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by Dr Mary Macleod Rivett, Historic Environment Scotland
23 June 2023
Associate Feature:  We must ensure stewards of our land and historic environment are supported

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Associate Feature: We must ensure stewards of our land and historic environment are supported

The landscape of Scotland has been shaped by the people who have lived on and managed the land for over 9000 years. Our ancestors, and the different ways they tended the land, have helped create lasting traditions that continue to give a strong local identity to places across the country.

Today’s farmers, crofters and land managers help protect this historic landscape and its traditions. Many of Scotland’s nationally important designated historic sites are in rural areas, including three World Heritage sites, most of Scotland’s 8000 scheduled monuments, thousands of listed buildings, sites on the Inventories of Gardens and Designed Landscapes and Inventory of Historic Battlefields, as well as over 300,000 known undesignated historic assets. These include ruins, the underground remains of sites, traditional buildings, field systems and boundaries, plantations, archaeological sites and monuments in lochs and reservoirs and environmental remains in soils and peat bogs. This is a finite resource that once lost, is gone forever.

Our historic environment is inextricably linked to our natural environment, and positive management of these historic assets can deliver significant benefits for people and nature. Our soils and grasslands have been managed by people for thousands of years and many are important carbon sinks, absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than they release. Traditional buildings contain embedded energy, from the extraction and use of materials that they are made of. Refurbishment of rural buildings can help to support farm diversification, sustain fragile areas and provide sustainable alternatives to building new. Scheduled monuments are more hidden from view and often managed under permanent grassland, providing both an effective form of carbon capture and protection for fragile archaeological remains. Managing and maintaining the historic environment can help protect the wider environment and reduce carbon.

Our historic environment can support biodiversity retention and restoration. It provides habitats in the archaeological deposits beneath the earth, and in archaeological remains and buildings above-ground. Protection of historic sites during development, including agricultural improvement, enables the preservation of habitats and species. Many historic sites support populations of rare birds, bats, amphibians and insects, as well as forming important wildlife corridors. Climate change is introducing new challenges to managing biodiversity and landscapes, and how we look after our land is more important than ever. 

The farmers, crofters and land managers who care for our historic assets and places provide an important public benefit. Our historic environment is at the heart of communities across Scotland, shaping local identity and landscape character.  Agricultural grants schemes can support the work of land managers and the vital role they play in maintaining our historic and natural environments.

Any new system of agriculture support should incentivise farmers, crofters and land managers to identify and look after heritage features on their land. Farmers deliver important public benefits in looking after remains of our past and face obligations to preserve heritage features – they should be well supported in this valuable work.  

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) supports the owners of scheduled monuments by visiting to check condition and giving management advice. We can make small payments for things like vegetation removal or getting a specialist survey of a ruined building.  Scheduled monuments are only one type of historic site that could be supported through agricultural support schemes. Including the historic environment in any new system of agriculture support will help ensure our historic and natural environments are sustainable and looked after for future generations.

The Scottish Government has been seeking views on their Vision for Agriculture and proposals for a new Agriculture Bill. HES’s response to this consultation is available on our website:

This article is sponsored by Historic Environment Scotland

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