Advice and Support

Landscape and the historic environment

Find out about Scotland’s unique landscapes and how we’re working to protect and care for them.

A big lake and hills in the distance on a cloudy day.

1 Overview

Each of Scotland’s unique landscapes tells a story of human influence. Built structures like monuments, cairns and ruins clearly show the presence of people past or present, while more natural looking landscapes can subtly reveal human interaction through field systems, managed woodlands or artificial lochs. 

We value Scotland’s landscapes for many different reasons:

  • Scenic: places of beauty
  • Cultural: somewhere that can tell us about our history and traditions
  • Recreational: places to walk, play or relax
  • Identity: locations that help to define our communities and our nation
A small stone hut by the sea with green hills nearby.

As the lead public body for Scotland’s historic environment, we work with other organisations to protect and care for our landscapes.

2 Recording our historic landscapes

To help improve our understanding of the past as well as enabling research into topics like the impact of climate change, we record landscapes the length and breadth of Scotland.

Our Survey and Recording Team capture images and information about buildings, monuments and landscapes through archaeological field surveys and aerial surveys.

We have also mapped evidence of historic land-use in Scotland, revealing how people have used Scotland’s landscapes over the centuries. This map reveals a variety of activities, ranging from prehistoric agriculture to modern day skiing resorts.

A man with a clipboard looks out over a body of water.

4 Partnership working

We are working with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the National Trust for Scotland to develop a common position on landscape and the historic environment in line with Our Place in Time, Scotland’s strategy for the historic environment.

Download the Scottish Historic Environment Forum’s Position Statement from the SNH website [PDF, 252 KB].

We are also working with SNH to update their Landscape Character Assessments. These assessments are used to identify, describe, classify and map what’s distinctive about our landscapes. We want to improve the way that these assessments take account of cultural elements of landscape and are providing support for this process.

An island covered with green trees surrounded by still water.

We work with the Heritage Lottery Fund and other partners, including local authorities and government agencies, on ‘Landscape Partnership’ and ‘Great Place’ schemes. These projects make a huge difference to both landscapes and the communities who live and work in them and to visitors.

These projects can:
  • protect the historic environment and improve access to it
  • provide training and experience
  • support greater diversity
  • help support inclusive, sustainable economic development

5 Climate change and landscapes

Historic landscapes are vulnerable to risks from climate change. As sea levels rise, temperatures increase and we see more extreme weather, flooding and coastal erosion will increase and vegetation patterns will change.

Landscape elements that have survived well in the past may be less able to cope with changing weather patterns. This could affect vulnerable species and historic remains.

Our Climate Change Risk Assessment Report represents the most in depth study to date of the impact of climate change on the landscapes and historic sites in our care. Its results help us to decide how to spend money on future maintenance work.

Protecting historic landscapes from both natural and human threats also supports biodiversity and allows the preservation of local habitats and species. We help to deliver the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and our latest biodiversity report is available to download online.

Under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, public bodies in Scotland have a duty to further the conservation of biodiversity. This biodiversity duty is about taking care of nature all around us, not just in specific protected areas. Find out how we are contributing to the objectives of the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity in our Delivery Statement

Sea waves breaking against steep cliffs.

Coastal erosion is a major concern in Scotland. Currently, about 10% of our Archaeology Programme funding is spent on coastal erosion projects. We are also working with Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and others on the Dynamic Coast project, supporting more sustainable coastal and terrestrial planning decisions in response to the changing climate. 

Find out more

6 Placemaking

One of the biggest changes to our landscapes can be new development.

From housing to roads, wind farms to large-scale land management changes like forestry and farming, new developments can alter how our landscapes are experienced and used.

We provide advice to decision makers on new development. This covers changes to physical features as well as changes to their surroundings or setting.

A field full of sheep beside a lake at sunset.

Our valued landscapes, buildings and monuments can make a big contribution to the quality and sustainability of new developments. Scottish Government's policy on placemaking reflects this.

The Landscape Institute Scotland (LIS) has produced a document encouraging Scotland’s commitment to international best practice in landscape protection, planning and management, and supports the Scottish Government in delivering its Programme for Scotland. Find out more on the LIS website.