Management Framework

From the Introduction to the NSPRMF 2009 edition

“The North Sea Basin has undergone many changes driven by climate change and, at times, it may have been the largest wetland environment in Europe and a major focus of population. For these reasons, in relation to the terrestrial archaeological record, its archaeology may not just be ‘more of the same’, but perhaps qualitatively different from what we know already. Furthermore, the spectacular finds of the last decade have shown the excellent quality of the remains of former plant and animal communities (including early humans) within the sedimentary sequence; and several studies have demonstrated the extensive survival of entire submerged landscapes. The area has enormous potential for studying the relationships between early humans and their landscapes, and plainly this is of world-wide significance.

The North Sea Basin is, however, economically important and is exploited for a wide variety of resources. Most types of economic exploitation lead to disturbance of the sea floor and some of them cut deep into the seabed. In addition, natural erosion and sedimentation involve continuous alteration of the sea floor topography. Almost all of these anthropogenic and natural processes have adverse effects on the preservation of cultural heritage resources present on, and just below, the sea floor. As the North Sea is internationally recognised as being of exceptionally high scientific value for the understanding of prehistoric human behaviour and palaeoenvironmental change, surviving areas of submerged palaeolandscape surfaces are important cultural heritage assets that are under continuous threat. In order to reduce further and uncontrolled loss of valuable archaeological and palaeoenvironmental sources of information, there is need for an effective research and management approach. The NSPRMF is meant to provide this.”


The Crown Estate and Historic England have sponsored this revision of the North Sea Prehistory Research and Management Framework (NSPRMF) as part of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme.

The Crown Estate plays an active role in the management of the seabed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including the offshore wind sector, bringing together varied stakeholder groups to deliver a blend of social, environmental, and economic value, helping create lasting and shared prosperity for the nation.

Historic England is the UK government’s adviser for the marine historic environment in England and provides advice to developers, their archaeological consultants and regulators. Within the English inshore marine planning area (to the 12 nautical mile limit), Historic England can make recommendations for statutory protection.

Marine Planning and Licensing for  England is delivered by the Marine Management Organisation, under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (as amended). The purpose of marine planning and licensing is to help ensure sustainable development and protection of the marine environment in reference to the objectives and policies of published English Marine Plans, which includes heritage assets.  

The NSPRMF has been updated to ensure all relevant archaeological work conducted for the Offshore Wind sector and other seabed industries contribute to the understanding of North Sea prehistory. It does so by providing clear and agreed research priorities which support the provision of  new information to  support management through understanding of impacts and  positive outcomes through publication and public outreach. This revised and republished research and management framework focuses on submerged prehistoric archaeological sites and landscapes in the North Sea and eastern English Channel. The research component provides an overview of current understanding and identifies scientific goals which can help to inform the decision-making process. In turn this can optimise management of this resource in the context of continued development, and in particular the expansion of the offshore wind industry to meet government targets for decarbonisation of the economy.


The original NSPRMF (2009) was informed by research and archaeological resource assessment primarily associated with marine minerals dredging areas. However, it became apparent that a revised version of the NSPRMF should be produced which is relevant to other seabed developers, and in particular, offshore renewable energy infrastructure.

The considerable expansion of the offshore renewable energy sector in the North Sea and the associated on-going programmes of assessment and evaluation have revealed and continue to reveal considerable detail about past landscapes now submerged and buried in areas not subject previously to detailed survey and analysis. The 2022 UK Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (OESEA4) identified increasing awareness of the submerged archaeological resources of the UK Continental Shelf, and that techniques used for seabed investigation mean that recovery of archaeological material or contextual palaeoenvironmental information is increasingly likely.

The geographical scope of the updated NSPRMF includes areas of seabed within the UK’s EEZ subject to English jurisdiction (from high water mark to 200 nautical miles offshore, or to the median line with an adjacent maritime State). The NSPRMF is relevant to seabed leasing for development and planning and consenting regimes extending the full length of the east coast of England from the Scottish border in the north to the regional boundary between the South East and South West of England, to the west of the Isle of Wight in the English Channel.


In relation to management, the purpose of the North Sea Prehistory Research and Management Framework is to effectively inform archaeological assessments conducted as part of the delivery of seabed industry programmes at all stages, and so to facilitate the decision-making process and ensure the wider benefit in terms of increased understanding of submerged prehistory is realised.

The application and use of the NSPRMF ensures that agreed programmes of archaeological and geoarchaeological assessment and analysis conducted as part of offshore renewable energy project assessment and development and other seabed industry projects are informed by research perspectives that are coordinated within an overall research agenda. This approach allows these projects to contribute to a wider map of submerged and buried landscapes. It also helps to direct action to address research questions generated by multiple, separate developments which cumulatively could impact areas of known or potential archaeological interest, and which could further our understanding of prehistoric environmental conditions. It also continues to be relevant to other seabed industries, such as marine minerals aggregate extraction; finds from aggregates extraction helped to prompt the development of the first (2009) edition of NSPRMF.

The NSPRMF has three components – the Resource Assessment, the Research Agenda, and the Management Framework.

Resource Assessment

The NSPRMF is founded upon an updated Resource Assessment, compiled through review of relevant published and publicly available grey literature in the context of submerged prehistory and palaeolandscapes in the North Sea and adjacent coastal areas.

This provides an updated baseline of the prehistoric and palaeolandscape resource in the North Sea and eastern English Channel Region, incorporating all publicly accessible sources available to 1st December 2022, and which will be continuously updateable as new information becomes available. The components of the Resource Assessment can be cross-tagged against the identified questions and strategies within the Research Agenda.

The Resource Assessment considered the following sources and datasets:

  • Published sources (journals, books, edited volumes etc.)
  • Grey-literature reports that are currently available in the public domain, accessed through the planning portal, The Crown Estate Marine Data Exchange, OASIS and Archaeological Data Service (ADS) archive
  • National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) datasets
  • British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA) protocol datasets
  • Offshore Renewables Protocol for Archaeological Discoveries (ORPAD) datasets
  • Data recorded during wharf monitoring associated with aggregate extraction in the PalaeoYare catchment
  • European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet)

Research Agenda

The North Sea Prehistory Research Agenda is the research agenda for the prehistory of the North Sea, presented as a series of questions and strategies to identify and prioritise research for both academic and development-led work.

This Agenda sits within a broader Research Framework Platform that allows links between and across a wide range of geographical – primarily terrestrial – and period-based Research Frameworks to be established and maintained.

The Research Agenda has been updated through a process of sectoral consultation involving identification of new questions and strategies via stakeholder workshops and engagement, and by reference to the Resource Assessment. Existing questions and strategies from the previous NSPRMF (2009) have been reviewed and adapted to fit the new Research Agenda question and strategy format.

Existing questions and strategies elsewhere on the Research Framework Platform from other Frameworks have also been incorporated with the ‘borrow’ functionality, so as to not duplicate these with other Frameworks.

Management Framework

The Management Framework sets expectations for the use of the Research Agenda, showing how it can be applied to ensure all relevant archaeological work contributes to better understanding and protection of North Sea Prehistory, whether this work is being undertaken for academic or for development-led purposes. It is understood that seabed developments may produce a positive impact through supporting the production of new knowledge and understanding about our shared past. It is therefore relevant that those involved in the use of seabed areas and natural resources can see how geo-archaeological investigations are configured and structured around research questions and strategies.

Approach and implementation

The use of a Management Framework should enhance international collaboration, particularly as a refreshed version of the NSPRMF is in use in the Dutch sector of the North Sea. This update to the Management Framework now presents matters that may be addressed during archaeological works linked to seabed development activity. It thereby sets out a seabed resource management framework that can help steer how research outputs which informs and builds knowledge that aids effective and timely decision-making.

The Management Framework sits within the policy and statutory measures outlined below, which are accompanied by a suite of relevant guidance documents.

Legal Environment

Legislation on cultural heritage, and subsequently amended, is enacted by the UK parliament with regards to England and the English marine planning areas within the North Sea.

The Planning Act 2008 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA) are the key legislative measures that have expanded Historic England’s involvement in the decision-making process throughout the English marine planning sectors of the UK Marine Area.

The MCAA 2009 is the primary legislation relevant to marine planning and licensing for English Inshore and Offshore areas . Under this legislation, Marine Plans must be consistent with the Marine Policy Statement (MPS) and fully reflect the requirements of the MPS at a local level. Marine Plans must also be in accordance with other national policy, including the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The Marine Plans for English waters are now complete and accessible via the Marine Management Organisation website. All archaeological works completed in the context of development should be conducted in accordance with environmental assessment regulations and the relevant policies of the applicable marine plan for the area where works are taking place.

Relevant legislation, national policy statements and statements of best practice include the following:

Legislation and Statutory Instruments

National Planning Policy 

Associated Guidance


The following Expectations have largely been developed from selected questions presented within the Research Agenda and from policy and best practice. These are not universal – not every project or development will be expected to comprehensively address every aspect.

The details below present the desired direction and focus that will be needed to ensure that the Research Agenda functions to facilitate well-informed decision making and ensures archaeological work can contribute to wider understanding.

It is an expectation that development-led archaeological investigations and projects will implement the use of appropriate and proportionate measures to investigate and / or conserve archaeological sites and deposits, as supported by current statements of best practice. This will ensure that all relevant archaeological work conducted for the Offshore Wind sector, other seabed industries, and academic research contributes to understanding and protection of North Sea Prehistory.

Information Sharing

There is an expectation that projects will result in improved access to data resources, and wherever possible projects result in the ‘open’ publication of material (results, analysis and data).

  • All data will be published and made available using the FAIR principles of Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability
  • Wherever possible, data will be standardised to allow for data exchange. Data standardisation should include the use of standard metadata, including the use of standardised vocabularies, so allowing discovery of the data, and integration into existing archives (archaeological and marine).


There is an expectation that the dissemination of results from all consented projects is achieved for both academic and development-led investigations using appropriate and proportionate publication vehicles that may include both grey literature and/or academic publication as well as accessible information for the general public.

Skills Development

There is an expectation that all projects will contribute to growing and enhancing the capacity and skills of the offshore archaeological heritage management sector, as researching and investigating the prehistoric resource in the marine environment requires sufficient breadth and depth of specialist human resources and skill sets. This may be achieved through a range of approaches, including but not limited to:

  • Identification of knowledge and skills gaps within the sector/discipline.
  • Development of integrated research and training programmes, involving universities, museums and commercial companies, that address knowledge and skills gaps.
  • Increased exposure of associated disciplines at undergraduate, Master’s and PhD levels, and at career fairs to elicit interest and highlight potential career paths.
  • Development of stronger connections between the university, museum and commercial sectors that promote sharing of both interpretative and methodological findings and developments.

Methodological Development

There is an expectation that all projects will contribute to the overall improvement of the quality of offshore archaeological work and heritage management, by using the most appropriate and effective methods, while considering potential improvements, and taking into account the following considerations:

  • Assessment of prehistoric potential will be deposit-led and undertaken at the appropriate spatial scale.
  • How will surviving deposits be affected by current archaeological methods?
  • Which methodological approaches produce the best cost-benefit results (for surveying, sampling and/or for assessment/analysis)?

Societal and Public Benefit

There is an expectation that all development-led archaeological investigation projects will result in a degree of public benefit related to any archaeological investigation (beyond the sustainable development benefits delivered through the overall consent).

By improving the understanding of prehistory and past environments this will deliver benefits to individuals and communities. Prehistoric research is driven by social and legal objectives to conserve in accordance with policy objectives and promote understanding of the historic environment, with the aim of enriching the lives of current and future individuals and communities.

Meeting this expectation may involve engaging with the Research Agenda questions:

  • What is the public perception of submerged prehistory?
  • Are there groups that feel excluded from engaging with submerged prehistory?
  • What are the best methods, to engage the public with remote periods without any obvious surviving ‘monuments’ or human modified ‘landscapes’?

On-Site Conservation

It is an expectation that a shared goal between any seabed developer and Historic England will be that a primary strategy to reduce risk of impact is avoidance, and so it is expected that in-situ avoidance of archaeological sites or deposits will be ensured wherever possible.

Cultural heritage management takes, as a starting point, the principle of ‘preservation in situ’, but this might not always be realistic in the context of North Sea submerged prehistoric landscapes; owing to difficulties in defining individual archaeological sites, the main objective may be to focus on the understanding of areas of landscape, defined in terms of research potential, threats and sustainability.

Archaeological Exclusion Zones

It is an expectation that the primary approach to in situ protection for development-led archaeological projects is through the use of Archaeological Exclusion Zones (AEZs), which are spatially delineated around sites or other features of archaeological interest. AEZs agreed during the EIA process form the principal means of embedded mitigation, and should be considered as appropriate and proportionate mitigation measures to preserve identified sites or deposits of known or potential archaeological interest in situ.

Natural and Cultural Heritage

It is an expectation that all development-led archaeological projects will seek to protect or conserve both natural and cultural heritage assets, without seeking to offset damage to one in order to prioritise protecting the other.

There can be clear common ground for the protection of both the historic and natural environment, and opportunities should be sought to achieve both synergistically if possible.

Remodelling of Coasts

There is an expectation that any work involving the remodelling of coastlines will be addressed using with consideration of the range of questions and strategies within the NSPRMF.

Although coastal remodelling work (which may incorporate elements of habitat restoration, compensation or  managed realignment) is implicitly partly terrestrial, many prehistoric archaeological sites from the periods covered by the NSPRMF have been revealed by historic remodelling works, particularly in areas of reclaimed land. There is also demonstrated potential for prehistoric archaeological finds derived from offshore, submerged terrestrial contexts to be relocated in beach replenishment schemes.

Reporting of Archaeological Discoveries

There is an expectation that appropriate reporting procedures for archaeological discoveries will be adopted by all project contractors, so that if, during delivery of the project, any further materials of possible archaeological interest are encountered, appropriate action can be taken by all parties.

Current legal requirements only apply to the reporting of wreck (either vessel or aircraft), and the expectation is that reporting should extend beyond wreck to include all materials of possible archaeological interest, in line with current guidance.

In the coastal zone reporting may involve engagement with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Finds Liaison Officers and the terrestrial (coastal) Local Planning Authority.

Image credit: A handaxe recovered from the seabed to the south-east of Great Yarmouth. This find was discovered by staff in the aggregate industry and reported through the Marine Aggregates Reporting Protocol. Wessex Archaeology CC BY-NC