How do Orcadians View The Heart of Neolithic Orkney?

The impact of mass tourism on the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘The Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ was the subject of a public consultation commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland.

Maeshowe sundown Martin Laird

Tourism is a major sector in the Orkney economy with knock on effects to many businesses and organisations. The coastline of Orkney is also subject to coastal erosion and the effects of climate change.

The independent public consultation conducted by Taylor Nisbet Ltd took place over the months of January/February 2020. The World Heritage Site comprises: Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe Chambered Tomb.  Link: How Is Tourism Affecting Orkney’s World Heritage Site?

The Standing Stones of Stenness by Martin Laird

You can read the full report here:

Download: The Community View Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site

Although the sites are extremely popular with tourists and locals many of those who took part in the consultation felt that concentration on the 4 sites that make up the WHS meant that many of Orkney’s other sites and its wider history was being overlooked.

“concentration on these four sites can contribute to a failure to encompass the wider story of Orkney through time—potentially telling a fragmented story and leaving out important elements.”

  • 98% of residents stated they felt proud of the World Heritage Site
  • 83% of survey respondents felt the history and archaeology of Orkney was important to them, while 63% attributed the same level of importance to the World Heritage Site
  • 79% of residents and 97% of businesses think that tourism has a positive impact on Orkney overall
  • 88% of residents feel that visitors are negatively affecting the condition of the World Heritage site monuments and the surrounding environment

How the sites are affected by mass tourism was touched on by Bernie Bell in The Last & First of Brodgar . In my most recent visit to the Ring of Brodgar on 10th of June 2020 the outer path was still badly worn, the inner ring roped off and protective fencing fallen over.

Despite this it remains a beautiful place.

The report reflects the positive and negative impact of tourism on Orkney and on the World Heritage Site.

HES report on WHS tourism

The World Heritage Site in Orkney covers the 4 main visitor spots. There is a much larger area which encompasses these and extends slightly beyond them. This is managed by a steering group consisting of: Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Orkney Islands Council (OIC), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

It was felt by Orcadians that they were not aware of what the steering group did and that in the past there has been little opportunity to contribute their views to the management plan.

“There was a strong feeling that the vision and aims needed to be reviewed and updated.”

Main Themes Which Have Emerged From The Consultation:

• Communication
• Managing visitors
• Infrastructure and local facilities
• Expanding education

Commenting on the report Alice Lyall, Deputy Head of World Heritage at HES, said:

“We’d like to thank people across Orkney for taking the time to engage with us during the community consultation.

“Throughout the community engagement we heard that Orcadians are extremely proud of their heritage and the history of the islands, but also that many people felt that there were improvements that could be made, including the benefit of a more joined-up approach in connecting the World Heritage site to other historic sites locally.

“The feedback that local people have provided will help us to create a management plan that balances different aspects of the World Heritage site, like tourism and conservation of the monuments, with the daily lives of the people that live and work in Orkney.

 “The community responses clearly recognise that the Heart of Neolithic Orkney plays a key role in the Orkney tourist economy, and the site has an important role to play in the Covid-19 recovery process when it’s safe to do so.

“Practically, this will mean new ways of opening and experiencing the monuments to make sure residents and visitors can safely enjoy and benefit from the World Heritage Site.

“The new management plan, informed by the community consultation, will provide a framework for the management group to make these decisions for the future.”

One of the place making projects which had been started before lockdown was for the Stenness community.

Link:  Stenness and World Heritage Site Active Travel Public Consultation

Hopefully that earlier consultation commissioned by Orkney Islands Council will also be used to inform  the Management Plan.

The report states:

“A key outcome of the consultation was to underline again the importance of communicating with the local community about what is being done to address issues with infrastructure and local facilities. “

Lockdown has resulted in the sites of Maeshowe and Skara Brae being closed and with the travel restrictions, very few visits to the standing stones at Brodgar and Stenness. It would be hoped that this has been a time when the Management Steering Group has taken to reflect on the future planning for the area and that the views of the public are used to improve the visitor experience.

The Watch Stone of Stenness by Martin Laird

Reporter: Fiona Grahame