Climate Change and the Historic Environment
A one-day session on climate Change and the historic environment was held on Thursday, 20 March 2008 at the IFA Conference. The session was organised by Gill Chitty of CBA and Jim Williams of English Heritage and was sponsored by CBA and English Heritage.
Looking at current thinking on the future scenarios for climate change, the morning session examined how archaeological research can bring new understanding of the processes and outcomes of climate change, in the history of our wetlands. Papers in the afternoon session considered the challenges and new ways of working that are emerging in the UK as we focus on how to manage the risks that climate change now presents for archaeological sites, landscapes and historic buildings.
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- Scenarios for climate change in the UK – Alastair Brown, UK Climate Impacts Programme (747KB)
- The longer view: the value of past climate and weather records – Dr Sebastian Payne, English Heritage (912KB)
- Marine aggregates and submerged prehistoric landscapes – Vir Dellino-Musgrave, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (2MB)
- We have been here before: Doggerland and the impact of climate change – Dr Simon Fitch, University of Birmingham (4.75MB)
- Cliff-edge cemeteries and responses to coastal erosion – Phil Bennett and Polly Groom, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority (3.6MB)
- The impact of climate change on archaeological resources in river catchments – K Challis, A J Howard, M Kincy, Birmingham Archaeology, and the University of Birmingham (6.2MB)
- Managing heritage in the global greenhouse: towards an English Heritage policy on responding to climate change – Stephen Trow, English Heritage (3.8MB)
- Climate change and the historic environment: developing a framework for assessing vulnerability – Rob Woodside, Atkins Heritage (859KB)
- The impact of climate change on upland archaeology – Jamie Quartermaine, Elizabeth Huckerby, Denise Druce, Oxford Archaeology North; Jeff Warbuton, Durham University (2.7MB)
- Wetland archaeology and climate change: ‘The lost islands of Somerset’ – Richard Brunning, Somerset County Council
Scenarios for climate change in the UK
Alastair Brown, UK Climate Impacts Programme
We are already experiencing, among other factors, changing seasonality, increasing air temperatures, changing drought and flood risk, and sea level rise. The UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) helps organisations assess how they might be affected by climate change and how they can adapt to these pressures. This presentation will introduce some of the tools and information available through UKCIP to aid decision making. The focus will be on the key climatic changes we might expect over the coming century based on UKCIP02 climate scenarios. In addition there will be a forward look at the UKCIP08 probabilistic climate projections which will be available later this year.
Download Alastair Brown’s presentation (747KB)
The longer view: the value of past climate and weather records
Dr Sebastian Payne, English Heritage
Climate changes all the time - sometimes slowly, sometimes more quickly. 20,000 years ago, an ice sheet covered northern England as far south as Birmingham; 125,000 years ago elephants and hippos lived in southern England, the sites where their bones have been found include Trafalgar Square. One value of the past record is that it can be used to test climate models and climate change predictions. Some changes - such as current warming, and sea level changes in SE England - are very clear; others, however, are more uncertain than is often realised. This uncertainty, and the irreversibility of damage to the historic environment, should make us give thought, where appropriate, to reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience. Improved maintenance of historic buildings reduces their vulnerability to storm damage; improved management of water resources and catchments reduce the damage done by erosion, dewatering and flooding. Climate change brings many challenges - but we should not add to them by not doing what we can do.
Download Dr Sebastian Payne’s presentation (912KB)
Marine aggregates and submerged prehistoric landscapes
Vir Dellino-Musgrave, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology
Recent research has recognised that environmental and climate changes have obvious impacts on the preservation of archaeological sites. This paper focuses in answering the following principal questions: what is the archaeological potential of England’s Territorial Waters and the UK Continental Shelf?, what are the impacts of climate change on archaeological preservation offshore? and, what is the likelihood of archaeological preservation? This paper illustrates the advancements gained through the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) scheme in enhancing our knowledge about the submerged historic environment in England’s Territorial Waters as well as the UK Continental Shelf. It discusses projects that are focused on understanding sea level change and identifying areas of potential early human occupation, the different methodologies applied to achieve these goals and the contributions to both the aggregates industry and the archaeological discipline as a whole. From an academic perspective, this paper demonstrates that understanding the potential of the prehistoric archaeological resource offshore helps to understand the impact of sea level and climate change. It also demonstrates that maritime archaeology goes beyond shipwrecks, thus challenging traditional approaches. More importantly, it illustrates that collaboration between industry, government agencies and academic institutions is possible and beneficial, contributing to a sustainable management of the historic environment for present and future generations.
Download Vir Dellino-Musgrave’s presentation (2MB)
We have been here before: Doggerland and the impact of climate change
Dr Simon Fitch, University of Birmingham
With sea level rise occurring at a rate of around 20cm during the 20th century, a search for suitable analogues is vital to facilitate a wider understanding of the challenges we are likely to face in the coming centuries. Archaeology is uniquely placed to provide some of this information, as communities in the past have lived through, and survived such changes throughout numerous archaeological periods. Most notable of these is the early Mesolithic which experienced levels of change similar to those predicted for the future by today’s climate models. However the best archaeological evidence for this period is limited by the fact that the prime areas of interest are presently submerged. In Europe, the North Sea is most likely to possess a rich archaeological record pertaining to this period of interest, yet is little explored and highly inaccessible. Recently the North Sea Palaeo-landscape project has provided archaeologists with an enhanced understanding of this submerged archaeological landscape. The information that this now illustrates is that the past may well be key to the present, by providing insight and analogy into the effects of change upon the coastlines and lower lying areas of Europe. Further by applying our archaeological understandings of such a landscape we can consider the human impact of such a rise in the Mesolithic and provide lessons and questions for our future.
Download Dr Simon Fitch’s presentation (4.75B)
Cliff-edge cemeteries and responses to coastal erosion
Phil Bennett and Polly Groom, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park contains around 280 Scheduled Ancient Monuments and a further 5,500 non-scheduled sites and monuments. Due to the nature and landscape of this National Park, many of these are vulnerable to, or are actively being destroyed by, coastal erosion. The sites and monuments under threat range from prehistoric submerged forests to WWII defences and include Iron Age coastal promontory forts and early medieval cemeteries. At St Brides, a small cove very popular with holiday-makers, cist graves have long been noted eroding out of the low sea-cliff. Of particular note was a grave containing visible human bone. In 1985 carbon dating of recovered bone confirmed an early Medieval date for this cemetery site. Intermittent monitoring made it clear that coastal erosion was on-going here, and a visit after an above average high tide in 2003 discovered that a number of the cist grave slabs had been eroded out, including the largest example. The stone slabs were nowhere to be found on the shingle beach below. Elsewhere, at Longoar Bay near St Ishmaels, National Park Authority staff surveying part of the coast path for repair work noticed and recorded a land slip which exposed cist and dug graves in the cliff, prompting a televised partial excavation of the site. This experience has necessitated a strategic approach by the National Park Authority to the problem of coastal erosion, whether or not in a climate change related context. This has seen the development of projects to monitor the intertidal zone, small scale evaluation of features identified through coastal processes and storms and larger projects including further evaluation at Longoar Bay and an excavation with community involvement at a site at West Angle. As well as mitigating loss of archaeological features, these excavations have increased our knowledge of early Medieval burial practice, contributing to a current research debate on the early medieval period and allowing the National Park Authority to anticipate where other similar archaeological sites may be threatened. This paper sets out how the National Park Authority, with modest resources, has sought to develop a strategy that recognises the inevitable destruction of elements of our coast line’s historic heritage and has set out, with partners, to record, assess and evaluate as much of it as possible.
Download Bennett & Groom’s presentation (3.6MB)
The impact of climate change on archaeological resources in river catchments
K Challis, A J Howard, M Kincey, Birmingham Archaeology, and University of Birmingham
This paper illustrates the potential impact of future climate change on the archaeological resource of river in catchments in Britain. It highlights an area of the environmental record often neglected by policy makers and environmental planners when considering the impact of climate change; where cultural heritage has been considered in the past, an emphasis has been placed on the historic built environment and major monuments. The purpose of this paper is to use empirical data to demonstrate to the specialist community, the potential threat posed to archaeological remains by climate change, since even within the specialist community, the profile and understanding of what might happen appears to be low. Certainly, many of the policies and initiatives that are advocated to alleviate the impacts of climate change on valley floors could be detrimental to the wider buried archaeological landscape. This is on top of the effects that the changing intensity and pattern of geomorphic processes such as erosion patterns and groundwater change would have on the landscape. The examples used for this study are taken from the valley floors of two contrasting river systems, the Yorkshire Ouse and the River Trent.
Download Challis et al’s presentation (6.2MB)
Managing heritage in the global greenhouse: towards an English Heritage policy on responding to climate change
Stephen Trow, English Heritage
The Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) provides the basis for the development of an English Heritage policy framework on responding to climate change. Without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the direct impacts of a changing climate will have major adverse effects on society, the economy and the environment, including our cultural heritage. The wide ranging actions required to limit further damaging emissions, combined with the need to adapt historic assets to make them more resilient to a changing climate, will also have significant implications for the historic environment. This presentation sets out English Heritage’s position on responding to climate change and examine our recent activity relating to the topic, including research and guidance. It will further consider how policy can be developed when the detailed character, full extent and exact timing of climate change impacts remain far from certain.
Download Stephen Trow’s presentation (3.8MB).
Climate change and the historic environment: developing a framework for assessing vulnerability
Rob Woodside, Atkins Heritage
Whilst our understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on the historic environment is growing, we are only just beginning to understand how best to respond. The need to develop strategies for ‘real-world’ adaptation is essential, not least because we are in danger of being left behind by other sectors and disciplines. The objective of this paper is to ask whether a vulnerability approach is an appropriate and effective means of assessing the risks of climate change to different heritage assets, such as World Heritage Sites. It explores the key concepts and variables of vulnerability - hazard, exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capcacity - and assesses their relevance and application to a heritage context. Drawing on methodologies applied by climate change and natural environment studies, it presents a framework for a vulnerability assessment, setting out each stage of the approach and exploring their application to the historic environment.
Download Rob Woodside’s presentation (859KB)
The impact of climate change on upland archaeology
Jamie Quartermaine, Elizabeth Huckerby, Denise Druce, Oxford Archaeology North; Jeff Warbuton, Durham University
This paper discusses the somewhat conflicting views of possible climate changes in the Uplands and also how small changes in the climate could disturb the equilibrium of the upland environment, particularly of peatlands. The vulnerability of the archaeological record will be considered drawing upon the work of Oxford Archaeology North as part of the Upland Peats Survey, an English Heritage funded project, and the Conservation of the Historic Environment in England’s Uplands, a joint project between ADAS and Oxford Archaeology North for Defra. The paper discusses the monument types that are thought most likely to be at risk and will examine the problems of the management of the upland terrain and what can be done to reverse the visible trends that are already being observed.
Download Quartermaine et al’s presentation (2.7MB)
Wetland archaeology and climate change: ‘The lost islands of Somerset’
Richard Brunning, Somerset County Council
The Somerset Levels and Moors is possibly the most archaeologically important area of wetland archaeology in the country, with more prehistoric waterlogged archaeological sites designated as Scheduled Monuments than the whole of the rest of the UK put together. Climate change poses a threat to the continuing survival of this unique resource because the prediction of lower summer rainfall and higher frequency of drought will lower water levels at the time of highest risk of desiccation. The increasing uncertainty predicted in our future weather systems will also place greater stress on local farming systems that are already struggling with profitability and an ageing farming population. Archaeological remains in the inter-tidal zone, where a millenium of wooden fishing structures are known to exist, are also vulnerable to increased erosion from coastal squeeze generated by sea level rise. The need to offset the loss of inter-tidal habitats will also create a need for set back, or ‘managed retreat’ options, that could be on a considerable scale and have a significant impact on the historic landscape along the coast and the archaeological sites contained within it.The Somerset Levels and Moors have also produced a large body of evidence about past climate and sea level change throughout the Holocene. This information is useful because it can be used to show that a landscape that at first sight appears to be ‘traditional’ and ‘unchanging’ has always been extremely dynamic right up until the 20th century. Public memory is very short and a radically different lifestyle and attitude to flooding that existed within living memory has been largely forgotten. The collection and dissemination of oral history can help to redress this collective amnesia. A large proportion of the local population still live in the same places as humans have since the Mesolithic, on the island of hard geology in the floodplain. A large proportion of the public are unaware of this fact, but a community archaeology project entitled ‘The Lost Islands of Somerset’ will be starting in 2008 to address this issue and highlight the potential of those areas. The promotion of archaeological knowledge could be used to help the local public and farming community mentally prepare for future changes in the local landscape and more frequent and intense flooding. Flexible attitudes to such issues are going to be needed over the next 50 years because change will be inevitable. One possible outcome is that the wetlands will be better irrigated and some areas returned to a more natural floodplain function. This may ensure the long-term survival of the internationally important waterlogged archaeological remains but may have a detrimental impact upon the historic landscape character. The Somerset Levels and Moors is being proposed as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site. The partnership working and flexible management plan that should be generated through this process will help to prepare and manage future changes.
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