Heritage Harbours - The Vision
This joint initiative seeks to recognise the value ageing ports and harbours - coastal or inland - still have today. Often located in urban areas, there is potential to breathe new life into existing historic buildings; moorings; maintenance facilities; and waste land. A Heritage Harbour or Heritage Inland Port should reflect the story of the area's maritime heritage; offer a safe haven for local and visiting historic vessels; and connect with the local community.
Amongst the rush to develop new housing along attractive waterfronts, it is important to protect the heritage of harbours and ports. By working with developers and local authorities, a Heritage Harbour group should aim to create a shared understanding of the long term benefits heritage can have to an area, including:
- protection of heritage assets at risk
- support for local business growth
- increase tourism
- improve community cohesion and inclusivity
- attract investment
- attract heritage funding.
F A Q's
A Heritage Harbour is a place of historic maritime significance, coastal or inland, that retains original features, buildings and facilities important for supporting historic vessels and maritime skills, which help connect the public to the UK’s maritime past. The initiative recognises the value of of historic and traditional ports and harbours across the UK drawing on similar European models such as Museum Harbours in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. Heritage Harbours present opportunities to provide or restore suitable berthing and accompanying facilities such as small shipbuilding and repair yards, slips and dry docks. The available facilities are likely to encourage mixed use developments such as light industry, retail, catering and commercial offices as well as activities linked to maritime heritage. This includes inland waterways and Heritage Inland Ports.
The Heritage Harbour initiative aims to revitalise historic ports and harbours across the UK and recognise their significance to our maritime heritage. It will help safeguard the traditional skills and infrastructure needed to support historic boats and ships and encourage wider public engagement, as well as increased cultural activity and tourism through heritage-led regeneration to host events, open days, activities and trails. Heritage Harbours can also serve as a focal point for education, skills training, volunteering and wellbeing.
Heritage Harbours is a joint initiative developed by NHS-UK through its Shipshape Network, and the Maritime Heritage Trust, in conjunction with Historic England. Local steering groups, forums or volunteer-run initiatives lead on grass root activities and engagement with:
- Local authorities
- Local developers
- Local MPs
- Historic vessel owners
- Facility providers such as wharf owners, slipways and repair yards suitable for historic vessels
- Local maritime businesses
- Training providers
- Harbour masters
- Other local community
To find out more about Heritage Harbours and discuss whether your local area might benefit from this initiative, contact either the Maritime Heritage Trust at:
We will provide further guidance and may be able to help you progress your Heritage Harbour ideas.
No. ‘Heritage Harbours’ is not a form of legal designation and there is no application process to complete. Rather the term underlines the historic importance and potential of harbours identified by this label and is likely to work best where maritime heritage activities and assets survive. Grass roots activity is led by local groups and the Maritime Heritage Trust. Individual Heritage Harbours are recognised and promoted via a dedicated section of The Maritime Heritage Trust website.
No – there is no formal statutory protection provided specifically by this initiative. However, the Heritage Harbour concept can raise the profile of these heritage features which may attract support and help safeguard them in the longer term.
Consider local listing Local Heritage Listing: Identifying and Conserving Local Heritage | Historic England and check What Is a Conservation Area? | Historic England.
Contact NHS-UK or the Maritime Heritage Trust if a planning application
If you're interested in setting up a Heritage Harbour steering group to recognise the potential of your local harbour or port, consider taking some of the following initial steps:
- Research the heritage significance of your local harbour or port including associations with trade, events, people and vessels as well as surviving and/or listed infrastructure and make this publicly available
- Identify traditional skills in the local area necessary for the upkeep of historic vessels and heritage infrastructure
- Catalogue historic features with photographs of their current character and condition
- Identify key facilities and infrastructure that needs to be maintained or enhanced
- Arrange a concept meeting with key stakeholders/local groups with an interest
- Develop a vision statement
- Speak at local community or Council meeting
- Identify potential risks to local heritage assets
- Identify historic vessels in your local area
- Establish regular stakeholder meetings
- Set up a website or Facebook group
- Develop a strategic plan to help safeguard the heritage
Once you have established your Heritage Harbour group, you may wish to put in place a formal structure to support your outcomes and increase your ability to fund activities and resources. This could take the form of a friends group, an unincorporated association, a Charitable trust or a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).
Examples of current Heritage Harbour group structures include:
- The Friends of Exeter Ship Canal – a friends group dedicated to protection of heritage and use of the canal and basin as an integral part of the city’s life and economy for the enjoyment of everyone.
- Maldon and Heybridge Heritage Harbour Association – established as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in 2020 to preserve the working and historic maritime heritage of Maldon and Heybridge
You may wish to make a public announcement to promote your Heritage Harbour activities. Please share press releases with the Maritime Heritage Trust and NHS-UK prior to publication so that we can help you maximise your outreach and provide a quote or comment where necessary.
The Maritime Heritage Trust has developed a section of its website to feature Heritage Harbours. This includes a map of locations, short summaries of local features and facilities, contact points and weblinks which can be seen at : The Maritime Heritage Trust - HERITAGE HARBOURS, as well as maintaining a Facebook group which is a good way to connect with others.
To add your Harbour to these web pages or join the Facebook group, email:
It is not necessary to set up your own separate website unless you wish to as the Maritime Heritage Trust can publicise your Harbour as stated above. Local maritime heritage news and events can also be shared with National Historic Ships UK for inclusion in its monthly newsletter, events calendar and social media. Please email:
A simple logo has been developed on the Maritime Heritage Trust Heritage Harbours webpage and each area which is recognised is eligible to display the Network logo on promotional material and at events. Individual Harbours may choose to create a logo or plaque appropriate to their area.
Once your Heritage Harbour group is set up, you may like to think about creating a route map, undertaking a feasibility study or carrying out an options appraisal to determine the next steps. This will help you identify priority areas to focus on and the most important outcomes for your local area. This work can be carried out by volunteers or, if funding is available, an external consultant can be commissioned to run the exercise. This individual will be able to undertake further research, interview key personnel, develop case studies based on successes elsewhere and set down a strategy, to include a fundraising approach.
Yes, we can introduce you or put you in touch with other like-minded individuals working around the UK to develop and sustain the Heritage Harbour concept. In addition, there is an online Heritage Harbour Working Group, hosted by Maritime Heritage Trust, to help develop the concept and support individual locations. If there is a particular topic you wish to discuss, let us know and we can suggest who best to approach..
Get in touch with the National Historic Ships UK (NHS-UK) team at