At present war memorials in the Blackdown Hills, like all others in the UK, have no special legal protection.
Local parish councils implicitly take on the role of protector of memorials in public spaces, and under the War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act of 1923 they have the power to restore memorials, but it is not an obligation. Churches take on responsibility for those within their grounds.
A way for a memorial to acquire some legal protection is for it to be designated a listed building. It then requires planning permission to affect change, and any unpermitted change is an offence with possibility of criminal conviction.
At present only two memorials in the Blackdown Hills AONB are listed buildings, the Whitestaunton Great War Memorial and Upottery village memorial. Whitestaunton is of special interest because it reuses a medieval church spire. Upottery is located in the picturesque public square surrounded by listed buildings.
One may ask why more are not designated listed buildings given their importance. According to English Heritage:
“there is a presumption in favour of listing all memorials … particularly when inscriptions of casualties are included … discretion is still required , however, with memorials of limited formal or visual interest .. given the numbers of memorials within churchyards and cemeteries, it is no surprise to learn that many monuments of clear significance remain to be identified”
English Heritage Designation Listing Selection Guide: Commemorative Structures, April 2011, p.10
This strongly suggests that many more memorials in the Blackdown Hills could be designated. Given that we estimate there are over 100 memorials in the AONB the two currently listed represent a tiny proportion.
Along with listed buildings, county councils in the UK also maintain Historic Environment Records (HERs) which are databases of all sites of historic and archaeological interest for a given county. These are the basic starting point for heritage assets for an area and fulfil a development control and educational role. Inclusion of war memorials in HERs would be beneficial, as they will be flagged when council staff are considering planning applications. Although this will not carry additional legal weight it may be a contributing factor that results in their in-situ preservation or organised relocation.
At present only eight of the memorials in the AONB are included in an HER database, and they are all on the Somerset side. None of the Devon memorials are included in their respective county HER. According to staff at Devon Heritage Centre this is simply because they haven’t been submitted for inclusion, and there is a general presumption for all memorials to be entered.
At the end of the project we will submit all our data to both the Devon and the Somerset HERs. We will also compile a list of memorials suitable for designation as listed buildings.
Cataloguing is a starting point while working towards greater care of memorials at state level, and naturally we support the War Memorials Trust and Daily Telegraph in their continued efforts.