About Us

6 February 2023

5,000 years of history to be inspected

We have commenced assessments at a number of sites in our care across Orkney prior to high level masonry inspections being carried out later this year.

A photo of a church ruin by the sea with gravestones in the foreground. It's St Magnus Church, Egilsay, Orkney

Sites spanning around 5,000 years of history, including Midhowe Chambered Cairn, St Magnus Church and Noltland Castle, will be inspected. 

HES has identified that a combination of factors, including the impact of climate change, are having an adverse effect on the condition of a number of Scotland’s historic monuments, particularly at high level. Accordingly, HES has implemented a high level masonry inspection programme, which is conducted by specially trained HES staff, to assess the condition of sites through tactile surveys and determine whether or not repairs are required. While this is not an issue unique to Scotland, HES is believed to be amongst the first heritage organisations to adopt this approach and is sharing both the methodology and findings with peer organisations.  

Following the pre-inspection assessment in Orkney, some access restrictions may be required as a safety precaution, but the intention is to ensure that the impact on accessibility to monuments and the visitor experience is minimised. Any repairs identified will be conducted at the earliest opportunity, ideally right away, which is similar to the approach adopted by HES elsewhere. In the event that larger repairs or conservation works are identified, HES may have to further restrict access or keep sites closed until this work is undertaken. 

The pre-inspection work, which includes ground archaeology work and ecology reports, must be conducted prior to inspections being carried out. This work is vital to ensure the safety of the inspection staff and contractors and allows HES to carefully consider the safest method to inspect sites and plan accordingly. 

The Orkney sites are the latest to be assessed as part of the high level masonry programme and work continues across Scotland to inspect, repair and re-open monuments. So far, HES has completed detailed inspections at 25 sites across the country since May, with a further 13 due for completion by Spring 2023.   

Craig Mearns, Director of Operations at HES, said:

Our sites across Orkney are hugely significant to our heritage, spanning 5,000 years of history and covering some of the most diverse sites in our care."

"It is really important that we do our best to preserve them for future generations and this programme of work is crucial to achieving that. We regret any short-term inconvenience the inspection programme may cause, however, this will be overshadowed by the longer-term benefits.” 

Find out more about the inspection programme

About Historic Environment Scotland (HES) 

  • We are the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. We will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.
  • Historic Scotland, Scran, Canmore, The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP), The Engine Shed, Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle are sub-brands of HES.
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For further information, please contact:

Laura Ely
Historic Environment Scotland Media Office
Mobile: 07221 959 962