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5 October 2004
Archaeologists fight to save Scotland's coastal heritage

Archaeologists are warning that coastal erosion threatens to destroy around 12,000 of Scotlandís 35,000 important archaeological sites. Around 500 of these sites are of national or international importance, and may be lost to the sea forever.
    In 2001, a group of Scottish archaeologists set up the SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) Trust. At a conference organised by SCAPE last week, Tom Dawson, a research fellow from St Andrews University's environmental history department, said "With every winter storm, more damage is done to some sites. It gets to a point where it is not worth doing anything to the site because there is not much left to salvage. Once erosion starts it is pretty quick and you can lose [a site] to erosion in five years easily."
    Around 70% of Scotland's 7,500-mile coastline has never been surveyed for sites of archaeological interest. Archaeologists want the Scottish Executive to provide funding to enable them to identify the most important sites and undertake emergency excavations.
    Some well-known sites are already under threat from rising sea-levels, such as the Pictish cave carvings at East Wemyss in Fife. The Iron Age settlement of Cnoc Sornain on Benbecula in the Western Isles, prehistoric sites in Sands of Forvie in Aberdeenshire, a burial site at Sanday, Orkney, and an Iron Age house at Sandwich Bay on Unst, Shetland are all under threat.
    Mr Dawson said "At Wemyss, the foreshore is washing away and there are minimal coastal defences. At least a few skeletons have been washed away in the past few years, and one cave which had drawings has already collapsed. Everyone closes their eyes to erosion. Because this is natural erosion no one has any responsibility to do this work. Historic Scotland has no legal responsibility - though perhaps it has moral responsibility."
    Patrick Ashmore, the principal inspector of ancient monuments at Historic Scotland, said that preservation in situ isn't an option because of the cost, with the exception of internationally important sites like the neolithic site of Skara Brae in Orkney, which is protected by sea walls.
    A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "Matters relating to the protection of archaeological sites are for Historic Scotland to address. We would expect the trust to make formal representation to Historic Scotland on their concerns. On Thursday the deputy minister for environment and rural development announced that £89m has been made available for flood and coastal protection. It is a matter for local authorities working with other agencies, such as Historic Scotland, to prepare plans for defence schemes."

Source: The Scotsman (3 October 2004)

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