Climate change threatens Scotland’s historic sites

Climate change threatens Scotland’s historic sites

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A report released by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) identifies nearly a fifth of the almost 340 sites it oversees as being at very high risk of being badly damaged due to climate change. Another 70% of its sites are said to be at high risk in this first-of-its-kind study.

Climate and geological data from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and British Geological Survey were combined with HES’s own site surveys to create detailed climate risk assessments of each site. These show that historic site, often already fragile and exposed, are at risk from increased flooding, coastal erosion, heavier winter precipitation and drier summers. The report states:

“Water is the most destructive agent of decay. On a large scale, heavy and intense rainfall can directly lead to flooding in a short time frame, which has the potential to cause catastrophic damage to all elements of the historic environment within reach of these potential flood zones.”

The 28 sites with the highest risk, which include Fort George near Inverness and the 800-year-old Incholm Abbey on Incholm Island, are at an “unacceptable level of risk exposure” which would require immediate adaptation measures. Other sites which received a red warning, like Edinburgh Castle which is at very high risk of landslides and groundwater flooding, received an amber rating because they are under constant supervision by HES.

The study is part of ongoing efforts “to develop best practice and integrate climate change actions into [HES’s] operations.” The HES was tasked by The Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme with quantifying heritage assets affected by climate change using GIS in order to create a climate change risk register for their properties.

The report could led to increased pressure on other conservation organisations like the National Trust to step up their research efforts and identify climate risks to their sites in order to protect them appropriately.

Download and read the full report on HES’s website: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/


Cover photo by Timo Newton-Syms: Incholm island and former Augustine abbey in the Firth of Forth, Scotland (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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