An inspection programme designed to assess the condition and the impact of climate change on some of Scotland’s most significant heritage sites is getting under way.
Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the public body responsible for 336 historic buildings and sites, is rolling-out the new programme of tactile condition surveys in response to concerns over the deterioration of high-level masonry caused by several combined factors, including the materials used during construction, age, physical location and climate change.
Inspections and sample surveys conducted by HES last year uncovered a range of decay on high-level building fabric, creating a risk of falling masonry and potential injury.
To protect staff and visitors, access has been restricted at many of the affected sites, though every effort has been made to enable visitor access where this can be done safely.
HES has created an indicative prioritisation which will inform the inspection schedule, with considerable preparatory work already underway.
Priority will be given to surveying sites where it is difficult to fully mitigate all risks to public safety such as where the nature or location of a site presents a particular challenge or where adjacent land owned by a third party may be affected.
Sites where access restrictions are having a significant adverse community and economic impact will also be prioritised this year.
The surveys will provide a detailed and accurate picture of properties’ condition and will inform a subsequent programme of repairs, conservation work, adaptation measures, interventions and new ways of caring for these historic assets.
The surveys are being undertaken by specialist HES technical staff and will be literally “hands on”.
Dr David Mitchell, director of conservation at HES, said:
“This is a major programme of activity taking place across Scotland, involving a new approach to inspections and new skills requirements for our teams.
“Our changing climate since the 1960’s has accelerated the natural process of decay and the nature and location of some properties makes them particularly susceptible.
“Our response to this situation requires us to evolve our approach and what we are finding will increasingly become an issue for many building owners across Scotland.
“We have developed an approach to allow us to prioritise sites based on health and safety first and foremost, as well as the benefits that properties generate for local communities.
“It is important to note that conclusion of a survey does not necessarily mean a property will re-open in full or in part right away – it is entirely dependent on what we find.
“Once a site is assessed and we have an indication of what the issues are, we will then make decisions on what happens next.”
While surveys and subsequent remedial work is taking place, HES is exploring alternative visitor experiences.
This includes partial access at some of the sites, where it is safe to do so, and opening up interior spaces with safety corridors and viewing platforms.
HES is also creating more interpretative signage and performances, exploring the use of innovative technology and new audio tours, videos and trails to augment the visitor experience for 2022.
Live events are returning this year for the first time since the start of the pandemic and the programme includes popular family favourites, such as Spectacular Jousting at both Linlithgow Palace Peel and the grounds of Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries, Celebration of the Centuries at Fort George and The Rock of Ages in Pier Park next to Dumbarton Castle, where over 100 costumed performers will provide a multi-period extravaganza bringing Scottish history to life in a series of demonstrations and displays.
Also joining this year’s line-up is a new exhibition entitled Unforgettable at Blackness Castle, which will celebrate the untold stories of people from marginalised communities whose lives shaped or were shaped by Scotland, as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories.
Spring also sees the reopening of a number of properties that were unable to open during the pandemic, alongside several seasonal sites, with others set to reopen from this month on a rolling basis, providing the public with fresh opportunities to explore a variety of heritage attractions.