There is no denying that the changing climate has already transformed Scotland’s biodiversity and we are yet to experience many other significant changes, as extreme weather events become more frequent. Local human settlements are also heavily at risk of being impacted by climate change as the wetter conditions which create flooding and coastal erosion, or the warmer conditions which lead to droughts, are now putting more pressure on our historic environment. Therefore, all those involved with the care and protection of Scotland’s natural heritage will be challenged by the fast rate at which the climate is changing. To continue the preservation of local heritage across Scotland, we must understand the impacts shaped by climate change and how to respond efficiently.

The range of climate related impacts on Scotland’s natural heritage are both damaging and problematic – making the assets of history, arts, and culture (which are a tangible part of people’s beliefs, values, practices, and livelihoods) all vulnerable to change. Scotland’s cultural assets have recently been affected by damp and flooding at historic sites like Edinburgh Castle. Whilst more recurrent high winds will create structural damage to building fabrics and the effects will be easily amplified by intense rain, which can lead to excessive moisture. Increased heat over the recent summer has also allowed new pests to threaten heritage landscapes and wildfires have caused further damage. Likewise, climate change is making our coastal heritage more vulnerable due to rising sea levels so the loss of some assets will be unavoidable.

Learning from our Past

Scotland’s history of natural and cultural heritage has well stood the test of time, but the rate of climate change experienced today is presenting a new series of impacts. Though Scotland’s heritage is crucial to provide that link between historical knowledge and hope for the future, as it does not individually play a role in spiralling the climate emergency.

Therefore, preserving sites of natural heritage and the range of traditional buildings found across Scotland is important for maintaining historical traditions and identity. These buildings can act as spaces for gatherings, where information will be shared about learning to control the effects of climate change through mitigation and adaptation measures. World heritage sites are also vital to not only tackle biodiversity loss and the climate emergency, but to also help mitigate it. The world heritage sites found here in Scotland (like St Kilda) are home to different waters, forests, and coastal ecosystems, which secure and store carbon dioxide alongside other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

On the other hand, people across Scotland have been forced to move and migrate to avoid changes in the local landscape due to climate change. Coastal communities have particularly been affected and often forced to move or experience constant shifting change. This has meant some places or cherished traditions have been lost and this causes significant commotion throughout culturally important places. Therefore, relocating these communities will cut any social ties from home and affect their involvement with cultural practices like faith and music. Over time, this will weaken local knowledge and practice that was once relied upon to provide context for how to recover from climatic changes. Hence the need to now learn how we must sustain our cultural identities for future generations.

Changing for the Future

We can use these cultural heritage vulnerabilities to human advantage and facilitate a new discovery of understanding Scottish heritage. We must continue to encourage more assessment of our local assets, to be used in a way to help reflect the need for more adaptation measures to build future resilience.

We must scope out the level of risk presented by climate change to our local resources, then assess the adaptation measures which are required. For example, existing building materials may need replaced with supplies that are more watertight to be able to withstand the current levels of flooding. Being proactive with including more risk management and monitoring of climate hazards into building regulations will thereby help sustain their lifespan.

In future, sustaining our cultural heritage to uphold connections to cultural practices will also allow for innovative and sustainable solutions to be made for local climate challenges. Traditional activities like deer hunting or fishing for example become difficult as more human settlements are forced to migrate and issues like food security or land ownership may be threatened, whilst fostered ways of life become weakened. Yet important lessons will be gathered by those participating in cultural practices, as they learn the need to adapt with the changing environment around them.

It is clear to say the communities across Scotland that are rooted in cultural identities are home to people who have diverse livelihoods and been surrounded by a different climate than the one experienced today. These communities have been obliged to adopt adaptation measures to ensure they can continue to maintain their connections, despite the migrating places and unknown future. It is these adaptive identities which are reflected in how certain people will get involved with climate action and the changes they can make to help our nation combat climate change.

Written by Chloe Sinclair, Climate Change Communications Intern