Help Explore Orkney’s Energy Landscapes

A project exploring the past, present and future of energy production and its role in shaping the identity of islands communities has been relaunched and is looking for anyone interested in delving into Orkney’s energy heritage.

Rendall Doocot with wind turbine in the background Credit Bell

The Orkney Energy Landscapes project is led by the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), part of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, in partnership with the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) and the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews.

The project received a £10,000 National Lottery Heritage fund grant in February 2020, but work had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Now with lockdown measures easing, ORCA’s Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist Dan Lee is teaming up with anthropologist Dr Richard Irvine, from the University of St Andrews, to undertake activities throughout 2021. These will be based around energy themes of oil, uranium, wind, wave and peat.

The year-long project will see archaeological recording at contemporary energy sites, peat coring, oral history interviewing, fieldwalking, community events and schools workshops.

Three recording days have been scheduled, running from 10am until 4pm each day:

  • Burgar Hill, Evie – June 26, 2021
  • Costa Head turbine, Evie – July 3, 2021
  • BilliaCroo wave energy test facility, Stromness – July 23, 2021

Future events include a Stromness Uranium Corridor Walk, a Flotta Oil Terminal walk and peat coring and cutting on the island of Eday.

Dan Lee said:

“We are really excited about exploring some of the most important and overlooked contemporary archaeological sites in Orkney – those from the renewable and oil industries – and work towards sharing these in an Orkney Energy Trail.”

The project will produce a sound archive of stories connected with energy sites and resources for schools. The aim is to explore ways to understand and record energy sites.

Orkney has a long history of energy production, from the use of traditional fuels such as peat, to the more recent extraction of oil, exploration of uranium, and the current world-leading renewables industry.

Image Credit Bell

Energy needs have long shaped Orkney’s landscape and today the islands are home to a global innovation hub in renewable energy. These industries have left physical traces in the landscape which can be recorded archaeologically, and stories and memories within communities that should be preserved.

Richard Irvine added:

“From peat cutting to wind turbines, the search for energy sources has played a key role in shaping the identity of these islands.

“There are energy stories everywhere in the landscape – whether we’re talking about the economic and social impact of oil, or the political self-determination that grew around the threat of Uranium mining, or debates about the role of renewables in Orkney’s future economy. I’m really excited about working with communities to gather these stories.”

MARINUS Tidal Testing Platform constructed by Leask Marine Ltd in Orkney credit: Kenny Armet

Support from the National Lottery will allow participants to explore and record the physical remains of energy sites (e.g. concrete turbine bases, test sites), record stories and memories, and contribute to the understanding of Orkney’s energy landscapes now and for the future. Volunteers will learn skills and assist in recording energy sites and developing the concept and route of a potential future Energy Trail during the activities.

All are welcome to take part in the project and anyone interested should email

The project will also record oral histories of community recollections and experiences of the islands’ energy histories, exploring how the interaction with different energy sources has come to shape contemporary Orkney and its identity.

Related article: Orkney’s Uranium Protests

Peat Fire at Corrigall Farm Museum

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