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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006, 15:56 GMT
Skills lack 'threat to heritage'
Culture minister Tessa Jowell
Peers urged the culture department to do more to safeguard the UK's heritage
The UK's cultural heritage is under threat as the knowledge and skills for preserving artefacts are being lost, a committee of peers has warned.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee fears Britain's reputation as a leader in the science underpinning conservation is in danger.

The peers called on the government to act to save historical buildings and works of art.

But the government says it cannot dictate how museums use public funds.

The Science and Heritage report criticised the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) for "failing to grasp the seriousness of the threat to heritage science and its wider implications for conservation".

It said the department's focus on "widening access to our cultural heritage had also helped to hasten its deterioration".

Our priceless cultural artefacts face not just the familiar threats of wear and tear, but new threats such as climate change
Baroness Sharp
Committee chairman

Committee chairman Baroness Sharp said: "We must safeguard our cultural heritage not only for the present generation, but also for future generations.

"We must not allow unique, iconic physical artefacts that embody British culture to be lost through poor management."

She said Britain was for a long time at the forefront of conservation techniques, with the development of science-based conservation at the National Gallery and British Museum.

But key conservation research was now undervalued in Britain, she said.

'Of vital importance'

"At the same time, our priceless cultural artefacts face not just the familiar threats of wear and tear, but new threats such as climate change," she said.

The UK as a nation must develop new techniques and apply scientific research in this area to maintain its wealth of cultural, artistic and architectural heritage, she said.

"This is of vital importance today, not least through cultural tourism which adds 38m to the economy, but it is of equal importance to preserve these treasures for future generations."

They urged "key players" such as the DCMS, the National Museums and Galleries, English Heritage and the National Trust to come together "to ensure that our descendants don't miss out on their cultural heritage".

The DCMS said it would study the committee's recommendations and respond within two months.

But a spokesman added: "Museums and galleries have received record funding since 1997.

"We give them the money, but it is down to the individual museum to decide how to use it," he said.

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