Planning Your Project

Remains of an Eared Pillbox, Reighton Gap 2016 © C. Kolonko

Here we are again, at long last, with another blog post! This time I will focus on planning your field work and things to take into consideration before heading out; the focus being the most basic form of non-invasive field recording. I will eventually cover non-invasive field recording techniques, so hold in there! Be prepared, this is a long ‘un!

Disclaimer- As always, I am not in any way responsible for any issues that arise as a result of using this guide.

Where are you now?

By now, you should have conducted some desk based research focussing on your chosen survey area. At the very least, you will have consulted available sources of information, such as the Defence of Britain project data and Historic Environment Records via Heritage Gateway. You may have also used aerial photographs to identify unrecorded features such as trenches, roadblocks and anti-tank ditches (See previous blog). You will need to have a clear understanding of what you expect to find and where you expect to find it.

If you haven’t consulted available HER records, via Heritage Gateway, now is a good time to do so. This is useful as it will allow you to assess current records and identify ‘information gaps’. Some HER records relating to Second World War defences are very basic and sometimes just state the site’s location and type. The main aim of this blog series is to enable you to fill some of these information gaps with your research and field work. Remember to make a note of the HER record numbers at this point as these will come in very useful later (It can be tricky to match HER records to your field records after you have completed your survey).

If you have done all this, then you’re good to go!

Aims and Objectives

Outlining your aims and objectives is always the best starting point; there’s no point conducting fieldwork if you don’t know why you’re doing it, or how you’re going to do it.

Your aims (a goal you wish to achieve) and objectives (the steps you will take to fulfil the aims) should be clear and you should be confident that you can fulfil them.

You should start by considering:

What? What do you want to do? What is your focus? What defences do you want to record? Do you want to record the current condition of known defences, record un-recorded features, assess defence strategy or aim to cover all these tasks? What will you do with your results and data? What sources of information are available to you?

Why?  Why do you want to record Second World War defences? Why are the defences in your survey area significant? Do you want to help build up a better understanding of the defences in your survey area and create a detailed record?

When? When will you conduct your field work? Always consider how long you intend to spend recording and how much time you have available. You may be surprised by how long certain tasks will take.

How? How will you complete your allotted tasks? Do you have the necessary time and resources? Do you have the required skills?

Here’s an example, based on my own research and field work-

What? This project aims to seek a better understanding of Second World War defences in Filey Bay and to create a lasting record. The project will:

-Identify and record extant, lost and un-recorded defences; including earthworks, passive defences and concrete remains.

-Assess the current condition of surviving defences.

-Create a record for each feature; consisting of an accurate 10-figure grid reference, detailed site description, condition assessment and photographic survey.

-Assess the defensive strategy employed and explain the placement of the defences within the landscape.

Why? This project will help to create a better understanding of the significance of the Second World War defences of Filey Bay, and create a detailed record of extant and lost defences. Investigating the defensive context of these defences, by considering their deployment within the landscape, will help to explain why these defences where constructed and how they would have been used in the event of an invasion. The high attrition rate due to coastal erosion continues to take its toll on the surviving defences in this area. Recording these defences thoroughly will help to preserve them in the record for future generations.

When? Field work will take place in October 2017; including a field survey to be undertaken over three days, considering the large survey area. Further condition monitoring will be conducted on a yearly basis following the completion of the field survey.

How? Research and field work will be conducted by Chris Kolonko. A detailed Desk Based Assessment will be conducted prior to the field survey, to identify relevant sources of information that will aid the interpretation of the surviving defences and help identify their current locations. A Level 1 or 2 survey of each feature will be conducted to record location and condition, as well as assess the feature’s function and the strategy behind its deployment. Survey results will be assessed, interpreted and presented using an appropriate GIS package. All data will be compiled into a relevant format to aid inclusion within the Historic Environment Record.

Don’t worry! This example was meant to be detailed, just to give you an idea of some things you can take into consideration when planning your field recording.

Contacting the HER/SMR

The Heritage Gateway contacts page

The Historic Environment Record or Sites and Monuments Record curate information about historical and archaeological sites within a county or unitary authority. HERs/SMRs often curate a database of historic and archaeological sites that is used as a public information service or research tool. HERs often provide information to planning authorities, developers, the public utilities, conservation bodies and landowners, to ensure significant historic or archaeological sites are preserved and maintained where necessary.

Adding information to a local HER/SMR is extremely important as the information is used to inform local planning decisions. Highlighting the importance and significance of surviving defences in the record is the first step to ensuring their survival. Also, if a site is to be demolished, or at risk from coastal erosion, your information can ensure a site is ‘preserved in the record’ once it is gone. Therefore, detailed recording and interpretation is now required.

Once you have decided upon your aims and objectives, and identified information gaps, it is time to contact your local Historic Environment Service to discuss your project, decide what information would be of use and decide upon data formats that will allow your information to be recorded within the HER.

Click here for HER/SMR contact details

Surveying Your Survey Area

Filey Bay

It is always wise to investigate your survey area before you start your field work. This will allow you to identify areas of public access, potential landowners, convenient places to park and somewhere to take shelter and get a hot drink if the weather changes. This is useful if you don’t know the survey area very well.

You can assess your survey area with an Ordnance Survey map, Magic Map or Google Maps; keeping an eye out for public carparks, conveniences, and places where you can take shelter if bad weather sets in.

Depending on the size of your survey area, you may wish to split up the area into manageable chunks. Defences are usually dispersed and you may find yourself covering a greater distance than you may think. It’s best to plan ahead and dedicate a number of days to a field survey to give yourself plenty of time to record all the information you will require; there’s nothing worse than rushing field work.

If you are working on the coast remember to find out the tide times for your date of survey.

Public Access and Landowners

North Yorkshire County Council Definitive Map- Filey Bay

Always identify areas of public access, and secure landowner consent before any field recording.

You will need to identify public footpaths and rights of way that give you access to the areas you wish to investigate. You can find online versions of most Definitive Maps which show current public footpaths and rights of way, courtesy of the brilliant Geograph website-

You will need to gain express landowner consent to access any private land. Private land doesn’t need to be marked with a sign, so if you don’t see a sign it doesn’t mean you have free access. Keep an eye out for local farms and potential landowners while doing your site evaluation and stick to public footpaths. It is always best to conduct a preliminary walk-over of your site to check accessibility and to gain landowner consent; this may involve knocking on some doors. It should go without saying, but always be courteous when meeting landowners, explain the reasons why you would like to access their land and exchange contact details.

If you are granted access, arrange a convenient date to conduct your site visit, especially if fields are under crop or being used by grazing livestock. If the landowner doesn’t allow you to access their land that’s the end of the matter; don’t trespass regardless. This is un-professional and will only work against you in the future.

Remember- You will still need landowner consent to access features that don’t sit directly next to a public footpath. If you can’t secure landowner consent, don’t leave the footpath. You can still identify the site’s type, make a condition assessment and interpret the site’s defensive location from a distance.

Also, Don’t dig anything up, especially if you are not a qualified/experienced archaeologist and if you don’t have the permission of the landowner. You will cause damage and get into serious trouble. Digging ANY site without the express permission and guidance of the local Historic Environment Service, landowner consent and the supervision of a trained archaeologist will result in you committing a Heritage Crime.


Basic Equipment

You will need some basic kit to conduct your field recording. Most of this can be found around the house and more specialist equipment can be purchased relatively cheaply online.

Here’s my list of recommended kit-

An Ordnance Survey Map- A 1:25,000 scale Ordnance Survey map will help you to navigate your site.

A notebook- Useful for writing down observations, keeping track of project reference numbers and photographs.

Recording forms- Recording forms are used to record your field observations in a set format and make writing up your records a lot easier. You’ll find out more about these in the next blog.

A clipboard- Handy for stopping your recording forms blowing away. A clipboard also gives you something to rest on while filling out the forms. The MDF type are the best.

Pencils, pens and other stationery- Always bring along more than one pen; you can always guarantee a pen will stop working. Pencils are useful for making field sketches. You will also need a pencil sharpener and eraser. Keep this little lot in a sturdy pencil case.

A compass- Very useful for recording the orientation of surviving remains.

A digital camera- This can be a simple digital camera wirh an optical zoom or a DSLR with flash. I don’t recommend using mobile phones to take your site photographs, but at a push they can be used.

Binoculars- Binoculars will help you assess features from a distance, especially in areas where access isn’t possible.

Ranging poles and photo scales- Two 1m ranging poles and a 30cm photo scale are a basic requirement when taking photographs and help give a sense of scale.

A tape measure and/or reel tape- A handheld tape measure and reel tape are essential for measuring the features you find. I use a simple hand-held tape measure and a 30m reel tape.

A rucksack or haversack- You’ll need a sturdy bag to carry all of your equipment in. as well as food, drink and additional clothing.

Optional equipment

A handheld GPS reader- This is a great piece of kit to have and makes taking grid references much easier while in the field. However, they can be inherently inaccurate. There are some effective smartphone apps that can provide great results; again, I’ll cover these in the next blog.

Health and Safety

You will need to make sure you are working safely while on site to ensure the minimum exposure to risk and personal injury. Remember, I am not responsible if you do get injured as a result of using this guide.

Ensure you have a sturdy pair of waterproof walking boots with sufficient ankle support. Take additional layers of clothing just in case the weather turns cold and always take a waterproof jacket. You can always take off extra layers.

Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to get back and always work with at least one other person; an extra set of eyes always comes in useful. Ensure you take a fully charged mobile phone and check that you will have phone coverage within the survey area.

Don’t enter dilapidated structures or structures that you can’t see inside. Though entering pillboxes to investigate their fixtures and fittings can be useful, it is not worth doing if you risk injury. Surviving pillboxes are often flooded and contain a whole range of nasties. If you can’t see where you’re going, don’t enter.

I recommend you have a read of the site safety information on the Home Front Legacy 1914-18 website-

For specific H&S advice when working in coastal areas consult CITiZAN’s great advice here-

Further Information

You can find more detailed information about project planning  and putting together a project design on the ISGAP website-

The End

Right, that’s the end of this blog. This should give you something to think about before heading out into the field. Remember, the whole point of this is to assess and augment current records and help us to better understand the remaining defences.

Take some time to digest the information and I’ll see you next time for another instalment of this blog series. Maybe I’ll throw in a follow up blog or another Pillbox Myth in the meantime, who knows?

Over and out!

Creative Commons Licence
Planning Your Project by Chris Kolonko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at


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