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Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage
What is already happening?
  • Climate change can exacerbate the natural rates of decay. These damaging impacts of climate change have already been observed at a range of heritage assets. 
  • Many coastal heritage assets in the UK are currently at risk from coastal processes and flooding, but climate change is increasing this risk.  These include sites managed as visitor attractions as well as other designated and undesignated heritage assets, the majority of which are in private ownership.

Medium evidence, high agreement

Over the past few years there has been a marked increase in the amount of baseline data collected for the UK coastline. Various regional government heritage bodies and non-government heritage organisations have been analysing this data and providing initial assessments of the potential climate change impacts on the UK’s coastal heritage assets. However, given the complex nature of coastal processes these surveys will need repeated over the next number of years to allow for a nuanced understanding of these impacts. Only through these repeat assessments will it be possible to quantify the effect of climate change on specific site locations and to provide an assessment of change, both negative (eg. erosion) and potentially positive (eg. accretion). Baseline data for offshore, fully submerged heritage sites is lacking.

What could happen in the future?
  • Heritage assets located in the coastal zone will be subjected to enhanced rates of erosion, increased flooding and changes in weathering patterns as a direct result of climate change. The erosion processes that in some cases result in loss will inevitably result in new discoveries being made as well.
  • Submerged sites will be adversely affected by changes in ocean pH, temperature and circulation patterns.

Medium evidence, medium agreement

Repeat assessments will provide the evidence to run projections of future climate change impacts and allow for development of appropriate adaptation.

Key Challenges and Emerging Issues
  • Develop approaches to the management of cultural heritage assets that acknowledge the possibility of transformation and adaptive release as well as loss and decay of heritage assets due to climate change.
  • Further develop long term monitoring to identify climate change impacts on cultural heritage assets (e.g. OA on ship decay; erosion rates).
  • Quantify the impact of multiple climate threats (storms, surge, flooding, wind driven rain) which cumulatively cause major damage to cultural heritage assets.