York & North Yorkshire Heritage Watch

Protecting the heritage of the City of York and across the rural county of North Yorkshire


Heritage Crime Threats

Threats being faced by heritage and historic locations. 


Although unlikely, the measures needed to prevent terrorism are valid in preventing all crime. There is a recognised need for improved intelligence flow from communities, including the heritage community, to agencies. York & North Yorkshire Heritage Watch can provide a very useful platform to collect and share this intelligence.

Recognising a terrorist threat guidance from the National Counter Terrorism Security Office. 


Burglary is the act of entering any building as a trespasser to commit theft or damage.  An engaged and active heritage community increases surveillance of heritage items and locations, making them less attractive to potential criminals and it is known that groups of Organised Crime Groups (OCG) target museums, galleries and heritage sites as they recognise the value of assets that are often on open display in these locations.

The Fitzwilliam Musuem in Cambridge that was targeted in 2013 by a OCG who conducted a series of offences where the object was to steal exhibits of Chinese origin and Rhino horn from displays.  The values of the items stolen were staggering, and with Rhino horn being recognised as one of the most valuable objects on the planet, most custodians have taken the very wise decision to remove these objects into secure storage. 

We must recognise that there is a need to balance accessibility with security, and this is very relevant in securing buildings against burglary, where improved formal and informal surveillance are vital. 

Criminals will stake out buildings before committing offences, and this 'hostile reconnaissance' provides and opportunity to disrupt this behaviour.  York & North Yorkshire Heritage Watch as a scheme can really help in providing this improvement in surveillance.   


Nighthawking is the term that is used to describe unlawful metal detecting, that can take place at any time of day on farmland, archaeological sites and other areas that may be of archaeological interest. 

Nighthawks enter land without permission from the landowner, using a range of equipment (metal detectors, spades and other digging equipment) to search for coins and other artefacts. Items found will be classes as stolen property and tend to be kept for a private collection or sold for personal profit. Finds are unlikely to be reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and valuable historical data is lost forever. 

Operation Chronos is the national response to night-hawking and a very useful leaflet describing this offending can be found on Our Mission page. 

Metal Theft

The impact that metal theft has on historic and heritage buildings and assets is significant as it is usually the roofs of buildings that are targeted, damaging both the building and its contents. Other metal sources such as rainwater goods, lightning conductors and churchyard features are also at risk. 

Criminal Damage

Intentional and malicious damage to the home, other property or vehicles and includes anti-social graffiti, as here at Clifford's Tower in the City of York. This mindless act damages the fabric of this historic listed structure, the porosity of the stone makes it difficult to fully remove paint and can cause permanent damage.  The unsightly nature of this graffiti makes York a less desirable tourist destination and can impact on the local economy. Damage such as this is expensive to repair and in the end is a cost that we all share.  

Criminal Damage

The North Yorks Moors Railway was recently attacked and damage estimated to be in the thousands of pounds was caused, as well as taking historic rolling stock out of service at a busy time of year. This provides a good example of the wider impact of crimes against heritage. This is a costly crime for this charity, that it can ill afford. 


The act of deliberately setting fire to property, including buildings and vehicles. Although an infrequent heritage crime, when it occurs it can have huge costs that leaves the heritage fabric irreparable. 

Arson attacks have devastating impacts on heritage buildings, and can cause catastrophic damage and can totally destroy a historic building. The contents of historic buildings are also at risk, and the value in terms of loss to regional and national heritage can be priceless. 

Many heritage sites do suffer from smaller less damaging arson attacks and but for the prompt action of custodians and the fire service, do risk escalating into major fires. 

Often overlooked is the torching of stolen cars or fly tipped rubbish at heritage sites, that can cause untold damage both environmentally and to archaeology.