Historic Scotland

Historic Scotland


Climate change is an active threat to Scotland’s built and natural environment, infrastructure and many aspects of society. Climate models predict that trends seen during the latter part of the last century will continue through this century, such that the sea-level rise now exceeds 3-4mm/year around the Scottish coast, and depending on high and low emissions scenarios, rainfall will increase by 40-60% and the temperature will increase by 2-4ΌC. ‘Historic Scotland’ is the government agency charged with protecting the nation’s historic environment, including addressing the impacts of climate change. A range of actions are underway, including improving the resilience of heritage sites through risk assessment and adaptation, mitigating future climate change by reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency, and promoting the sustainability of the historic environment and its importance to local communities.

Case Studies

Saving Heritage at Risk


Scotland’s coastline contains abundant archaeology, including unique sites of international importance such as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site. Many sites are under direct threat from coastal erosion, increasing the need for risk assessment to prioritise actions such as coastal protection or excavation. The accelerated erosion of a Neolithic site at Links of Noltland on the remote island of Westray led to a geophysical survey and trial excavation to determine how much of the site was at risk. Excavation was deemed necessary and has continued to uncover an astonishing assemblage of pottery, bone and flint tools, an unusual alignment of ox skulls, and a stone carving thought be the earliest representation of a human figure in Scotland. The decision to excavate a site threatened with destruction from climate change has resulted in a major addition to knowledge of life 4,500 years ago in this part of Europe.

Smailholm Tower


​Smailholm Tower is a 15th century defensive house with connections to the famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. The badly-damaged roof was rebuilt in stone during the mid-20th century, but has suffered increasing rainwater penetration affecting tower’s structure and a collection of tapestries. A two-year research project was undertaken to test a ‘living roof’ using different types of clay barriers and vegetation growth. The material is designed to resist the effects of increased winter rainfall whilst also coping with summer drought conditions. It also reduces the amount of water run-off and moderates daily temperature swings in the interior of the building. A complete new ‘green’ roof covering was completed in 2011 representing an adaptation strategy designed to make the monument more resilient to climate change without damage or loss of historic fabric.

Energy Efficiency


In order to mitigate future climate change, Historic Scotland is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of its 347 historic properties and sites, and undertaking and disseminating research to improve the energy efficiency of traditional buildings across Scotland (approximately 20% of the nation’s housing stock). A series of pilot projects has been carried out in a range of historic and traditional building types in order to improve thermal performance and increase energy efficiency whilst preserving the historic fabric and character. Fabric improvements to roofs, walls, windows, doors and fireplaces have all been trialled. In one 19th century cottage there was a 90% modeled reduction in carbon emissions resulting from a series of appropriate fabric upgrades. Results of the research will be used to improve knowledge for refurbishment and retrofitting, giving many older buildings a sustainable future and contributing to international carbon reduction targets.

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