Scotland, long globally admired by visitors for its unique scenery, and historic architecture, is facing up to its own climate change problems, to ensure our attractions and landscape are preserved for future generations.

While our ancient castles, fine country houses, and unique rural and inner-city architecture attract admiring glances from millions of visitors each year, they all face their own problems and challenges when it comes to dealing with and combating climate change.

Learning from the past, looking to the future

As the inheritors of such unique buildings, and history, we would be derelict in our duty if we didn’t do our best, and explore every avenue and modern technology, to save and enhance them for future generations.

Our built heritage tells countless stories: of the people who built them, lived in them, and used them. We passionately believe that heritage should be explored, understood, and looked after.

The good news is, the guardians of Scotland’s built heritage – The National Trust for Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, and a host of private owners, and community groups – are already ahead of the pack and can draw on some of the most cutting-edge research and technology, as well as traditional skills, to help them.

The Engine Shed

Located in Stirling, overlooked by the city’s ancient and imposing castle, The Engine Shed is Scotland’s first dedicated building conservation centre. Part of Historic Environment Scotland, it serves as a central hub for building and conservation professionals and the public.

Our historic built environment is a finite and unique resource, yet its care calls for conservation skills that are in short supply. This learning and visitor resource, housed in converted 19th Century building, with a striking modern extension, is helping to encourage a greater understanding of traditional building materials and skills – and inspire future generations to continue to care for Scotland’s built heritage.

Laying the foundations

While the centre’s community and learning staff inspire young Scots to appreciate our built environment, their expert scientific staff, and skilled restoration technicians, offer building owners and custodians the most informed advice on how to protect and maintain their attractions.

From encouraging and championing traditional skills such as stone masonry, lime mortar making, and slate roofing, to laser-scanning ancient attractions and monuments, the Engine Shed’s three dedicated teams – Conservation Science, Technical Outreach and Education, and Digital Documentation and Digital Innovation – apply the most modern research to solve age old problems.

And, when we say, ‘age old’, we mean that, because climate change is not a new problem.

Right castle, wrong location?

If you think weather or climate damage is a threat to your home, imagine having to rebuild an entire castle.

Visitors to Dumfriesshire’s magnificent, 13th Century Caerlaverock Castle might be surprised to discover that it replaced an earlier castle, which was abandoned after only 50 years.

Historic Environment Scotland and St Andrews University are set to carry out a detailed survey of the site and a nearby harbour – long submerged in silt – to understand the full reasons why the original castle, which stood from around 1220 to 1270, was left behind.

It is now believed that changes to the nearby coastline caused by “extreme weather events” may have helped push the castle’s ancient owners, the Maxwell family, from their first home.

Weathering the storm

Stefan Sagrott, Senior Cultural Resources Advisor at Historic Environment Scotland said: “We are undertaking analysis at Caerlaverock Castle to better understand the events which led to the abandonment of the 'old' castle in favour of the 'new' one.

"It is thought that extreme weather events caused gravel ridges to be driven from the sea to the coast, which affected the castle’s relationship with the coast, potentially changed the water table and possibly sealed off the nearby harbour.”

In a bid to protect all our history, in July this year, Historic Environment Scotland awarded £240,000 in funding to provide training opportunities to aid the restoration of 20 historic structures, which will benefit local communities and economies across Scotland.

The house on the hill

Helensburgh, west of Glasgow, on the Clyde Coast, was once the favoured holiday spot of the city’s wealthy industrialists. It was here, in the early 1900s where millionaire Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie decided to build a magnificent holiday home, designed by Glasgow’s hottest young architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The completed building was christened, ‘Hill House’.

Now, while Mackintosh might have been a master of modern design, sadly, the building technologies of the day couldn’t keep pace with him, and, in 2019, over 100 years of wet Scottish weather threatened the very future of what is now a global tourist attraction.

The use of Portland cement in the render had allowed water to penetrate the building, and years of rain and wind saturated the walls of the house, threatening its very survival.

The building’s owners, the National Trust for Scotland, faced a conundrum: how do you protect such a jewel, while making sure it is wind and watertight, while also still allowing public access?

Thinking outside the box

Their unique solution was to build a giant see-through ‘cage’, designed by architects Carmody Groarke, over the top of the landmark, to protect the building from the elements.

The semi-transparent shelter, consisting of a steel roof and a frame encased in chainmail, allows about 13% of rain to reach the house, allowing it to dry out naturally, while still allowing the public access to the house.

The giant ‘box’, through which one can still see the house, has now become a tourist attraction.

Both the interior of the house and the box are accessible to the public, who can watch conservators at work. The design includes several walkways around the upper levels and over the roof, which was not possible before.

The work, which is estimated to take up to 10 years, will preserve ‘Hill House’ for the next 100 years.

Your house, our house

One of the unique things about Scotland is its historic domestic architecture – the homes millions of Scots still live in today.

From the serried ranks of Glasgow’s 19th and early 20th Century-built sandstone tenements, Aberdeen’s glinting, silver granite terraces, to the elegant streets and squares of Edinburgh’s much-admired Georgian ‘New Town’, it is these buildings, their design, and materials, that give Scotland’s cities their distinctive character.

The question is – in old, often poorly insulated homes, designed to be lit and heated with gas or coal – how to retrofit modern, green technologies, so that these buildings can continue to provide Scots with warm and dry homes, without adding to the global climate crisis?

Well, from better, green insulation, to ground source heat pumps, and Scottish-developed solar energy heat batteries, we’re already looking at ways we can all live comfortably, without adding to the climate crisis.

Mind you, we’re already world leaders in green energy generation – both wind and wave powered – and, as far back as 1920, the Logie Estate – Scotland’s first council housing project, in Dundee – used a then unique district heating scheme, with every home getting its hot water and heating from one central boiler house.

You're welcome

Scotland continues to strive to maintain and protect its historic built environment for future generations of visitors – those old stones don’t only speak of our history, but the history of the Scottish diaspora, and northern European architecture.

Next time you visit, take time to admire more than our magnificent castles and great country houses, walk our cities’ streets, look up and admire the detail, secure in the knowledge that those buildings are in good hands.

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