The National Trust and the Hague Convention

Walking in autumn sun at Fountains Abbey

In 2017 the UK government ratified the 1954 Hague Convention – an agreement that aims to safeguard our cultural property in times of conflict and ensure UK forces overseas respect the heritage of other cultures.

Countries that have signed up to the Convention are expected to foster a spirit of respect for cultural property amongst their armed forces, spearheaded by a specialist unit that works alongside relevant civilian organisations – a Cultural Property Protection Unit. The Ministry of Defence has established such a unit in the Army Reserves.

Property protected under the Hague Convention may be indicated by a distinctive emblem, the Blue Shield. Blue Shield is an international, voluntary organisation, mandated under international law to try to protect cultural heritage during conflict, and during and after natural disasters. 

What this means for the Trust

The Convention’s definition of cultural property is broad and includes buildings and monuments, works of art, archaeological sites, books, manuscripts and scientific collections – which means the Trust has many interests and responsibilities.

Civilian heritage bodies must have emergency protection measures in place and promote the Convention to special interest groups and the wider public. In the UK, inventories and emergency plans are routine across the heritage sector and the Trust is no exception. There is a responsibility on heritage institutions to have a plan for protecting their collections and buildings in the event of armed conflict. We are committed to supporting the UK-wide response and our Head of Archaeology, Ian Barnes, sits on the Ministry of Defence’s Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group.

How will it affect your visits?

There is no requirement to mark property with the Blue Shield, though you may have seen the Shield on buildings in Holland and Austria. Some Trust buildings may be marked with the Blue Shield and you may find leaflets explaining the Hague Convention at these places to assist with education and to explain how the Trust is responding to the Convention.

But it’s not just about protection – the rich and varied cultural property the Trust looks after means we can do more. Many of the places we care for offer ideal training conditions for the UK’s Cultural Property Protection Unit to practice scenarios they may face, and we are currently exploring how we might support them.

More information

If you’d like to know more about the Hague Convention and the Trust’s involvement please contact our Head of Archaeology, Ian Barnes: ian.barnes@nationaltrust.org.uk