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MAN's interaction with the sea has left a legacy of ship losses around British waters. To date the National Maritime Record at the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England has compiled a list of almost 32,000 wreck incidents around England alone.
This is a resource that the diving community has enjoyed for many years with little restraint. And this is the way it should be, as few people respect the marine environment more than divers.
A concern arises, however, as large numbers of items have been lifted from these wrecks and it is a resource that is not infinite. Already many of the accessible wrecks have surrendered their more attractive assets, denying newly trained divers the enjoyment treasured by their predecessors.
Not only are these sites being stripped to the detriment of the next generation of divers, but souvenir-gathering is potentially undermining a wealth of archaeological material. Shipwrecks are often the pinnacle of a society's technical achievement, a demonstration of cultural and national success. This inheritance is a national asset and we have a duty to respect it.
It is rewarding, however, to see a shift in attitudes with a growing interest in the heritage for its own sake. This is in no small part due to the work of the National Archaeology Society Training Programme. The success of the Resurgam project, where over 100 NAS- trained volunteers contributed to the gathering of data, indicated the level of interest in marine archaeology.
Plans are in place to build on this around the shores of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight this summer. It will be good to see more divers co-operating with marine archaeologists in unravelling the drowned clues to our past. For further information on our projects contact me on 01703 593290.
Appeared in DIVER - January 1998
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