Scotlands historic environment includes thousands of historic buildings and monuments, many of which are unique and irreplaceable. They attract millions of visitors every year and generate income and jobs.

Key messages

Scotland’s historic environment includes thousands of historic buildings and monuments, many of which are unique and irreplaceable. They attract millions of visitors every year and generate income and jobs.

YouTube: State of Scotland’s Environment report - historic environment

Our whole environment has a history that contributes to its quality and character. It has been shaped by human and natural processes over thousands of years.

Historic environment in numbers

Source: Scotlands Historic Environment Audit 2016

Some parts of Scotland’s historic environment are protected through the process of ‘designation’ identifying the most important parts of the built environment to recognise their significance and enhance their protection. In 2016 there were:

  • 6 world heritage sites
  • 47,288 listed buildings
  • 8,164 scheduled monuments
  • 663 conservation areas
  • 377 designed gardens and landscapes
  • 8 Historic Marine Protected Areas
  • 7 scheduled wrecks
  • 39 nationally important battlefields.

More information about the designations that protect Scotland’s historic environment are on Historic Environment Scotland’s website.

YouTube: Promoting the value of Scotlands historic environment

World heritage site - The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Scheduled monument - Jarlshof, Shetland

Historic marine protected area - Contour survey of the Duart Point, Mull

Listed building - Stirling Castle

Garden and designed landscape - Dawyck Botanic Garden, Scottish Borders

Scotland has two National Parks and 40 National Scenic Areas. These contain many important features of the historic environment.

CANMORE contains more than 320,000 records and 1.3 million catalogue entries for archaeological sites, buildings, industry and maritime heritage across Scotland.

YouTube: For all our futures - Understanding historic environment Scotland – aerial photography

Pressures affecting the historic environment

Development pressures - Can result in inappropriate development and demolition, which can affect the character of a historic area or an individual building or monument.

Maintenance - As buildings get older, they require increasing levels of maintenance. Poorly executed repairs can damage heritage value. The shortage of traditional skills, suitably qualified craftsmen and locally-available materials is an additional pressure on maintaining and repairing the historic environment.

Land use – Light grazing by sheep is often a gentle and beneficial way of keeping monuments in good condition. By contrast, ploughing the site of a monument over successive years can lead to the archaeological remains being worn away, while the spread of tree roots and scrub can disturb and damage buried archaeological deposits.

Soay sheep on Hirta, St Kilda, with Cleits

Image source

Changing climate - With projected wetter autumns and winters, traditional buildings will be wetter for longer periods of time, resulting in increased weathering of stone, rotting timbers and corrosion of metals.

Coastal erosion - Rising sea levels mean that coastal erosion is an increasing threat to heritage assets. Information about the impact of coastal erosion on Scotland’s heritage is available from The SCAPE Trust.

YouTube: Brora dig

The Brora Saltpans project to rescue an important piece of Brora’s History in danger of being destroyed by coastal erosion.

Pollution - Although levels of pollutants have fallen over recent decades, their effects continue to cause damage, particularly to materials such as sandstone, resulting in these materials being vulnerable to ongoing decay.

Sustainability of traditional buildings – Reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the upkeep of old buildings, while maintaining their cultural significance, is a challenge. For example, when improving energy efficiency, it is important to avoid damaging effects on traditional buildings. For example, reducing air leakage in buildings to prevent heat loss may result in condensation and fungus growth, with damaging effects on the fabric of the building and the health of people using it.

Visitors - Tourism, leisure and sport can improve understanding and enjoyment of the historic environment. However, increased visitor numbers can also lead to pressures e.g. visitors can cause damage to heritage sites by wearing down the footpaths across sensitive features, or by lighting fires.

Visitors at Edinburgh Castle, HES


Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit (SHEA)

An assessment of our historic environment - The Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit (SHEA) reports show in facts and figures that Scotland’s historic environment is a unique asset that attracts millions of visitors each year and generates income and jobs across Scotland. They provide statistics on Scotland’s heritage assets and give details on how these are changing over time.

Reports (published in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016) bring together in one place research and data of real practical use to all those involved in managing the historic environment.

Heritage portal

The Historic Environment Scotland Portal allows you to search, browse and view decisions and designation records, download spatial datasets or use the map search.

HLAmap – Historic Land-Use Assessment Map

HLAmap is a Scotland-wide view of land use in modern and past times.

It uses simple annotated maps to show how the landscape has changed over time, giving the user a tool to decipher the broad elements of the historic environment.

Case studies provide easy-to-follow steps to help users get the most from HLAmap.

Locate details of archaeological and historic sites held in Scotland’s national and local historic environment records.

Past Map

The Past Map allows you to locate details of archaeological and historic sites held in Scotland’s national and local historic environment records.

What are we doing about it?

Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk project (SCHARP) trains and supports volunteers to collect valuable data about vulnerable coastal heritage sites to provide an up-to-date picture of Scotland's coastal heritage and identify sites for further action.

Historic Land-Use Assessment (HLA) is an ongoing project designed to map past and present land use across Scotland to help us understand how today's landscape has been influenced by human activities in the past.

The development-planning process helps to manage change in the historic environment. A local authority may impose a condition on a development to protect the historic environment and, in rare instances, may refuse a planning application. Specific procedures in place for protecting the historic environment include:

In addition, Historic Environment Scotland publishes guidance on managing change in the historic environment for planning authorities and other interested parties, including owners.

Environmental impact assessments require the consideration of the effects of a project on the historic environment and the application of mitigation measures – find out more on Historic Environment Scotland website

Climate change could damage Scotland’s historic environment. The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and SEPA’s National Flood Risk Assessment are two examples of comprehensive studies that have significantly raised awareness of the potential risks, impacts and adaptations actions that can be taken to protect valuable assets.

Grants and funding are available to projects that aim to protect and promote Scotland’s historic environment – find out more from Historic Environment Scotland.

Traditional building – Investment is also being used to support, develop and promote Scotland's traditional building skills and the use of traditional building materials. Historic Environment Scotland has helped to develop new specialist vocational qualifications and launched the Traditional Building Health Check scheme in partnership with CITB-Construction Skills Scotland. This will introduce independent inspections to identify issues with traditional buildings, which will benefit the repair and maintenance market through using appropriately skilled and qualified contractors.

Policy and legislation

Our Place in Time (2014), is the first Historic Environment strategy for Scotland, setting out a vision, definition and desired outcomes for our rich historic environment. It provides a framework within which organisations can work together to achieve these positive outcomes.

The Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement (2016) is the Scottish Ministers’ policy for the historic environment in Scotland. Other policies and guidance are also relevant to the historic environment, such as the

Legal measures for protecting the historic environment have been in place for many years and are routinely used by planning authorities to control local development. Recent improvements have been made to the law to make it easier for a wider range of people and organisations to manage the historic environment. For example, the Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2011 tackles some long-standing practical issues and makes it easier for owners, tenants, businesses, the voluntary sector and the regulatory authorities to manage and care for the historic environment.

The Historic Environment Scotland Act 2014 established Historic Environment Scotland. It defines Historic Environment Scotland functions in statute and aims to create a more resilient, sustainable and effective heritage service for the nation, simplifying the public sector landscape and creating a higher profile lead body for the historic environment in Scotland.

Find out more about legislation and guidance on Historic Environment Scotland.

The first Corporate Plan for Historic Environment Scotland sets out the vision and direction of the lead public body for the historic environment. The delivery of the corporate plan is supported by the Annual Operating Plan.

This page was last updated on 02 Oct 2017

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Useful contacts

Archaeology Scotland independent charity working to inspire communities, amateurs and professionals to discover, explore and enjoy Scotland’s past.

Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland Scottish charity dedicated to the protection, preservation, study and appreciation of Scotland’s historic buildings.

Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) umbrella body for organisations working in the built environment in Scotland, focussing on the strategic issues, opportunities and challenges facing Scotland’s historic and contemporary built environment.

Historic Environment Scotland the lead public body set up to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment. Find out about the core functions of Historic Environment Scotland, from caring for our collections to limiting the impact of climate change on Scotland’s heritage.

Historic Houses Association for Scotland represents over 1,640 of the UK's privately and charitably owned historic houses, castles and gardens.

Heritage Trusts:

Heritage Trust Network draws together and supports the work of local heritage groups, whether constituted as building preservation trusts, community trusts or social enterprises.

Institute for Archaeologists the leading professional body representing archaeologists.

Institute of Historic Building Conservation Scotland (IHBC) professional body for historic environment conservation specialists.

National Trust for Scotland conservation charity that protects and promotes Scotland's natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations to enjoy.

Prince’s Regeneration Trust supports and strengthens communities by rescuing and reusing important British buildings at risk of being lost forever through demolition or decay.

Scottish Canals Scotland’s canals have a unique place in the history of canal-building of the industrial age of Great Britain and Ireland.

Scottish Civic Trust national body for the civic movement in Scotland, engaging proactively with local civic groups across Scotland and regularly campaigning for the improvement of Scotland's individual buildings and areas of distinction.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) - works in partnership with other agencies, organisations and policy makers, to increase environmental understanding and build consensus on environmental priorities and issues.

Scottish Historic Buildings Trust charity that secures the future of under-used historic buildings across Scotland by expertly restoring them for the nation and finding new uses that can regenerate local communities and the historic environment.

Scottish Land & Estates landowners and rural businesses working for the countryside.

Scottish Lime Centre Trust promotes the knowledge and traditional skills required for the conservation, repair and maintenance of the historic built environment.

All 32 Scottish Local Authorities

Scottish Natural Heritage – core purpose is to promote, care for, and improve our natural heritage, help people enjoy nature responsibly, enable greater understanding and awareness of nature, promote the sustainable use of Scotland's natural heritage.

Scottish Waterways Trust connecting people with the heritage, wildlife and green open spaces of Scottish canals.

The Scottish Government