Historic environment

Scotland's historic buildings and monuments are unique and irreplaceable; attracting millions of visitors and generating income and jobs.

Castle UrquhartSummary

Scotland's Comment on this pagehistoric environment includes thousands of historic buildings and monuments, attracts millions of visitors each year and generates income and jobs.

Although there are good data to describe individual parts of the historic environment, it is difficult to assess the current and changing state of the whole because of a lack of nationally consistent data.

The key pressures are development, lack of maintenance and investment, inappropriate land use, climate change and visitors. The key responses to these pressures are to enhance and improve policy, legislation, guidance and investment to improve condition.

Our historic environment is irreplaceable and we should protect it for future generations.


What is the historic environment?

Scotland’s historic environment is the physical evidence of past human activity as well as associated concepts that we cannot see or touch such as stories and traditions. It includes archaeological sites and monuments, buildings, gardens and landscapes, artefacts and archives.

Importance of the historic environment

Scotland’s historic environment makes Scotland distinctive as Scotland. Our whole environment, whether rural or urban, on land or under water, has a historic dimension that contributes to its quality and character. It has been shaped by human and natural processes over thousands of years. This is most obvious in our built heritage: ancient monuments; archaeological sites and landscapes; historic buildings; townscapes; parks; gardens and designed landscapes; and our marine heritage, for example in the form of historic shipwrecks or underwater landscapes that were once dry land.

Scotland's historic environment makes a valuable contribution to our:

  • quality of life and sense of well being
  • economy and employment – especially in the tourism and construction industries
  • educational resource
  • cultural identity

The historic environment is estimated to contribute in excess of £2.3 billion, (2.6%) of Scotland's national gross value added (GVA) and to account for 2.5 % of Scotland’s total employment (directly supporting 41,000 full time equivalent employees ). This is comparable with many of other important Scottish industries. It is a strong driver for tourism and inward investment - attracting more than 16 million visitors each year—and it promotes a positive image of Scotland, at home and abroad, providing a sense of place and cultural identity.

Heritage-led regeneration benefits both communities and the economy, stimulating regeneration of the built environment and generating work in the construction industry. The historic environment also provides strong opportunities for participation and volunteering across Scotland and contributes to education and training programmes in schools and colleges and in up-skilling the construction workforce. The care and maintenance of the historic environment is an important factor in the economic security of Scotland’s construction industry. It also supports, develops and promotes Scotland's traditional building skills and the use of traditional building materials.

The historic environment plays a role in reducing Scotland’s carbon footprint through the sensitive re-use of historic buildings thus minimising the need for new building materials.

Components of the historic environment

Some elements of Scotland’s historic environment are designated. The designation process aims to identify the most important parts of the built environment so that their significance is recognised and their protection enhanced.

Designated assets currently include:

Scotland has two National Parks and 40 National Scenic Areas. These contain many important historic environment features, and are discussed further in the Landscape topic.

Much of the historic environment is undesignated. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) and local authority Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs) also hold information on historic environment assets, which are not necessarily nationally important or statutorily protected but which nonetheless contribute to Scotland's overall historic environment. There are currently 295,784 RCAHMS records of historic assets or events, which are available online. There are 283,238 records held by local authority SMRs.