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Understanding the threat to Scotland's coastal archaeology

12 May 2008

THE threat to Scotland’s archaeology from coastal erosion is changing the way we approach protecting and preserving historic remains.

The loss of historic remains to coastal erosion starkly illustrates the incessant, gradual removal of land by the sea. Close to East Wemyss the force of the sea that once carved out the famous caves is now returning to destroy the archaeological remains within the caves.

Following a visit (today) to Wemyss Cave in Fife, Culture Minister Linda Fabiani MSP said:
“The reality is that in many cases erosion is dictating how long there is to investigate and record our coastal archaeology. It is not a new problem; here at Wemyss Cave the evidence suggests that storms and tides have been affecting the site at least since the 1850s.

“It means that we have to make informed decisions quickly and judge what, if any, measures can be taken to protect it from the elements and whether it is better to start the process of excavating and recording to ensure that we learn as much as possible from it before it is lost. While that does sound bleak, we are in a better position than we have been before with research showing us what protection works best and which sites we should concentrate on first.”

People living at the shoreline have enjoyed a good lifestyle for centuries, but the remains of those past lives are vulnerable to the same elements that once provided for them.

Historic Scotland has co-sponsored analysis of the effects of coastal erosion and commissioned surveys along about 30% of Scotland’s vast coastline. This has made it possible to see which areas are most vulnerable to erosion and the loss of important archaeology.

At sites like East Wemyss engineering can be used to preserve the remains, but it would be impractical to protect all of Scotland’s 12000 km of coastline.

The Minister was honouring an earlier commitment to visit Wemyss Cave to see how the famous site is being affected by erosion.

Ms Fabiani added: “Scotland has a fascinating history and we are blessed that so much of it is preserved beneath us. The effects of coastal erosion presents us with difficult problems for which no single remedy is possible but for historic or ancient remains the best solutions are those that bring together community, national and local government.”

Notes for editors

  1. Wemyss Cave are an important part of the historic environment for the local community, visitors and academics interested in early medieval Scotland. There are 13 caves in total, six of which are protected as scheduled monuments.
  2. 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.
  3. Register for media release email alerts from If you wish to unsubscribe at any time, please email  or telephone on 0131 668 8603

For further information

Lisa Nicholson
Communications and Media Manager
Communications and Media
0131 668 8852 or 075000 65438