Archaeology firm finds its feet in England

A SCOTTISH archaeology company is breaking new ground south of the Border after buying a Hereford-based firm for a "nominal fee".

Edinburgh-based Headland Archaeology – which carried out excavations ahead of the Scottish Parliament and Edinburgh tram projects – yesterday reported a revival in business as work in the construction sector resumes following the recession.

Russel Coleman, a director based at the company's Glasgow office, told The Scotsman that turnover had dropped to about 8 million last year, having reached more than 12m during a bumper 2009.

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But he said the recession had given Headland a chance to form new relationships with construction companies and that it was now involved in original tendering for building work, rather than being awarded sub-contracts.

Coleman said Headland, which also has two offices in Ireland, has diversified into growing areas – such as land and marine-based surveys for renewable energy developers – in order to help insulate the group against expected cutbacks in the public sector.

However, he added that a lot of the public sector work handled by the firm relates to road buildings and that he expected projects such as the Aberdeen southern bypass and replacement Forth crossing to still go ahead.

Commenting on the acquisition of Hereford-based Archaeological Investigations, Coleman said: "Archaeology is a small industry, dominated by local councils and universities, with few commercial companies like our own. So we already knew Andy Boucher and his team in Hereford and, when the company came up for sale, we thought it would be a good fit and help us to expand into new markets."

Recent contracts won by Headland, which was founded in 1996, include work for Forth Energy – the joint venture set up by Forth Ports and Scottish & Southern Energy – and a 1.5 million (1.3m) deal in Ireland for archaeological excavation work ahead of the building of the N25 New Ross bypass, in Co Wexford in the Republic of Ireland.

Accounts filed at Companies House showed that Headland's turnover increased by 78 per cent to 12.3m in the year to 31 May, 2008, after winning "substantial" infrastructure projects in the UK and Ireland.

Pre-tax profits rose by 60 per cent to 1.17m and the directors increased reserves by 630,000 "to weather any economic storms the future may hold".

Projects undertaken by Archaeological Investigations – which was set up by the local council in 1974 and spun off in 1997 – have included Roman work at Alcester, in Warwickshire, the M4 widening scheme in south Wales and prehistoric and medieval excavations on an Asda site in Hereford.

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The company has also been involved with work on castles at Ewyas Harold and Goodrich in Herefordshire, English Heritage's Kenilworth in Warwickshire and Oliver's Mount at Shrawley in Worcestershire.