Climate Change Challenges to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Tonight, Thursday 25th of April, the Archaeology Institute UHI will be hosting a discussion on : Climate Change and World Heritage – Orkney and Beyond.

The meeting which is open to the public starts at 7.30pm in the Orkney College Lecture Theatre, Kirkwall.

poster on climate change event

For several days Orkney has been the gathering point for a major workshop looking at how to apply a new tool for measuring the climate change threat to World Heritage sites. This has been a collaborative get together of :

  • Historic Environment Scotland (HES)
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
  • James Cook University (JCU, Australia)
  • Orkney Islands Council
  • Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

Orkney is being used to  pilot the new methodology which assesses the risks to all types of heritage sites impacted by climate change, known as the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CVI).

Dr Scott Heron, Senior Lecturer in Physics at JCU and one of the lead developers of the CVI assessment tool, said:

“Climate change has been identified as the fastest growing threat to World Heritage properties,many of which are already being impacted.  The purpose of this workshop is to assess the climate vulnerability of the Orkney World Heritage site, using a tool custom designed for application to all types of World Heritage properties – cultural and natural, marine and terrestrial.”

Skara Brae and waves

Skara Brae Neolithic Village protected by a sea wall

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney will be the first cultural World Heritage site to undergo CVI assessment, following an initial trial of the tool over 8000 miles away at Shark Bay in Western Australia – a natural site which encompasses 2.2 million hectares of diverse landscapes, animals and plant life.

At the meeting on Thursday evening members of the public can find out about the project in more detail.

 Professor Jane Downes, UHI Institute of Archaeology said:

“Our research shows that Orkney’s world class heritage is suffering greatly from the impacts of climate change. We welcome this work as a vital part of setting Orkney’s heritage in today’s global context, while planning for the long term.”

A report will be produced and then presented during the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee which takes place in Baku, Azerbaijan this July, highlighting the results from Orkney and recommending that the CVI be adopted as a world standard for measuring the climate change risk to World Heritage sites.

Ewan Hyslop, Head of Technical Research and Science at HES, said:

“Climate change poses a number of very real threats to heritage sites, not only here in Scotland but throughout the world, and we’re very pleased to have been asked by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Climate Change and Heritage Working Group to pilot the CVI assessment tool in Orkney.

Ring of Brodgar sunset

Adam Markham, Deputy Director for Climate and Energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and a member of the ICOMOS working group, said:

“From the Statue of Liberty in New York, to Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, iconic heritage sites the world-over are at risk. We’re excited to be working with HES and the other partners to pioneer the development of this urgently needed rapid assessment tool to help prioritise and plan climate resilience actions at internationally important sites.”

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