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.
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).
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.”
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 ?
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.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame