any man-made three dimensional structure which is on ‘The List’ – it might be anything from a pump to a cathedral.  This term is defined in The Planning Act (NI) 2011 Section 80(7). In this Act ‘listed building’ means a building which is for the time being included in a list compiled under this section; and, for the purposes of the provisions of this Act relating to listed buildings, the following shall be treated as part of the building-         

(a) any object or structure within the curtilage of the building and fixed to the building

(b) any object or structure within the curtilage of the building which, although not fixed to the building, forms part of the land and has done so since before 1st October 1973

Listed building consent (LBC)   

Section 85 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 provides for the control of any works via written consent for partial demolition, demolition, alteration (exterior and interior) or extension of listed buildings, including their fixtures, fitting and curtilage [Hyperlink to curtilage above]. Development Management Practice Note 05: Historic Environment gives a fuller definition of Listed Building Consent. Permitted development rights do not remove the requirement to seek and obtain LBC for works to a listed building.


The term used to describe how buildings (see ‘listed buildings’ definition above) become added to ‘The List’.  Known also as ‘The Listing Process’.

Listing query                

From time to time a member of the public may contact HED with a ‘Listing Query’ if they believe that a building should be listed. If the building is not within the geographical area currently being Second Surveyed and has not been evaluated previously, or if new evidence is presented to Historic Environment Division which demonstrates that the building may be of special architectural and historic interest, the building may be surveyed and considered for listing.



Routine work regularly necessary to keep the fabric of a place, including its setting, in good order.

See also Repair and Maintenance of Listed Buildings and Advice for Monument Owners.

Marine archaeological licencing       

Construction or deposition works below the Mean High Water Spring Tide (MHWST) may be subject to archaeological marine licensing under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 if it is deemed that the site comprises the remains of any vessel, aircraft or marine structure which is of historic or archaeological interest.  See also Marine Historic Environment.

Metal detecting          

Using a detecting device to search for metal objects. An archaeological licence is required to excavate in search of archaeological objects in Northern Ireland.


The process whereby the impacts of development upon archaeology can be avoided, minimised or offset. It may include preservation in-situ of remains or full archaeological excavation. Also referred to as Mitigation Strategy.


Permitted development  

Permitted development rights are defined in the Schedule attached to The Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015. Permitted Development rights do not apply to listed buildings nor do they apply to development within the curtilage of a listed building.


Can refer to anything which happens after an archaeological excavation, including specialist analysis, archive preparation, report production and publication.


To keep safe from harm.

Preservation in-situ   

The retention of an archaeological site in its original location.


The quality of being appropriately related to something else in size, degree, or other measurable characteristics.


Of or concerning the people as a whole.



Comprehensive dismantling and replacement of an element of a place, in the case of structures normally reincorporating sound elements.


Work beyond the scope of maintenance, to remedy defects caused by decay, damage or use, including minor adaptation to achieve a sustainable outcome, but not involving restoration or alteration.


To return a heritage asset to a known earlier state, on the basis of compelling evidence, without conjecture.


Capable of being removed so that the previous state is restored without loss of historic fabric. Here primarily referring to the effect of inappropriate interventions on the heritage interest of a heritage asset.


Scheduled monument

An archaeological site which has been scheduled for protection under Article 3 of The Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. It is an offence to undertake works within a scheduled area without Scheduled Monument Consent.

Scheduled Monument Consent (SMC)

Must be granted by Historic Environment Division for any works within the scheduled area of a scheduled monument. See also Historic Environment Division Scheduled Monument Consent.


A first step exercise to determine whether an asset should be further investigated and considered for survey, evaluation and statutory protection. Scoping may involve an initial map and archive search and a site visit to determine next steps. An outcome of scoping may be a recommendation that an asset should undergo a full survey which then includes fieldwork and in-depth historical research to inform a determination on its statutory protection.


The immediate and extended environment that is part of - and contributes to – the significance and distinctive character of a heritage asset, and through which a heritage asset is understood, seen, experienced and enjoyed. See also Guidance on Setting and the Historic Environment


The value of a heritage asset to past, present and future generations because of the sum of its embodied heritage interests. Those interests may be archaeological, architectural, historic or others. Significance also derives from its setting.

Statement of significance

A succinct objective analysis of significance and the contribution of setting, describing what matters and why, in terms of heritage significance


The term ‘survey’ is used to describe both the overall ‘Survey’ of historic buildings in Northern Ireland (see below) and fieldwork ‘surveys’ for individual building or archaeological sites which look for physical evidence to support listing or scheduling.

Survey (First)                

The protection of buildings of special architectural or historic interest started in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.

The first addition to ‘The List’ was the former Railway Station, Portrush in 1974. This followed the loss of some significant buildings and structures because of an increase in redevelopment in the 1960s. The First Survey took around twenty years to complete.

Survey (Second)          

The Second Survey of historic buildings in Northern Ireland started in 1997. This survey is the systematic means by which Department to update ‘The List’. Fieldwork survey and historical research are carried out by HED architects and historians. The Second Survey team are authorised by the Department for Communities to enter any land or building for the purposes of amending the List as described in Section 80 of the Planning Act (NI) 2011.


Maintain, treasure and affirm significance.


Capable of meeting present needs without compromising ability to meet future needs.



Open to public scrutiny.


Treasure is defined in Treasure Act 1996. Any item which falls under the definition contained in this act must be reported to the coroner within 14 days after the day on which it was found, or identified as treasure. Non-disclosure of treasure is an offence under the treasure act. See also Advice for finders of treasure in Northern Ireland.


Value-based judgement

An assessment that reflects the values of the person or group making the assessment.


Rural vernacular or traditional architecture is the construction of small plain buildings in the countryside (particularly before 1925) where the dominant influence in siting materials, form and design is the local ‘folk tradition’. Such vernacular buildings will have been typical, i.e, of a common type in any given locality and will lack individualistic and ‘educated’ design features that characterised international fashions in formal architecture during the same period. See Traditional or Vernacular buildings.

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