Gates at Brodgar: Conservation V Tourism

Gates at Brodgar 1

Anyone visiting the Ring of Brodgar over the past few years will have seen many changes. First the new car park for increased visitor numbers and to allow for tour buses.

The huge surge in visitor numbers took its toll on the iconic World Heritage Site and various measures were then gradually introduced in an attempt to alleviate the damage of footfall on such a scale.

Wetter winters has also meant that the ground, now more compacted with the increase in footfall, was unable to cope and became water logged and muddy.

Historic Environment Scotland engaged in an expensive and long process of draining, returfing and repairing the inner ring. Ring of Brodgar Update – September 2018

The inner ring has been closed (except for rare occasional days) to allow the drainage and repairs to work and the turf to get established. Firstly ropes were put across then some wooden stake type fencing to deter people from entering the inner ring and causing more damage.  All of these were clearly to be seen as temporary measures. Of course, there were always some people who did still go into the ring and ignore the conservation work that was taking place, (mostly people did not).

Ring of Brodgar protecting the path

Visitors are now relegated to the outer path which is very slippy on wet days and eroding quickly as it expands into the heather.  There is an abundance of signage.

I asked Historic Environment Scotland about the most recent change to the World Heritage Site – the erection of substantial wooden, padlocked gates, anchored by cement blocks and bolted into the ground. A spokesperson for HES explained:

“The seasonal gates are part of a long-running programme of visitor management and conservation work at the Ring of Brodgar.

“A combination of increased visitor numbers and climate change impacts at the site have made it necessary to take measures to protect the inner pathway. High levels of both rainfall and footfall result in wear to the turf, leading to erosion and boggy conditions underfoot.

“From May this year, access to the inner ring path has been controlled at peak visitor times by new additional seasonal onsite Ranger staff dedicated to monitoring the condition of the inner ring pathway and resting it as necessary for a few days at a time using unobtrusive, low-level rope barriers.

“During periods of particularly heavy rainfall or high footfall, it has been necessary to fully close the inner path for a short period of time to prevent further damage. During this time, the outer ring path, and the rest of the site, has remained fully accessible.

“While we recognise that fencing and gating can be visually intrusive, it has been necessary to install a robust structure to withstand the high winds in Orkney.”

Gates at Brodgar 3

The spokesperson further stated that the substantial wooden gates costing £250 were erected after consultation with the Stenness Community and are only in place for the winter period. HES Rangers will open the gates to permit access to the public when the weather allows it.

“This is part of a long-term management plan, which we will keep under review to respond to changing conditions and any concerns brought to us by locals or visitors. We have been pleased at the success of these measures to date, which have helped enhance the condition of the site. We also believe that the additional site staff have been able to provide an enhanced welcome and information source to our visitors.

“We will continue to closely monitor visitor numbers and visitor patterns at the site, so we can respond accordingly.

“In the future, we are also looking digital modelling options that would allow remote visitor access to the site.”

Is this the price Orkney is now paying for being a successful cruise ship destination?

And is this  what tourists who spend all that money to come to Orkney and visit the Neolithic standing stones at Brodgar wish to see?

What now is the quality of their experience ? Or will they be happy to just look at it from afar on a computer screen ?

Gates at Brodgar 2


It would be interesting to know what other readers think. Conservation and Tourism – it is a problem many beautiful parts of the world are struggling with and it looks like Orkney is one of them.

Ring of Brodgar sunset

Reporter: Fiona Grahame




3 replies »

  1. It’s a thorny issue, which, mostly, I’m ill qualified to pontificate about. But – I’ll have a stab at looking at it from different angles………..

    We are very fortunate that the Ring of Brodgar is still standing, and visible. Many such monuments have gone – been destroyed – some have disappeared under peat, or concrete. See Kenny Brophy’s ‘Urban prehistorian’ blog

    We have been very fortunate to have been able to access the monument so freely, for all these years. And, genuinely ‘freely’ – there is no charge. Orkney’s perceived remoteness, meant that not all that many people made the effort to come here, and those that did, and those that are fortunate enough to live here, could go to the Ring of Brodgar, stand, feel, touch, and it didn’t make much impression on the place, and, mostly, the place was treated with respect.

    Now – increased numbers, combined with The Weather, meant that the land there was being damaged – it couldn’t cope with the increase in people, as much of the world can’t cope with the increase in people.

    In the last few years, I have been expecting, at any time, for it to be fenced off, permanently – it’s what has had to happen at similar sites in England, where there are so many more people, generally. I’ve seen what has been happening to the land at Brodgar – and it wasn’t getting a chance to heal itself.
    So, when I see these fences, and they are relatively unobtrusive fences, I can see why they are there.
    I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the site fenced off, and the public only allowed to walk around an outer circle, possibly re-enforced in some way.
    But…..if that’s what it takes to preserve the site, then that’s what it takes.
    And this is from one who has long loved to go there, stand, place my hands on the stones, not only for the energy from them, but to exchange the energy with them, and the place. There is one stone there, just by the entrance, which, when I lean back against it, holds me and eases my back. Some might say that’s my imagination – I don’t care what it is – it eases my back! With a fence there, that simply couldn’t happen, but …I can still see the present need for a fence.
    As I said, a thorny issue , a very thorny issue.
    I have been here for the ‘Glory Days’ of a number of Orkney’s ancient sites – when it was possible to get a ticket for Maes Howe, from Tormiston Mill, wander over, pick up with whichever guide was there when I was ready go inside, come out, either go back with that guide or stay a while, then, to lunch in the cafe in Tormiston. Now – that’s a visitor experience.

    The very first time I went to Skara Brae, it was still possible to go down in among some of the buildings.

    I’ve seen the Ness of Brodgar emerging from the earth – and that might, in the future, need to have limitations of access, and viewing potential – not just viewing the site itself, but all around – it’s connection with the area.
    Glory Days – but, glory day’s usually pass by. Orkney could afford to chance letting folk near to and into monuments – but, so many people, and so much footfall, plus The Weather …….

    If we want to conserve and look after these monuments, I’m afraid we have to accept measures being taken to protect them from… And, as I said, this is coming from me – one of the greatest delights of my life, and one of my strongest solaces, is to go to these places, and be able to walk, stand, look about me, touch, think, connect.
    It will be hard not to be allowed to do that, but, I will accept it, if it’s what’s needed for the good of the place.
    If you love a person, creature, or place, you want what is best for them, for their wellbeing, not selfishly what you want, from them.

    It’s very good, that these places are getting attention, and care again, after all these years. Think of the care and attention they used to have, especially when the whole Stenness/ Brodgar area was functioning as a pilgrimage centre. For years, they were neglected, and even feared and damaged in some cases. Now, people are waking up a bit, again, to what’s there, and what it’s about, but, still, there is a tendency for people to go to these places, to get something from them. Fair enough, they often do get something from them, that’s part of it. But it needs to be more reciprocal, there should be more of an exchange and inter-change, not all a one-way flow. That’s how I see it anyway, and why I’m so pleased, when they get attention again, not necessarily the kind of attention they used to get, but it is positive attention, not negative, or neglectful. Unfortunately, it’s now got to the point where the price for getting this attention, is ….footfall, damage.
    So, what’s to be done?

    If I could answer that, I’d be an executive with HES – ( no thank you!).
    A thorny issue – I’ve put in my tuppence worth – some will maybe argue with me, but, I would ask them to consider the fact that I have tried to approach this from various angles, carefully, as one would with any kind of thorns!
    For myself – remembering the Glory Days – when a person could arrive, roam, exchange, connect.

    One word…..Newgrange.
    I went there in the Glory Days, too.
    On the other hand, if no one had paid attention and excavated it and re-assembled it, producing the tourist honey-pot it is today, Newgrange could still be a heap of stones in a field. And that would be a great shame.
    Balance and thought, I suppose that’s what’s needed.
    Oh, dear.

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