Embargo: Immediate Thursday 16 November 2006

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


The UK's cultural heritage is under threat as the knowledge and skills needed to preserve the physical artefacts, which make up so much of that heritage, are being lost. That is the stark warning found in a House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report published today.

The Committee warn that unless government, and in particular the Department for Culture Media and Sport, take the issue seriously there is a real danger that Britain's reputation as a leader in the science underpinning conservation will be lost and we will face the possibility of irreversible losses from among our treasured works of art, rare books and historical buildings.

The report criticises the DCMS for failing to grasp the seriousness of the threat to heritage science and its wider implications for conservation. The DCMS has focussed on widening access to our cultural heritage, which, while desirable, also helps to hasten its deterioration. The Committee call for the Government's policy on sustainability to be applied to the heritage sector - in other words, recognising that future generations have an equal right of access. This requires that conservation, based on sound science, be given a higher priority.

The Committee also call on those in the heritage sector - museums, universities, charities, libraries, and others - to work together to develop a broad-based, national strategy for heritage science

Commenting, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"We must safeguard our cultural heritage not only for the present generation but also for future generations. We must not allow unique, iconic physical artefacts that embody British culture to be lost through poor management.

"Britain was for a long time at the forefront of conservation techniques. This reputation was built in the mid twentieth century with the development of science-based conservation at the National Gallery and British Museum. However this key conservation research is now undervalued in Britain, in particular by DCMS, at the same time as our priceless cultural artefacts face not just the familiar threats of wear and tear, but new threats such as climate change.

"As a nation we must ensure we stay at the forefront by developing new techniques and applying scientific research in this area. We have a wealth of cultural, artistic and architectural heritage that must be maintained. This is of vital importance today, not least through cultural tourism which adds £38 billion to the economy, but it is of equal importance to preserve these treasures for future generations. All the key players - DCMS, the National Museums and Galleries, English Heritage, the National Trust, and many others - need to come together to ensure that our descendants don't miss out on their cultural heritage."

Notes to Editors

1. The report is published by The Stationary Office Science and Heritage, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 9th Report of 2005/06, HL Paper 256.

2. The report will be available shortly after publication at:

3. The members of the Committee who conducted the inquiry were:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Chair)

Lord Broers

Lord Chorley

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

Lord Paul

Baroness Perry of Southwark

Baroness Platt of Writtle

Lord Redesdale

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

Lord Winston

Lord Young of Graffham