New measures to manage the impact of climate change on Scottish national heritage sites

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is to implement a new approach to inspecting historic properties in response to the effects of climate change.

A program of tactile condition surveys of over 200 properties will assess the extent of deterioration of high-level stonework and ensure public safety against the risk of potentially unstable building fabric. This means that access to certain properties will be restricted to allow for surveys to be carried out.

Scotland’s public heritage body, which looks after 336 historic buildings and sites across Scotland, believes the scheme is a proactive step towards transforming the way the country’s most treasured places are protected, repaired and experienced in the face of accelerated degradation due to climate change.

The Touch Survey Programme, which is the result of continuous risk assessment and sample surveys, will assess the impact of climate change, as well as the extent of deterioration caused by a number of other factors. , including the materials used in the construction of the building, its age and physical location. It is expected that the restoration works could require significant investments over several years and, in some cases, require a different management approach than before.

To ensure public safety and in response to concerns about the risk of fabric failure in historic buildings, HES had embarked on a nationwide risk assessment project for visitors and staff at supported properties in 2019. After the lockdown, work restarted and surveys in spring 2021 identified potentially dangerous fabrics at a high level, resulting in immediate access restrictions to 20 properties for inspection to ensure visitors and staff do not are exposed to any possible risk.

Sample surveys of these properties confirmed to HES conservation specialists that the type of deterioration observed could only be properly assessed by hands-on tactile surveys and that traditional methods of high-level inspection, such as l Visual inspection from the ground or by drone, while useful, is not as accurate as a hands-on inspection.

These investigations will inform a program of repairs, conservation works, adaptation measures, interventions and new ways of caring for these historic assets. Access restrictions were put in place at a further 11 sites in November 2021, followed by an additional 39 sites in January 2022 as a precautionary measure, as HES assessments showed that issues at the initial sites could potentially pose a risk for properties with common characteristics. .

Dr David Mitchell, Director of Conservation at HES, said: “The safety of staff, visitors and contractors is our priority and restrictions on access to some sites will unfortunately be necessary.

“Our routine inspections are increasingly revealing the deterioration of the high-level construction fabric. Although our changing climate is not the only reason for the deterioration, it has certainly accelerated it and brought the problem to a head. Historic properties are inherently fragile by nature, often in ruins and located in exposed locations. We face a constant battle against time and the elements.

“We are one of the first heritage organizations to tackle this issue and the difficult choices it will lead head-on, but we are not alone.

“All over the world, cultural heritage properties are seen as barometers of change and they demonstrate the challenges for the historic environment and traditionally built buildings in the face of climate change.

“We are now taking proactive steps to assess the nature and scale of the immediate challenge, and to explore a range of solutions and options. It is inevitable that our approach to protecting historic buildings will have to change – we need to rethink how we manage these historic and much-loved places. A range of solutions are needed, including repairs, investments and new and innovative interventions. In some cases, reduced physical access and acceptance of the natural decomposition process will need to be considered.

While work is underway, HES is looking at other ways to share Scotland’s history with the many visitors, members and people across Scotland who interact with the sites it manages. This includes looking at opportunities to provide partial access to some of the sites where it is safe to do so, while more interpretive performance, the use of innovative technology and new audio, video and trail tours are also considered to improve the visitor experience. 2022. HES undertakes to provide as much access as possible as the work progresses.

While the inspection program is ongoing, many of Scotland’s best-loved historic tourist attractions remain open to the public, including Edinburgh Castle, Skara Brae, Stirling Castle, Fort George, Arnol Blackhouse, Urquhart Castle and many more across Scotland. .