Generic brief for an archaeological watching brief / small-scale investigation

1/1/0001 12:00:00 AM
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Last updated: 18 August 2021

1. Summary

This is a generic brief for use on small to medium scale archaeological watching briefs / investigations required as a condition of planning permission. These are normally requested where groundworks being undertaken as part of a development have the potential to impact on archaeological remains. This intervention requires that a suitably qualified archaeologist be present to record any significant archaeological deposits encountered during works.

This brief sets out the standard requirements for the archaeological contractor who will undertake this work. It can be used to obtain quotes from archaeological contractors (they will also need details of the development) and will inform the preparation of a project design (Written Scheme of Investigation), which must be agreed by the Council Archaeology Service before commencing development.

Watching briefs / small-scale investigations will normally include 1) The production of the Written Scheme of Investigation; 2) Provision for the archaeologist to observe or supervise specific site works (normally the main groundworks); 3) The production of a final report; 4) and a contingency to cover the recording of any archaeological features that may be encountered and any subsequent post fieldwork analysis that may be required.

For advice on commissioning archaeological work please see 'Advice on commissioning archaeological work in Buckinghamshire'.


2. Scope of this brief

a. This brief will be appropriate for small scale developments such as a single house, house extensions, garages, swimming pools, access drives, minor pipelines and small scale utility installations, horse maneges and agricultural buildings (barns, stables, silos etc.).
b. Please note that it may not be appropriate to use this brief if:

  • this site is larger than 0.1 hectare (urban) or 1 hectare (rural)
  • the works affects a Scheduled Monument
  • the work involves a watching brief combined with other forms of recording

In such instances please contact the Council Archaeology Service for further advice.


3. Definition

The definition of an Archaeological Watching Brief is

"a formal programme of observation and investigation conducted during any operation carried out for non-archaeological reasons. This will be within a specified area or site on land ….or underwater, where there is a possibility that archaeological deposits may be disturbed or destroyed. The programme will result in the preparation of a report and ordered archive." (CIfA, 2014)


4. Requirement for a watching brief / investigation

a. Paragraph 194 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2021) states that where the loss of the whole or a material part of a heritage asset's significance is justified, local planning authorities should require the developer to record and advance understanding of the significance of the heritage asset before it is lost, in a manner proportionate to its significance and the impact. The evidence gathered should be made publicly accessible, a report lodged in the Historic Environment Record and the archive deposited with a local museum – all of which should be completed in a timely manner

b. Requirements for watching briefs / small-scale investigations are normally secured by means of a "negative condition" and must be specified in a "written scheme of investigation" which has been agreed in writing by the Council Archaeology Service and approved by the local planning authority prior to commencing fieldwork. Archaeological planning conditions will not be complied with until all fieldwork and post-excavation work has been completed, the archive has been deposited and publication secured.


5. Project objectives

The project design (Written Scheme of Investigation) should identify the specific objectives with reference to the advice set out by the Council Archaeology Service to the Local Planning Authority and following the consultation of the County Historic Environment Record by the contracting unit.

Copies of the Council Archaeology Service advice letters are now routinely posted on the council websites.


6. Project design - 'written scheme of investigation'

Archaeological watching briefs / small-scale investigations must be undertaken in accordance with the Standard and Guidance for archaeological watching briefs published by the Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA, 2014). The project must be governed by a project design which has been agreed in writing by the Council Archaeology Service. In this the project design should be based on a thorough study of all relevant background information (especially assessment and evaluation reports, historic maps and data held or referenced in the HER). It should conform to the requirements set out in paragraph 3.2.12 of the CIfA guidelines and should in particular include:

  • an archaeological background, utilising an up to date Historic Environment Record search
  • the project's objectives
  • the location of the area to be monitored
  • details of the methodology for building survey, where appropriate
  • procedures for project management (to follow the principles set out in Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment (MoRPHE) (Historic England 2015)
  • the expertise of the project team. The project manager should ideally be a named Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (MCIfA) who is adequately qualified to manage the required archaeological work in line with the guidance set out in the CIfA code of conduct or can demonstrate an equivalent level of competence. The composition and experience of the project team should be described. Specialists should be identified where required (e.g. for building survey). In some cases it will also be necessary to identify academic advisors. CVs should be supplied outlining the relevant qualifications and experience of key personnel - where relevant this should include specific reference to knowledge of particular periods and local/ regional traditions. Note: Specialists should be able to demonstrate a relevant qualification and track record of at least 3 years continuous relevant work (or equivalent) and appropriate publication. In appropriate circumstances, less experienced staff may conduct work under the supervision of well-established and widely recognised specialists
  • an outline of the proposed timetable and staff resources - this should be non-binding and presented "for information only"
  • reporting and Archiving arrangements


7. Fieldwork methodology

a. Procedure

i. Subject to site constraints, and the nature of the groundworks being undertaken, it would normally be expected that groundworks would be undertaken using an appropriate machine fitted with a toothless bucket and working under archaeological supervision

ii. Watching briefs / small-scale investigations require that the archaeologist(s) are present on site during works in the following circumstances: comprehensive/detailed (present during all works which may affect archaeological remains); intensive (present during specified sensitive works); intermittent (viewing immediately after each specified phase of works). The level of attendance by the archaeologist should be ‘as appropriate’.

iii. The most common form of watching brief / small-scale investigation is comprehensive, for example the erection of a house or extension within the historic core of a village or town. An intensive watching brief / small-scale investigation may be appropriate where a specific area of a pipeline has been identified as of interest. For developments which are likely to involve small scale works over a drawn out period an intermittent watching brief / small-scale investigation may be appropriate (for example this approach may be appropriate to monitor underpinning work). It is expected that developer and archaeological contractor will establish a clear mutual understanding of the nature of the groundworks and the potential archaeological interest in them to achieve ‘best value’ in the targeting of required works.

iv. During each phase of fieldwork the presence/absence of archaeological features should be noted. If features are identified then sufficient work should be done to date, characterise and record the remains in accordance with the project objectives.

v. If an "unexpected discovery" is made then the Council Archaeology Service and the developer should be informed as soon as possible. Initially consideration should be given to preservation in-situ but if this is not practical then such discoveries may give rise to a full-scale excavation funded from a contingency fund, detailed in the WSI (see below).

b. Recording

i. Recording standards should be the same as for formal excavations but the particular practical difficulties and constraints of watching brief recording are acknowledged. Features should be recorded in plan at an appropriate scale and accurately located in relation to the National Grid. Each context should be recorded on pro-forma records which should include the following minimum details: character; contextual relationships; detailed description (dimensions and shape; soil components, colour, texture and consistency); associated finds; interpretation and phasing as well as cross-references to the drawn, photographic and finds registers. Normally each context should be recorded on an individual record. Sections should be drawn through all significant cut features and levelled to ordnance datum.

ii. A digital photographic record should be maintained including photos of all significant features and overall photos of each watching brief area. Selected black and white and colour transparencies should also be taken.

c. Artefact and Ecofact collection and recording

i. All stratified finds should be collected by context or, where appropriate, individually recorded in 3 dimensions. Unstratified finds should only be collected where they contribute significantly to the project objectives or are of particular intrinsic interest. Finds of "treasure" must be reported to the Coroner in accordance with the Treasure Act procedures.

ii. Collection policies for structural remains and industrial residues have been set out by the Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA, 1993). The presence of such materials within a context should always be recorded and, where they are considered to be of importance, the recording should aim to quantify their occurrence, even where comprehensive retention is not considered appropriate.

iii. Provision should be made within the contingency for: conservation (lifting and treatment) of fragile objects and the collection and analysis of environmental and scientific (including dating) samples. Sampling is to be carried out in accordance with a strategy which is related to the project objectives and has been agreed with English Heritage's Regional Adviser in Archaeological Science.

iv. In the event of discovery of any human remains the archaeological contractor should inform the client, the Council Archaeology Service, and the Ministry of Justice via the submission of an application form for the ‘Archaeological/Accidental/Site Investigation Licence regarding the disturbance of human remains’. The Human remains should be left in-situ, covered and protected. Where a licence for their excavation is issued by the Ministry of Justice, the requirements of that licence must be followed. The only exception is where excavations are being undertaken in a churchyard under a faculty issued by the Chancellor of Oxford Diocese (in such cases the faculty requirements should be followed). In certain situations special arrangements may be required for the recovery of samples for DNA analysis. Human remains should be treated in accordance with CIfA guidelines (CIfA, 2004) and the advice set out in Guidance for best practice for treatment of human remains excavated from Christian burial grounds in England (English Heritage, 2005).

d. Metal Detecting

i. In some instances it may be appropriate to arrange for stripped surfaces to be subject to a metal detecting scan, such arrangements should be set out in the Project Design (Written Scheme of Investigation).

ii. Whenever private individuals or subcontractors are engaged to undertake metal detecting as part of an archaeological fieldwork project they should be asked to sign a formal agreement in which the right to claim Treasure is waived. Please refer to the second revision of the Treasure Act Code of Practice (2008, paragraph 81). A suggested clause is:-

iii. “In the process of working on the archaeological/ excavation at [location of site] between the dates of [insert dates], [name of person contributing to the project] has been working under the direction or permission of [name of archaeological organisation or responsible individual archaeologist] and hereby waives all rights to rewards for objects discovered that could be otherwise payable under the Treasure Act 1996.”

iv. Contracts should ensure that investigations are covered by a written agreement with the owner & occupier regarding rewards which may be payable.

e. Contingency fund

Contingency arrangements must be specified in the project design and should take account of the nature of possible "unexpected discoveries" and the likely impact of the development upon them. Arrangements should include the demarcation of the area for excavation, the period of temporary cessation of development works within this area and the resources (expressed in person-days, specialist input etc.) available to undertake the excavation.


8. Post-excavation methodology

a. For most watching briefs / small-scale investigations it will be sufficient to complete an illustrated final report for the HER, publish a summary note and deposit the archive (see below).

b. For projects which have produced results of significant county, regional or national importance, an illustrated interim report together with a post-excavation assessment and updated project design, should be submitted by the archaeological contractor and approved by the Council Archaeology Service within 6 months of the completion of fieldwork. Post-excavation analysis and report preparation should proceed in accordance with the agreed updated project design unless subsequent variations are agreed by the Council Archaeology Service.


9. Publication

a. For all projects, a summary report (including illustrations where appropriate) should be sent to the editors of South Midlands Archaeology and Records of Buckinghamshire not later than three months after the end of the calendar year in which the work is undertaken. In this case publication of above and below ground archaeology should be integrated.

b. For projects which have produced results of significant county, regional or national importance, an illustrated final report which meets the guidelines set out in MAP2 Appendix 7 and is suitable for publication in an approved archaeological journal (normally Records of Buckinghamshire) should be provided to the Council Archaeology Service within one year of the completion of fieldwork (unless a longer time period has been agreed in the updated project design). The overall content of the report should be agreed with the Council Archaeology Service. The report should be clearly referenced in all respects to all work on the site, evaluation, excavation, watching briefs, building recording, background research including aerial photography etc, in order that a coherent picture may be presented. It should place the site in its local archaeological, historical and topographical context and include a clear location map. Each plan included should clearly relate to some other included plan of an appropriate scale and should normally include national grid references.

c. One bound copy of the final publication and a digital copy, in pdf format, must be supplied to the County Historic Environment Record. A further offprint should accompany the archive. A copy of any specialist papers relating to the site should also be supplied to the Council Archaeology Service.

d. One bound off-print of the final publication should be supplied by the applicant to the district council (if appropriate) in support of the fulfilment of the archaeological condition.
e. A publication grant should be provided to the publishers of the report in accordance with their requirements.


10. Oasis 

Once the final report has been accepted by the Council Archaeology Service, it is highly recommended that contractors should complete an OASIS fieldwork summary form and submit it to the Archaeology Data Service.

Visit the Oasis website to access the form and guidance for its completion

11. Archiving

The archaeological contractor should endeavour to ensure that the site archive (including any artefacts recovered) are deposited in an acceptable condition with a museum which is registered with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and approved for the storage of archaeological archives. The digital archive should be deposited with an accredited digital repository.

The preferred repository for the physical archive in Buckinghamshire is the County Museum, who should be contacted for an accession number at the earliest opportunity. The procedures and requirements which must be followed for the deposit of archaeological archives with Buckinghamshire County Museum are documented in the Museum's Procedures for Notifying and Transferring Archaeological Archives (BCM, 2013), available from the Curator (address below). A storage grant should be provided to the museum in accordance with their requirements.

The preferred repository for the digital archive in Buckinghamshire is the Archaeology Data Service. The guidelines for depositing with the ADS can be found on their website.

The archaeological contractor should agree Transfer of Ownership with the legal landowner at the earliest opportunity. In the event of the legal owner(s) resolving to retain all or part of the site archive, it is necessary that the archaeological contractor make them aware that they shall be responsible for the future preservation and maintenance of any material element of that archive. The part of the site archive in question shall be transferred to the legal owner only after the following stages have been completed and:

  • all necessary processing, research, analysis and investigation
  • a full inventory of all elements of the archive to be returned to the landowner, complete with photographs
  • all necessary stabilising, conservation and packing necessary to prepare the archive for preservation and in a usable, accessible form
  • the provision of a final approved report for submission to the HER and/or publication
  • the owner has demonstrated that all necessary provision is made for the long-term preservation of the archive in a satisfactory environment, and that it is accessible for future research


12. Monitoring

a. Monitoring is carried out by the Council Archaeology Service, normally acting on behalf of the local planning authority, to ensure that projects are being carried out in accordance with the brief and approved project design, to enable the need for modifications to the project to be independently considered and validated and to control and validate the use of available contingencies.

b. A programme of monitoring should be agreed with the Council Archaeology Service prior to the commencement of fieldwork. The archaeological contractor should keep the Council Archaeology Service regularly informed of the project's progress and facilitate the monitoring of the project at each stage, including post-excavation. In particular, there should be no substantial modification of the approved brief and project design without the prior consent of the Council Archaeology Service and no fieldwork should be carried out without the service's knowledge and approval.

c. Monitoring visits will normally be documented by the Council Archaeology Service and the archaeological contractor will be informed of any perceived deficiencies. The Council Archaeology Service has a charging policy in place for site monitoring visits.

d. The Council Archaeology Service should be informed at the earliest opportunity of any unexpected discoveries, especially where there may be a need to vary the project design. The archaeological contractor should carry out such reasonable contingency works as requested by the Council Archaeology Service within the resources defined in the project design.

e. In the event that the Council Archaeology Service considers that the approved project design is not being complied with without reasonable justification then action will be taken in accordance with Buckinghamshire Council's archaeological enforcement policy


13. Health and safety

Health and Safety must take priority over archaeological requirements and will be an issue on this site. It is essential that all projects are carried out in accordance with safe working practices and under a defined Health and Safety Policy.

Risk Assessments must be carried out for every field project. If the risk assessment indicates it is necessary, the requirements of the brief can be varied in the interests of health and safety (the Council Archaeology Service must be consulted and the proposed changes agreed in such cases). The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 (CDM) will apply to archaeological work undertaken on many construction (and demolition) projects.


14. Bibliography

Buckinghamshire County Museum, 2013. Procedures for Notifying and Transferring Archaeological Archives.

MHC&LG, 2019. National Planning Policy Framework.

Historic England, 2015. Good Practice Advice in Planning Note 2: Managing Significance in Decision-Taking in the Historic Environment

Historic England, 2015. Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment. The MoRPHE Project Manager’s Guide.

Historic England 2018 The Role of the Human Osteologist in an Archaeological Fieldwork Project

English Heritage, 2010. Waterlogged wood. Guidelines on the Recording, Sampling, Conservation and Curation of Waterlogged Wood (third edition).

English Heritage, 2011. Environmental Archaeology: A guide to the theory and practice of methods from sampling and recovery to post excavation (second edition) CIfA, 2014. Standard and Guidance for an archaeological watching brief.

Slowikowski, A, Nenk, B, & Pearce, J 2001. Minimum Standards for the Processing, Recording, Analysis and Publication of Post Roman Ceramics, Medieval Pottery Research Group, Occasional Paper No2

SMA, 2018. Guidance on the Rationalisation of Museum Archaeology Collections


15. Contacts

Buckinghamshire Council Archaeology Service

Planning and Environment
Walton Street Offices
HP20 1UA

Phil Markham BA MA MCIfA, Senior Archaeological Officer
Telephone: 01296 382 705

Lucy Lawrence BA ACIfA, Archaeological Officer
Telephone: 01296 674 592

Julia Wise BA MCIfA, HER Officer
Telephone: 01296 382 072

Paul Clements BA HER Assistant
Telephone: 01296 382 624

Please note that the HER operates an appointment system and there is a charge for commercial enquiries.

Buckinghamshire County Museum Trust

Brett Thorn, Keeper of Archaeology
Museum Resource Centre
Tring Road
HP22 5PN

Brett Thorn. Keeper of Archaeology
Tel: 01296 624 519. Email:

Buckinghamshire Archaeology Society (Records of Buckinghamshire)

Mr Bob Zeepvat, Archaeological Editor
c/o ASC Ltd
Letchworth House
Chesney Wold
Bleak Hall
Milton Keynes
MK6 1NE 

Tel: 01908 608 989. Fax: 01908 605700.

Council For British Archaeology South Midlands Group (South Midlands Archaeology)

Nick Crank, Editor, c/o Milton Keynes Council
Conservation & Archaeology
Civic Offices
1 Saxon Gate East
Milton Keynes

Tel: 01908 254 259 Email:

Historic England Regional Science Adviser (London and the South East Region)

Jane Corcoran, Science Advisor
4th Floor
Cannon Bridge House
25 Dowgate Hill

Tel: 0207 973 3700. Email:



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