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Safeguarding the future of Orkney's 5,000 year old World Heritage Site

25 April 2014

A five year vision for the management, protection and promotion of Orkney’s World Heritage Site has been unveiled at a special event at Skara Brae.

Representatives from Historic Scotland, Orkney Island Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds were on hand to launch the Heart of Neolithic Orkney Management Plan 2014-19, which sets out how the partners will protect, conserve, and enhance the site.

The plan is the result of extensive consultation with stakeholders and members of the community, which took place last year.

Five thousand years ago, the people of Orkney began constructing some extraordinary monuments out of stone. They built a series of domestic and ritual monuments which include a beautifully-preserved domestic settlement at Skara Brae, the chambered tomb at Maeshowe, the Stones of Stenness circle and henge, and the Ring of Brodgar: a great stone circle, 130 metres across.

These important monuments are now collectively known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney (HONO) and represent one of the richest surviving Neolithic landscapes in western Europe. Since being inscribed in 1999 they have been an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a designation for places on Earth that are “of outstanding universal value to humanity”, and includes places as diverse and unique as the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Acropolis in Greece.

In welcoming the launch of the Plan, Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs said: “Five millennia after they were built, these beautifully-preserved monuments offer us an invaluable insight into the society, skills and spiritual beliefs of the people who constructed them. Since it was inscribed in 1999, the successful management of the site has depended on the close working relationship between the Partners, who have drawn on the experience, as well as consulting with stakeholders and members of the public, to produce this new, improved Management Plan”.     

Gavin Barr, Orkney Islands Council’s Executive Director of Development and Infrastructure said: Orkney’s heritage plays an important role in life on the Islands today, by providing cultural, spiritual, economic and educational benefits. I’m delighted that the new Management Plan will ensure an appropriate policy context for ensuring the Sites remain relevant to modern day challenges, recognising their role in the wider sustainability of Orkney’s environment and economy.”  

The site is managed and cared for by Historic Scotland who work in partnership with  Orkney Islands Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in its wider management.

Notes for editors

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

  • All the sites that comprise the World Heritage Site are in the care of Historic Scotland on behalf of Scottish Ministers.

  • The World Heritage Site and its Buffer Zone are managed in Partnership with Orkney Islands Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

  • As part of its World Heritage Status, UNESCO guidelines require management plans to be drawn up every five years.

  • Skara Brae is a domestic settlement whose stone walls, passageways and stone furnishings, such as beds and dressers, survive to the present day.  Maeshowe, a chambered tomb is an extraordinary example of Neolithic architectural genius.  It was designed to allow the setting sun at the winter solstice to shine up the passagewayand illuminate the chamber.  The Stones of Stenness circle and henge is a very early example of this type of monument.  The surviving stones are enormous , standing up to 6 metres in height.  The Ring of Brodgar is a great stone circle 130 metres across.

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For further information

Alan Bannon
Historic Scotland Media Office
Communications and Media
0131 668 8588 or 07854 366 805