Skara Brae to test climate tool for world heritage sites

International experts will be at the neolithic remains of Skara Brae in Orkney this week as part of a workshop aimed at protecting global heritage sites from the impacts of climate change
International experts will be at the neolithic remains of Skara Brae in Orkney this week as part of a workshop aimed at protecting global heritage sites from the impacts of climate change
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Stone age remains at Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney are to be the focus of a new international initiative aimed at predicting how badly climate change will hit iconic landmarks around the world.

Leading climate scientists and heritage professionals from across the globe are gathering in Orkney today for a major workshop to pilot a tool for measuring the susceptibility of historical sites to threats such as rising sea levels, wildfires and extreme weather.

Known as the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CVI), it will assess the level of threat to all types of World Heritage sites.

The 5,000-year-old Heart of Neolithic Orkney – one of many historical treasures known to be at risk from climate change – will be the first cultural World Heritage site to get CVI assessment.

The workshop is being run by conservation body Historic Environment Scotland (HES), with Orkney Islands Council, the University of the Highlands and Islands UHI, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Australia’s James Cook University.

Ewan Hyslop, head of technical research and science at HES, welcomed the decision to pilot the tool in Orkney.

“Climate change poses a number of very real threats to heritage sites, not only here in Scotland but throughout the world,” he said.

“This workshop offers an important opportunity to further enhance our knowledge and pool expertise by working collaboratively with our local, national and international partners to face this shared challenge, and take a positive step forward to help protect World Heritage sites across the globe.”

Professor Jane Downes, head of UHI’s Institute of Archaeology, added: “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.”

Adam Markham, deputy director for climate and energy at UCS, 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.”