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 national heritage assets. 
  • Warmer waters around the UK have facilitated the northward spread of Shipworm (Lyrodus pedicellatus), a wood-boring species that can cause structural damage to submerged wooden wrecks and artefacts. 
  • Risk assessments show that many coastal heritage assets managed by English Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland are currently at risk from coastal erosion and flooding, with climate change increasing this risk. Further assessments are underway in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Medium evidence, medium agreement

Through monitoring, recording and surveying carried out by organisations and projects across the UK, there is a substantial amount of data already in existence.

What could happen in the future?
  • Historic 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. 
  • Submerged sites will be adversely affected by changes in ocean pH, temperature and circulation patterns. Future climate change impacts will result in the continued loss of many historic assets in the coastal zone. The same erosion processes will inevitably result in new discoveries being made as well.

Medium evidence, medium agreement

The rate at which climate change is accelerating natural processes adds uncertainty to future impacts, as does a lack of data on combined effects. There is greater understanding of impacts on subsurface heritage assets compared to those that are fully submerged.

Key Challenges and Emerging Issues
  • Gaining 'acceptance' of managing loss of heritage assets due to climate change, and the need for more robust systems of valuing and prioritising assets for action.
  • Developing long term datasets to identify climate change impacts on cultural heritage assets (e.g., ocean acidification on ship decay; erosion rates).
  • Quantifying the impact of multiple climate threats (storms, surge, flooding, wind driven rain) which cumulatively cause major damage to cultural heritage assets.