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Visitor Erosion in Fragile Landscapes: Balancing conflicting agendas of access and conservation at properties in care in Scotland

Rachel Pickering

Cite this as: Pickering, R. 2020 Visitor Erosion in Fragile Landscapes: Balancing conflicting agendas of access and conservation at properties in care in Scotland, Internet Archaeology 54.


There are difficult and often conflicting agendas to balance with regard to managing historic and archaeological sites as visitor attractions. This article discusses the significant impact of high visitor numbers at archaeologically sensitive sites in the care of Historic Environment Scotland and the approaches taken to mitigate the consequent erosion and manage access. Understanding a monument's significance, a robust management plan and stakeholder and community engagement are essential to successful long-term conservation. Two cases studies are discussed: Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, and the Ring of Brodgar, Orkney.

Erosion scar on main route to Arthur's Seat summit
Erosion scar on main route to Arthur's Seat summit, June 2018. © Historic Environment Scotland
  • Google Scholar
  • Keywords: archaeology, visitor erosion, archaeological resource management, cultural significance, visitor access, world heritage sites
  • Accepted: 1 November 2019. Published: 28 February 2020
  • The publication of this article is funded by the European Archaeological Council.

Corresponding author: Rachael Pickering
Historic Environment Scotland

Full text

Figure 1: View of Arthur's Seat from the east, with the cultivation terraces clearly visible and cut by desire lines to the summit from the road. © Crown Copyright HES

Figure 2: Erosion scar on main route to Arthur's Seat summit, June 2018. © Crown Copyright HES

Figure 3: Path maintenance in a challenging landscape. © Crown Copyright HES

Figure 4: Extract of the ALS survey results, showing the hill-fort remains at Dunsapie Crag (pictured in photograph). © Historic Environment Scotland

Figure 5: Aerial photography and ALS survey data for Whinny Hill, showing the DTM in the middle image and DSM, with vegetation cover 'removed' on the right. © HES

Figure 6: Extract of ALS survey data showing cultivation terraces and an enclosure on the eastern slopes of Arthur's Seat and the visible impact of desire lines cutting across these features. © Historic Environment Scotland

Figure 7: Map showing areas of archaeological sensitivity and erosion in Holyrood Park, with main footpaths overlain. © CFA Archaeology Ltd (CFA); contains Historic Environment Scotland Data © Historic Environment Scotland

Figure 8: Aerial photograph of Nether Hill and Crow Hill, adjacent to Arthur's Seat, taken in 2014 © Crown Copyright: HES

Figure 9: Aerial photograph of Nether Hill (in foreground) and summit of Arthur's Seat (in midground), taken in 2017; note significant reduction in turf cover in areas close to the summit and close to the area of the hill-fort remains © Crown Copyright: HES

Figure 10: The Ring of Brodgar from the air. 2009, taken from the NNW. © Crown Copyright: HES

Figure 11: Ring of Brodgar, probably early 20th century © Courtesy of HES

Figure 12: Ring of Brodgar in 2014 © Crown Copyright: HES

Figure 13: Plan showing proposed work to the inner path in 2012 and illustration of raised path design. © Historic Environment Scotland

Figure 14: Installation of new raised path to part of the inner ring route, 2017. © Historic Environment Scotland

Figure 15: New signage is in place to advise of changes to access and the main route around the site, which also explains why such restrictions are important for the conservation of the monument. Author's own image

Figure 16: South Knowe has been increasingly affected by visitor footfall and rabbits; it is temporarily fenced off to allow for conservation work and recovery (May, 2018). Author's own image

Table 1: Visitor number estimates since 2014-15

Table 2: Visitor figures March 2018-January 2019, since installation of people counter at main entrance

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