Historic Environment Division within the Department for Communities is the government lead on the historic environment of Northern Ireland.

Who we are

We passionately believe that the historic environment is of value to us all and that we should all be able to enjoy it and participate in sustaining it. We believe that protecting and investing in our historic environment is essential to creating a better future, because it supports our prosperity, strengthens our society, and shapes our character.

These beliefs have shaped our aim:

‘Helping communities to enjoy and realise the value of our historic environment’.

We want the historic environment to make a real difference to people’s lives: to our health, to our economy, to our society, to our surroundings. We want the historic environment to involve everyone, so that we all benefit.

Historic Environment Division has a wide range of  experienced staff including historians, conservation architects, archaeologists, surveyors, photographers, mappers, land agents, wardens, rangers and craftspeople, as well as other experienced heritage, business, finance and administration professionals.  We share our skills, research and information and provide advice to others to ensure that the contribution of the historic environment to all of our lives, is considered in the development of strategy and policy. 

What is the Historic Environment?

Our historic environment is the result of physical interaction between people and places through time. It includes surviving remains of past human activity, whether visible, buried or submerged. It has tangible elements: a place, a building, a monument, a structure or a site; and can have intangible elements: associations, cultural beliefs, practices or traditions. It embodies our past, it enriches our present and is our legacy for future generations.

St Anne’s cathedral, Belfast front view with a thundery sky background
St Anne’s cathedral, Belfast front view with a thundery sky background
Northern Ireland has a rich and diverse historic environment which is all around us, in our cities, towns, villages and countryside, shaping the places in which we live, work, visit and enjoy. The Historic Environment Record of Northern Ireland (HERoNI) contains information on more than 50,000 heritage assets, holding records on evidence of settlement, agricultural, industrial and ritual activity from the Mesolithic period 9,000 years ago to the present day.

Heritage assets of special interest are protected by Historic Environment Division as: Monuments in State Care, scheduled historic monuments, listed buildings and protected wrecks.

The difference we make

Through our work we strive to deliver the following positive impacts:

An historic environment protected for future generations

Historic Environment Division records, protects, conserves, enhances and promotes the historic environment to secure its benefits for current and future generations. 

Two new fantail for Ballycopeland Windmill being constructed in the joinery workshop at the Moira Depot
Two new fantail for Ballycopeland Windmill being constructed in the joinery workshop at the Moira Depot
Liaising with other parts of central and local government and our statutory advisory councils, we articulate the interests and value of the historic environment in the formation of policy and strategy, and review, develop and implement legislation. Where necessary, we will enforce legislation to ensure the historic environment remains protected.

We publish guidance and advice, providing support to those involved in the management, conservation and promotion of the historic environment.

We have regionally-based skilled teams, including joiners, blacksmiths and stone masons, who conserve and maintain our state care monuments using heritage craft skills. 

We partner with others, engage with the wider historic environment sector and work with individuals and organisations to find new ways to promote the value of our historic environment and to connect communities with it. We strive to find new ways to share our information and knowledge and to communicate this to a wider audience.

Understanding the value and benefits our historic environment can bring to everyone, helps to ensure it is protected and treasured now and for our children’s children.

Examples of the impact of our work and the potential of the historic environment are outlined in the sector-led publication ’Treasure the Past Enrich the Future’,  NI Heritage Delivers - Prosperity | Progress | Personality

An historic environment, rich with authentic places where people want to live, work, visit and invest

Historic Environment Division champions the value of our historic environment and seeks to influence decision-making so that it fully weights the importance of the historic environment. 

For local government, developers, planners and practitioners, we provide an authoritative source of knowledge and advice to help understand and sustainably manage our historic environment and realise its benefits.

Excavation at drumclay crannog showing habitation layer with circular house and fallen wickerscreen wall
Excavation at drumclay crannog showing habitation layer with circular house and fallen wickerscreen wall
For asset owners and agents, we provide support, advice and where necessary enforce legislation to help them appropriately manage their assets and promote sustainability.

For academics, schools, researchers, environmental professionals and the public, we maintain extensive public records and offer access at sites for learning.

For the communities, visitors and tourists who visit our State Care Monuments we offer unique sites and an enjoyable experience. 

For future generations, we survey and record the condition of our State Care Monuments. We conserve these monuments following best practice conservation principles and polices to realise their value and ensure that it continues to benefit communities in the future.

An historic environment that is central to resilient communities, providing physical, educational and wellbeing benefits

Historic Environment Division aims to connect the historic environment and the historic environment sector more strongly into cultural, creative and place shaping activity, helping communities to understand, value and care for the historic environment around them. 

We champion authentic historic places which provide an important contribution to the economy, the tourism trade and the local community.

We highlight the benefits that the historic environment can bring to physical and mental health and wellbeing and promote its value in providing evocative and attractive places for communities.

Further information on statistical reports such as ‘Experience of Heritage’ or ‘NI Environmental Statistics’, is available. 

An historic environment that contributes to a strong, inclusive and regionally balanced economy

Historic Environment Division works to influence decision-making so that it fully values the importance of the historic environment in contributing to a sustainable, strong and regionally-balanced economy. 

We articulate the opportunities of the historic environment within strategic investment programmes to ensure that its economic and social value is fully realised, supporting our prosperity and strengthening our society.

We distribute funding for the historic environment through the Historic Environment Fund and work in collaboration with a very wide range of individuals and organisations in the public, private and third sectors to ensure that, together, we realise the potential and value of Northern Ireland’s historic environment in ways which support and sustain our economy and communities. 

Our heritage assets are central to our tourism offering, delivering unique and authentic experiences to visitors from across the globe. Our staff manage a portfolio of State Care Monuments including Carrickfergus Castle and Dunluce Castle, amongst some of the best known historic landmarks and tourist destinations in Northern Ireland. 

We highlight the significant opportunities that the historic environment provides for regeneration and attracting creative industries, such as the film industry, to Northern Ireland, delivering jobs, training and investment. We provide ready access to the skills, evidence, knowledge and confidence needed to bring these opportunities to life.

An historic environment that is sustainable, connected and managed as a vital part of our diverse and ever changing environment

Historic Environment Division champions the key roles that the historic environment plays with regard to place shaping, sustaining our unique landscape character and complementing the interests of environmental sustainability, nature and biodiversity.

We work with others to promote, support and provide advice on those elements of our historic environment that are at risk so that their value and potential can be realised through sustainable conservation and reuse. We engage with government departments to advise on the conservation, management and monitoring of the government historic estate.

We license archaeological excavations in order to manage the process of archaeological discovery and recording and to help in the mitigation of any unavoidable adverse impacts of change.  We facilitate appropriate change to irreplaceable heritage assets through the listed building consent and scheduled monument consent processes.

We work with others locally and internationally toward better understanding the impacts of climate change on assets, as well as the contribution of the historic environment as a sustainable, carbon neutral resource.

We promote the traditional craft skills and materials that have served our historic environment for centuries and that are essential for supporting a sustainable future.

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