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Climate Change Threatens Scottish Historical Treasures


Visitors look at the 5,000 year-old remains of Skara Brae village in the Scottish Orkney Islands, July 19, 2005. ( AP Photo/Naomi Koppel)
Climate Change Threatens Scottish Historical Treasures
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Historians are warning that some ancient British structures are being threatened by climate change.

One of the most affected places is around the Orkney Islands, which are off the northern coast of Scotland. The area is home to more than 3,000 historical places. But, the islands have been severely affected by rising sea levels, heavy rainfall and severe weather events in recent years.

Evidence has been found around the Orkney Islands that humans lived there as far back as 8,500 years ago. Some structures on the islands were built during the Iron Age, Viking rule and the Middle Ages.

Archaeology experts have estimated that about 1,000 historical sites are under threat. One of those identified is the Iron Age building South Howe Broch on the island of Rousay. Now, the sea has eaten away much of the site’s western area. The main wall has started falling into the sea.

The Ring of Brodgar on the Orkney Islands in Scotland, May 2000. There are more than 1,000 prehistoric sites on the Orkneys, making it the greatest concentration of any place in Europe. (AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane)
The Ring of Brodgar on the Orkney Islands in Scotland, May 2000. There are more than 1,000 prehistoric sites on the Orkneys, making it the greatest concentration of any place in Europe. (AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane)

Julie Gibson is with the University of the Highlands and Islands. She told Reuters news agency that she fears the whole structure will one day completely disappear. “Each year a little more falls as the sea batters it,” Gibson said.

She said experts have discovered in recent years that all of the settlement archaeology in the area is within 100 meters of the coast edge. “So as the sea takes this heritage of ours away, it’s taking all that we have,” she said.

A few hundred meters away from South Howe Broch is Midhowe Broch. This Iron Age building is still in good condition because it has been protected by a sea wall built in the 1930s. But experts say even this site faces risks if climate conditions continue to worsen.

This file photo shows neolithic buildings at Skara Brae in the Orkney Island, Scotland, on September 25, 2019. (REUTERS/George Sargent)
This file photo shows neolithic buildings at Skara Brae in the Orkney Island, Scotland, on September 25, 2019. (REUTERS/George Sargent)

A climate risk report for the Orkney’s historical sites was published in July by the environmental group Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The group described the possible effects of climate change on sites as “extreme,” with a “high” level of vulnerability.

HES reported that the average precipitation rate has risen 27 percent in Scotland since the early 1960s. During the same period, winter precipitation has increased more than 70 percent in parts of northern Scotland, it found.

Wetter weather means buildings stay wet longer. This increases the chances of water entering deeply into structures and causing damage. The precipitation also can harm metal parts of buildings and lead to the ground becoming unstable. Over time, such damage can cause structural collapse.

This file photo shows the exterior of Iron Age building Midhowe Broch on the island of Rousay, Orkney, Scotland, on September 25, 2019. (REUTERS/George Sargent)
This file photo shows the exterior of Iron Age building Midhowe Broch on the island of Rousay, Orkney, Scotland, on September 25, 2019. (REUTERS/George Sargent)

Climate records show that since 1970, some Orkney beaches have narrowed by an average of 40 centimeters a year. That compares to a yearly average loss of 20 centimeters between 1890 and 1970.

In addition, increasing and more intense storms are threatening the Orkney’s historical sites, HES reports. One example is Skara Brae, one of Orkney’s most famous places. Back when people lived in the area, it was about one kilometer from the sea. Today it is just a few meters away from the North Atlantic Ocean.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters news agency reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

site n. place where something important happened in the past

archaeology –n. the study of past human life including bones, tools and structures

batter v. to hit hard

heritage n. the buildings, paintings, customs, etc. that are important in a culture or society

vulnerable adj. easily hurt or attacked

precipitation n. rain or snow falling to the ground

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