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Article published 21/01/2022

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is implementing a new approach to the inspection of historic properties in response to the effects of climate change.

A programme of tactile condition surveys on over 200 properties will assess the extent of deterioration of high-level masonry and ensure public safety against the risk of potentially unstable building fabric. It will mean that access to some properties will be restricted to enable surveys to be conducted.

Abbotsford House

Scotland’s public heritage body, which cares for 336 historic buildings and sites across Scotland, believes the programme is a proactive step towards transforming the way the nation’s most precious places are protected, repaired and experienced in the face of accelerating decay from climate change. 

The tactile survey programme, which is the result of ongoing risk assessment and sample surveys, will assess the impact of climate change, as well as the scale of deterioration caused by a number of other factors, including the materials used in the building’s construction, its age and physical location. 

It's anticipated remedial works could require significant investment over multiple years and, in some instances, require a different management approach to be taken than before.

To ensure public safety, and in response to concerns relating to the risk of failing historic building fabric, HES had embarked on a national project to assess risks to visitors and staff across the properties in care in 2019.

Post-lockdown, work was restarted and surveys conducted in spring 2021 identified potentially dangerous fabric at high level, leading to immediate access restrictions at 20 properties for inspection to ensure visitors and staff were not exposed to any possible risks.

The sample surveys conducted on these properties confirmed to conservation specialists at HES that the type of deterioration being seen could only be assessed properly by hands-on, tactile surveys and that the traditional ways of inspecting at high level, such as visual inspection from the ground or by drone, while useful, are not as accurate as a hands-on inspection.

These surveys will inform a programme of repairs, conservation work, adaptation measures, interventions and new ways of caring for these historic assets. 

Stirling Castle courtyard

Access restrictions were put in place at a further 11 sites in November 2021, with an additional 39 sites following in January 2022 as a precautionary measure because HES assessments showed that the issues found at the initial sites could potentially pose a risk to properties with shared characteristics.

Visit the HES website for more information on this issue and details of any closures at its sites.

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