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Jarlshof among ancient sites at risk due to climate change

Historic Environment Scotland has rated Jarlshof as a "red risk" in relation to the impact of climate change. Photo: Ronnie Robertson.

THE NEOLITHIC Jarlshof settlement on the coast of Shetland’s South Mainland has been given a “red risk” rating in a study of ancient sites that Historic Environment Scotland (HES) says need urgent protection against the risks posed by climate change.

The Bronze Age broch and wheelhouses have survived for more than 4,000 years despite the sea’s best attempts to wash them away.

But what HES describes as a “groundbreaking” climate change risk assessment report has identified Jarlshof among over 300 sites of national and international importance.

Around a fifth of those sites have been given “red risk” warnings. Other major sites rated in the same category as Jarlshof include the world-famous Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow Cathedral and another Neolithic settlement, Skara Brae in Orkney.

The report outlines a new approach placing prioritising natural hazards such as flooding and coastal erosion – closely linked to changes in the climate – at the heart of its analysis.

The Bronze Age broch and wheelhouses have survived for more than 4,000 years despite the sea’s best attempts to wash them away.

In Jarlshof’s case, the likelihood of coastal erosion is rated four out of five, with the potential impact five out of five. Slope instability (three out of five) and groundwater flooding (four out of five) are also viewed as possible risks.

An HES spokeswoman said: “We conducted assessment of climate change risk to Jarlshof, a significant site of human settlement from the late Neolithic era to the 1600s.

“The results of these assessments indicated that the site scored a ‘high’ risk of coastal erosion, as well as slope instability.

“Jarlshof, along with other sites identified as at-risk, will now undergo a priority assessment to identify mitigation requirements. This will include more in-depth environmental studies, as well as site visits and gathering of staff observations on the ground.”

David Nicol, managing director of NB Communication which recently took over the Promote Shetland contract, said: “Jarlshof is important not just in Shetland terms, but nationally and internationally too.

“The HES report highlights some worrying risks that the site is likely to face, but hopefully the publication of these assessments will lead to appropriate plans being put in place to combat the worst of the potential dangers.”

The Scottish Government’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Scotland is well known throughout the world for its rich cultural heritage and wealth of historic sites.

“This report is important because it’s vital that we understand the impact that climate change will have on these sites, and what steps we can take to protect them for future generations.”

HES added that the report would be used to inform the maintenance programme for its sites.

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