A country's cultural heritage includes all traces of human activity in the physical environment. These are irreplaceable sources of information on people's lives and activities, and on the historical development of crafts, techniques and art. Because monuments and sites and cultural environments are non-renewable resources, their management must be based on a long-term perspective. Cultural monuments and sites are a source of emotional and aesthetic experiences for many people, and modern society can benefit from the preservation and active use of its cultural heritage.
The Directorate for Cultural Heritage is responsible for the management of all archaeological and architectural monuments and sites and cultural environments in accordance with the applicable legislation. The Directorate is under the auspices of the Ministry of the Environment and plays a central role in public environmental management.
Each county has a service responsible for cultural conservation in connection with the general administration of cultural affairs. The tasks of this service are to advise the county administration on cultural heritage management issues and to ensure that protected monuments and sites and cultural environments are taken into account in planning processes at the county and the municipal level. In the Sami areas, the Sámediggi (Sami Parliament) has the same tasks as the county cultural heritage service.
The Archaeological Museums administer excavations and investigations of archaeological monuments and sites.
The Maritime Museums are responsible for monuments at the bottom of the sea.
In accordance with the cultural heritage regulations for Svalbard, the Governor’s Office administers cultural conservation on Svalbard.
The purpose of cultural heritage management is described in the Cultural Heritage Act, which stipulates that it is a national responsibility to safeguard archaeological and architectural monuments and sites and cultural environments “as part of our cultural heritage and identity and as an element in the overall environment and resource management.” Under the provisions of the Act, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage may impose a protection order on buildings, groups of buildings and cultural landscapes. The Cultural Heritage Act also regulates the relations between the authorities and the owners of protected monuments and sites. However, only a fraction of Norway’s cultural heritage is protected in this way. There are a large number of buildings and other monuments and sites considered worthy of protection because of their qualities and their importance to the surrounding environment. Other acts of legislation, for instance the Building and Planning Act, may be invoked to protect these monuments and sites. However, the best method of conservation is to encourage the owners of monuments and sites to maintain these unique properties whether or not they are legally protected.