How is heritage significance assessed?
Heritage professionals have developed ways of formally assessing the significance of natural and cultural heritage places. The following documents. listed in the Resources section of the guide, may provide some assistance:
Natural Heritage Places – A handbook for conservation: Implementing the Australian Natural Heritage Charter for conservation of places of natural significance, 1998, Lorraine Cairnes, Australian Heritage Commission in association with the Australian Committee for IUCN.
Draft Guidelines for the Protection, Management and
Use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural
Heritage Places, 1997, Department of
Communications and the Arts.
‘Guidelines to the Burra Charter’ (cultural heritage significance) in The Illustrated Burra Charter: Making good decisions about the care of important places, 1992, prepared by Australia ICOMOS. Unit 3
The general steps involved in a heritage significance assessment are outlined in these documents and described briefly below.
Step 1 Describe the place
Compile the information that you have gathered and organise it according to individual places. If assessing a very large area or a place with a number of different types of values, you may need to look at elements such as natural, indigenous or historic features separately, and then bring them together at the end to tell the story of the place.
Step 2 Consider the significance of the place
There are many perspectives and views in considering the significant values of a place. For instance, some indigenous communities may wish to define the significance of a place very broadly. Methodologies for assessing significant values constitute a rapidly evolving set of ideas. The following categories and questions are a guide to considering significance.
Why is this place important?
The following definitions of social, aesthetic, historic and scientific values are from the Australia ICOMOS Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance (the Burra Charter) (1992) and the Draft Guidelines for the protection and management and use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage places (1998). The definitions of biological diversity, ecosystems and geological values are from the Australian Natural Heritage (7harter Standards and principles for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance (1996).
Social value to the community embraces the qualities for which a place is a focus of spiritual, traditional, economic, political, national or other cultural sentiment to the majority or minority group.
Is the place important to the community as a landmark or local signature? In what ways, and to what extent? Is the place important as part of community identity? In what ways, and to what extent? Is the place important to the community because an attachment to it has developed from long use? What is the length and strength of that attachment? Which community values the place?
What is the relative importance of the place to the group or community (compared to other places important to it)? Is the place associated with a particular person or group important in your community’s history? What is the importance of the association between this place and that person or group? Is the place valued by a community for reasons of religious, spiritual, cultural, educational or social associations? In what ways, and to what extent?
Aesthetic value to the community includes aspects of sensory perception (sight, touch, sound, taste, smell) for which criteria can be stated. These criteria may include consideration of form, scale, colour, texture and material of the fabric or landscape, and the smell and sounds associated with the place and its use.
Does the place have natural or cultural features which are inspirational or evoke strong feelings or special meanings? What are those features, and to what extent are they evocative? Unit 3
Is the place a distinctive feature that is a prominent visual landmark? Does the place evoke awe from its grandeur of scale? To what extent is this important? Does the place evoke a strong sense of age, history or time depth? How does it do this, and to what extent? Is the place symbolic for its aesthetic qualities? Has it been represented in art, poetry, photography, literature, folk-art, folklore mythology or other imagery? Does the place have outstanding composition qualities involving any combinations of colour, form, texture, detail, movement, unity, sounds, scents, spatial definition and so on? To what extent is this important?
Historic value to the community encompasses the history of aesthetics, science and society, and therefore could be used to encompass a range of values. A place may have historic value because it has influenced, or has been influenced by, an historic figure, event, phase or activity. It may be the site of an important event. History can describe the ‘story’ of a place or its people and can apply to any period, though not usually the current period.
Is the place important in showing patterns in the development of the history of the country, State or Territory where your community lives or a feature of your local area? How does it show this? Does the place have indigenous plant species that have historic significance? Does the place show a high degree of creative or technical achievement? How does it show this? Does the place have geological features that have historic significance? Is the place associated with a particular person or group important in your history? What is the importance of the association between this place and that person or group? Does the place exemplify the works of a particular architect or designer, or of a particular design style? In what ways, and to what extent? Is the place associated with a particular event in the history of your area, or the State, Territory or nation? What is the relationship between this place and those events? Does the place demonstrate ways of life, customs, processes, land use or design no longer practised, in danger of being lost, or of exceptional interest? How does it demonstrate thesethings? Does the place exemplify the characteristics of a particular type of human activity in the landscape, including way of life, custom, process, land use, function, design or technique? In what ways, and to what extent? Does the place reflect a variety of changes over a long time? In what ways, and to what extent?
Scientific value to the community will depend upon the importance of the data involved, on its rarity, quality or representativeness, and on the degree to which the place may contribute further substantial information.
Is the place important for natural values in showing patterns in natural history or continuing ecological, earth or evolutionary processes? In what ways, and to what extent? Is there anything about the place or at the place which is rare or endangered, for example, plant or animal species, geological features, a type of construction method or material used, or a particular form of archaeological evidence? Is the place important in helping others to understand this type of place? In what ways, and to what extent? Is the place a good example of a particular type of place, that is, undisturbed, intact and complete? Why is this? Can the place contribute to research understanding of natural or cultural history? In what ways, and to what extent? Can the place contribute to scientific understanding of biodiversity or geodiversity? In what ways, and to what extent?
Special values to the community can be considered as part of other values but are particularly important for some places and some communities.
Does the place have important values relating to spiritual beliefs? Is the place spiritually important for maintaining the fundamental health and well-being of natural and cultural systems? Are there wilderness or wild river values recognised at the place?
Biodiversity values Biological diversity (intrinsic) value is the importance of the variety of life forms: the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems they form. Is the place important for its species diversity, ecosystem diversity or community diversity? Is the place important for its rare or endangered elements? Is the place important for particular species?
Ecosystems (intrinsic) value is the importance of the interactions between the complex of organisms that make up a community with their non-living environment and each other.
Is the place an important example of intact ecological processes at work? Does the place contribute to important ecological processes occurring between communities and the non-living environment?
Geodiversity (intrinsic) value is the importance of the range of earth features including geological, geomorphological, palaeontological, soil, hydrological and atmospheric features, systems and earth processes.
Is the place important as an example of particular earth processes at work in soil, water or atmosphere? Is the place important for its diversity in fossils, land systems or geological features? Is the place important for its rare or endangered elements? Is the place important for particular phenomena?
Step 3 Order your information
After assessing the significant values of the place, it is useful to order this information, particularly if a number of places are involved. This is important if a comparative significance assessment is done (see Step 4). Heritage criteria provide a common method of describing the different types of values of heritage places and can be used with small or large areas, and natural and cultural heritage.
Step 4 If needed, conduct a comparative assessment
For a number of similar places, it may be necessary to do a comparative heritage significance assessment. This can be done by asking:
How many other places like this are there in this area?
How important is this place compared to similar places in this area or other areas of the country? How important is this place to your community or group compared to other similar places in the area of your community? What is the physical condition of the place relative to other similar places?
Note that this step is not necessary if the place in question is the only place of its type or one of few similar places existing. Comparing the significance of places may not be appropriate for places of indigenous heritage significance.
Step 5 Write a statement of significance
The above steps will have identified the significant values of the place. A statement of significance sets out why a place is important and explains the values the place holds for the community or groups within the community.
Tips for writing a statement of significance
The statement should be a succinct, clear and comprehensive statement of the major reasons why a place is significant. Focus on answering the question: Why is this place significant? Word the statement carefully to reflect the values of the place. Refer to heritage criteria if appropriate. For a large or complex area, present overall significance as a summary statement, supported by subsidiary statements for specific features. The statement should indicate any areas where there are known gaps in knowledge. For instance, it should stare whether the place has been assessed for both natural and cultural heritage (indigenous and historic). The statement should be accompanied by evidence supporting the judgement of significance expressed in the statement, for example, documents, results of studies or workshops, or oral statements.