STORM Pt 1: Climate Change and Heritage in the UK – an Evolving Approach


The Great Storm 1 New Hall farm, Small Dole damage Oct 1987a

A damaged, listed, 18th century farmhouse house in Sussex after the Great Storm of October 1987

Since the spring of 2016 I’ve been involved in a Horizon 2020 funded research project looking at the impact of climate change and humans on European heritage. The project is called STORM which stands for Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management’ and will run for three years, with five test-bed pilots sites in Greece (Rythymno), Italy (Rome), Portugal (Troia), Turkey (Ephesus) and  the UK (Mellor). More of these in a later blog.


The project was born out of the realisation that heritage assets across the European Union are extremely vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards, which threaten their integrity and may compromise their value. STORM aims to research new ways to mitigate the impacts of harsh climate events upon Cultural Heritage. The project emphasises the use of cost-effective, collaborative methodologies, novel predictive models and improved non-invasive methods to create practical ways of helping heritage asset owners with these systemic problems. It is anticipated that the outcomes of the project will range from preventive actions to emergency measures primarily directed towards the conservation of historic structures. The project also aims to develop a series of protocols and guidance to assist in the development of national policy proposals dedicated to the mitigation of natural or climate change-caused disasters on the cultural heritage of Europe.

Climate change and its impact on heritage has been a serious subject for research in the UK since the mid-2000s. Early on a number of broad studies were undertaken, including an assessment of the risks of climate change to the built environment in England and the impact of coastal erosion in England and Wales. An over view report, Assessment of Heritage at Risk from Environment Threat by English Heritage published in 2013, identified the following key themes relating to the impact, rather than the process, of climate change in the UK:

• Coastal Processes
• Inland Water Inundation
• Extremes of Wetting and Drying
• Fire
• Pests and Diseases
• Urban Heat Islands

Many site-specific studies across Britain have looked at the retrofitting of existing historic structures, usually buildings, in response to climate change or the threat of climate change. For instance, English Heritage has funded a study of the potential impact of water management legislation on river and canal‐side heritage and the impact of erosion on upland mining areas where metal pollution from mining and quarrying is stored in the soils.


Old_Silk_Mill_Derby_14 (1)

The Old Silk Mill, Derby, is part of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site. Its position on the River Derwent makes it increasingly vulnerable to more extreme flooding events.

Most recently Heritage England has funded research in 2014 and 2015 on disaster planning for heritage sites with a focus on flooding. Undertaken by the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service this involved training local communities and emergency services. It focussed on developing emergency plans, contingency plans and business continuity plans. These were designed to help reduce, control or ease the effects of a climate-related emergency on heritage sites. Historic England have also issued, for the first time in the UK, a guidance document on the impact of flooding on historic buildings. Not only does this document identify the potential sources of flooding (river, coastal, surface, ground and sewer water) it also gives advice on dealing with the effects of flooding during and after the event.


In parallel to these studies have been research on the impact of climate change on the UK’s World Heritage Sites, particularly in England and Scotland. A report published in 2015 looked at the impact of climate change on the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. It used GIS modelling of the landscape to suggest areas most at risk from flooding and landslip. Case student then modelled several scenarios including the impact of removing weirs on erosion, deposition and chemical contamination. Though the study relies on landscape modelling combined with data from past events, it is a first step towards achieving the real-time monitoring and prediction of major climate events on the historic environment.



St Catherine’s Island, Tenby, south-west Wales. Coastal heritage sites such as this are vulnerable to extreme weather events such as ex-hurricane Ophelia.

Most recently, at the beginning of European funding was granted to the CHERISH project – Climate, Heritage & Environments of Reefs, Islands and Headlands. This is a five-year cross-border project between the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), Aberystwyth University: Department of Geography and Earth Science, The Discovery Programme Ireland and The Geological Survey of Ireland. Its aim is to look at the impact of climate change and sea-level change, past, present and future, on the cultural heritage of the coastal communities and landscape s of the Irish Sea. The project will target data and management knowledge gaps, employing innovative techniques to discover, assess, map and monitor heritage assets on land and beneath the sea, widely disseminating the results and developing best practice for future climate change adaptation.


What should be clear from this brief review of research into climate change and heritage impact in the UK and Irish Republic is that predictive studies and real-timing monitoring of climate problems have been rare in Britain. This is, of course, where the STORM project comes in and is one of the reasons that the UK partners are working with a range of partners including advice from Historic England.


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