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Screening for natural hazards to inform a climate change risk assessment for Scotland’s historic environment

Find out how Historic Environment Scotland developed a GIS-based approach to screen their properties for climate-related natural hazards such as flooding, coastal erosion and ground instability.
Leane de Laigue


Completed with the support of Adaptation Scotland, this case study explains how Historic Environment Scotland (HES) developed a GIS-based approach to screen their properties for climate-related natural hazards such as flooding, coastal erosion and ground instability. The project* has been an important component of ongoing work to assess climate change risk across the iconic historic structures that make up HES’s Estate.

*Download the full case study from the right-hand column.

Who was involved?

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) worked in close partnership with the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to conduct a Climate Change Risk Assessment for the 335 Properties in Care (PICs) on the Estate. This will improve decision-making for prioritising the on-going conservation and maintenance programmes, thus ensuring the long term survival of some of Scotland’s most important historic monuments and buildings.

Why focus on natural hazards?

Many of the properties HES care for are situated in landscapes that are vulnerable to climate-related natural hazards. Although a number of the properties are well adapted to everyday weather events, changes in the climate are pushing the properties into unchartered territory, with many now facing challenges they were never designed to deal with. This is why this research is so crucially important.

By screening for current natural hazards, HES have been able to generate a set of climate-related risks across their entire Estate of 335 properties. Although these do not explicitly include climate change risk, it does inform HES about sites that are likely to be most at threat from climate change – and enables better use of resources by targetting particular priority sites.

HES decided that this screening approach was sufficient for its needs in its current risk assessment process, and it was more beneficial to focus further effort on the investigation of specific properties. At the property level HES will be able to include a wider range of climate impacts, more detailed information about the property, and the knowledge and expertise of those involved with site management, to create a more complete picture for these priority properties.

Using a GIS-based approach

HES developed a GIS-based approach to combine asset management information with natural hazard datasets obtained from BGS and SEPA. They carried out a spatial analysis by overlaying hazard layers with site specific spatial information, focusing on the area of ownership or guardianship for each site. This generated a hazard profile for each property, which was combined with information about property type, allowing an appropriate risk score to be assigned.

The analysis provided a site-specific report on natural hazards that will be made available for use by HES’s dedicated team of conservation architects and works managers. This will allow them to match up the modelled data with real-life observations, site management practices, and additional information on climate impacts.

Lessons Learnt

HES offered the following key lessons for those wishing to undertake a similar process:

  • Broaden your assessment – HES were already acutely aware of climate-related risks at specific sites, where there are existing issues. However, as a result of this project they now have an assessment that can be used to better understand climate-related risk across the Estate – as well as identify sites likely to be most at threat.
  • Seek peer support – this project was conducted whilst part of the Adaptation Learning Exchange for Organisations, facilitated by Adaptation Scotland. Regular meetings with others undertaking a risk assessment (NHS Scotland, Scottish Water, and Aberdeen City Council) allowed HES to ‘sense-check’ our approach at different stages of the process.
  • Develop your own approach – each organisation should develop an approach to risk assessment based on their own operations and priorities. HES’s priority was to develop a consistent and justifiable climate risk scoring system to sit alongside wider environmental risk assessment for the valuable assets in our care.
  • The specific property matters – it was a challenge to adjust risk scoring for a diverse range of property types, while remaining practical in terms of approach. For example, a flood at a field monument or stone circle will have very different consequences to flooding of an occupied castle with valuable contents and interiors.

Next steps

The GIS-based screening of climate-related natural hazards has allowed HES to identify those sites most likely to be threatened by flooding, coastal erosion, and ground instability. They are now looking at site-specific studies to further understand climate change risk. The hazard profiles generated will also be used as part of a suite of information that they will use to assess and manage their properties.

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