Rising sea levels are threatening the existence of Orkney's famous Stone Age village of Skara Brae. Photo: Jane Barlow

By Craig Brown
20 October 2013

(The Scotsman) – Rising sea levels are threatening the existence of Orkney’s famous Stone Age village of Skara Brae, according to an official report.

A draft management plan for the protection of the World Heritage site describes coastal erosion as “a threat to the long-term survival” of the subterranean village.

The report, compiled by Unesco, Historic Scotland, RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and Orkney Islands Council, says the site is at “significant risk from a variety of climate-related factors”.

These include: “Increases in storminess and sea level rise and consequent increases in coast erosion; torrential rain and flooding; changes to wetting and drying cycles; and changes to flora and fauna.”

Skara Brae is believed to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old and is the main attraction of Heart of Neolithic Orkney (Hono), which was made a World Heritage site by Unesco in December 1999. In addition to the village, the site includes Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and other nearby sites.

Unesco said the monuments “proclaim the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places” and “stand as a visible symbol of the achievements of early peoples away from the traditional centres of civilisation”.

For the past 100 years, the main bulwark against serious storm damage and erosion to the village has been a specially erected sea wall. The wall has been undermined by waves over the years and is in need of major repairs, and archaeologists now fear that rising sea levels may prove too much for it.

Alice Lyall, Historic Scotland’s World Heritage Site co-ordinator, said: “It’s done a really good job, but if there is a sea level rise, and there is increased storminess – because it is storm events that concern us in particular – there could be a problem.

“Already, if you have a north-west wind and a high tide, parts of the site can be awash. Luckily, so far it has not been parts of the archaeology, just what used to be a visitor centre hut.”

Julie Gibson, Orkney’s county archaeologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “There are significant threats and there should be planning to reduce these risks.

“I don’t know how we would manage a big surge from the sea – they are very dangerous because they could suck walls out with them as they retreat.” [more]

Rising sea threatens Stone Age village Skara Brae

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