Description of the historic environment
The historic environment enriches
Scotland's landscapes and townscapes and is central to the
country's distinctive character. It also makes a major contribution
to Scotland's national identity, culture and economy. The various
designated elements that make up Scotland's historic
environment are explained below.
World heritage sites
Scotland has five World Heritage Sites (sites of outstanding
universal value) under the terms of the UNESCO World Heritage
Four are cultural World Heritage Sites:
St Kilda is a mixed cultural and natural World Heritage
Properties in Care
A Property in Care is an ancient monument and/or historic
building that is cared for by
Historic Scotland under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and
Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
345 properties in the care of Historic Scotland.
Historic Scotland lists buildings of special historic or
architectural interest and maintains an associated dataset of
listed building descriptions available on the
Historic Scotland website.
The lists ensure that the planning process takes the needs of
the historic environment into account and guides the management of
change. Scotland’s Historic Environment
Audit (SHEA) shows that there were 47,672 listed buildings
in Scotland in March 2012, an increase of 507 since 2008 (the
baseline date for SHEA).
The number of records relates to listing entries, not individual
buildings or ownerships. A number of individually owned properties,
such as a terrace of houses, may be covered by a single listing
Buildings are assigned to one of three categories according to
their relative importance. All listed buildings receive equal legal
protection, and protection applies equally to the interior and
exterior of all listed buildings, regardless of category.
- category A: buildings of national or
international importance, either architectural or historic, or
fine, little-altered examples of a particular period, style or
building type (around 8% of the total);
- category B: buildings of regional or more than
local importance, or major examples of a particular period, style
or building type, which may have been altered (around 50% of the
- category C: buildings of local importance,
lesser examples of any period, style or building type, as
originally constructed or moderately altered, and simple
traditional buildings that group well with others in
categories A and B (around 42% of the total).
Scheduled monuments are sites or monuments of national
importance that are legally protected under the Ancient Monuments and
Archaeological Areas Act 1979. Historic Scotland maintains the
schedule of monuments.
There were 8,205 scheduled monuments in Scotland in March 2012,
an increase of 184 since 2008. The oldest scheduled monuments
date from around 8,000 years ago, before the advent of farming in
Scotland. The most recent scheduled monuments include Second World
War defences. In between is a wider range of monuments of all
types, including prehistoric chambered cairns, Roman forts, early
medieval carved stones and industrial mills. They may be
recognisable as banks, ditches, walls, or other upstanding
structural remains, but much of a monument may survive beneath the
ground, often extending for a considerable distance beyond the
Information on scheduled monuments and GIS maps of scheduled
areas is available from the Historic Scotland data
Gardens and designed landscapes
There are 390 sites on
the inventory of gardens and designed landscapes in Scotland,
compiled and maintained by Historic Scotland. Sites on the
inventory are considered to be of national importance and should be
taken account of in the planning process.
Conservation areas are designated by local planning authorities
"…areas of special architectural or historic interest, the
character of which it is desirable to preserve or
There were 645 conservation areas in Scotland in March
2012, compared to 636 in 2008. Information on Scotland's
conservation areas is available on the Scottish
There are sixteen nationally protected wreck sites across
Scotland. Of these,
eight wreck sites are designated by Scottish Ministers (through
Historic Scotland) under the Protection of Wrecks
Act 1973. Seven other offshore wrecks are scheduled under the
Ancient Monuments and
Archaeological Areas Act 1979. There is also a
single wreck protected as an Historic Marine Protected Area under
the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. Further information on Scotland’s
marine historic environment is contained in Scotland’s
There are 28 nationally important battlefields on the
Inventory of Scottish Battlefields maintained by Historic
By far the largest part of the historic environment is
not protected by designation and is in private
The scale of the undesignated built heritage is considerable and
is illustrated below:
- there are 125,685 archaeological monuments recorded by the
Royal Commission on the Ancient and
Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), of which only 9,967
are linked to scheduled monument designations. This suggests that
92% of known archaeological sites and monuments in Scotland are
- RCAHMS holds 140,197 records relating to historic architecture.
Of these, 71,660 records (51%) are not linked to listed building
- 455,000 Scottish dwellings were built pre-1919 (traditionally
constructed). Which means that one fifth (19%) of our housing stock
is now over 90 years old. These properties comprise the bulk of the
vernacular architecture which contributes to Scotland’s unique
- RCAHMS holds 20,675 records relating to maritime heritage.
However, there are only 16 protected wrecks in Scotland,
suggesting that 99.9% of recorded maritime heritage is
- 92% of gardens and related sites (sundials, garden features
etc) recorded by RCAHMS are undesignated;
- RCAHMS holds 297 records relating to battle sites or
battlefields, only 28 of which are on the Inventory
of nationally important battlefields.
Why are some assets not protected?
There is a wide range of undesignated archaeological sites,
monuments and areas of historical interest (including
battlefields), historic landscapes, gardens and designed
landscapes, woodlands and routes such as drove roads, which does
not have statutory protection. There can be a number of reasons why
a historic environment asset is not designated, including:
- the asset has been assessed for designation but will have
failed to meet the required criteria;
- the asset has not yet been assessed for designation;
- the asset is not of a type that can be designated;
- the asset has not yet been recorded.
planning policy 23: planning and the historic environment sets
out Scottish Government policy relating to undesignated assets in
the planning system. In essence, planning authorities are expected
to consider the potential to protect these resources through the
Historic land-use assessment
Historic land-use assessment (HLA)
is an ongoing project undertaken by RCAHMS and Historic Scotland.
It is a key approach for understanding the historic
environment as a whole and aids in assessing significance. It is
designed to map past and present land use across Scotland to help
us understand how today's landscape is influenced by human
activities in the past. Around 80% of Scotland had
been mapped using HLA by March 2012.
Condition of the historic environment
It is difficult to assess the current and changing state of all
of the elements that make up the historic environment because of a
lack of nationally consistent trend data, from which evidence of
change can be determined. The sector is working together to
develop an evidence base.
Although there is only limited nationally collated information
on the condition of the historic environment, the presence of
management plans and regular inspection regimes for many built
heritage assets means that a considerable amount is known
The sources listed below provide useful national data on
condition of the historic environment.
Condition of listed buildings (buildings at risk register)
Established in 1990 and managed by Historic Scotland, the
buildings at risk register
(BARR) for Scotland highlights properties of architectural or
historic merit throughout the country that are considered to be at
risk or under threat.
Buildings at risk are not necessarily in poor condition; they
may simply be standing empty with no clear future use.
national report on A-Listed buildings at risk is
available from the BARR website. Key points are:
- in 2013, 8.0% of A-listed buildings (nationally or
internationally important) are at risk, compared to 8.2% in 2011
and 8.7% in 2009;
- a-listed entries in rural areas are more likely to be at
risk than those in urban areas;
- nine out of ten A-listed BARR entries are
Changes in the proportion of A-listed buildings at risk are used
to measure the 'Scotland
performs national indicator: improve the state of Scotland's
historic buildings, monuments and environment'. The
Scotland Performs Technical Assessment Group has awarded a
'Performance Maintaining' arrow for this indicator.
Condition of scheduled monuments
Historic Scotland's Field Officer reports (previously known as
monument warden reports) provide the only systematically generated,
detailed condition data about ancient monuments in Scotland. The
data relate only to scheduled monuments and need careful
interpretation. It is not possible to extrapolate figures to
produce estimates of condition and risk among the population of
ancient monuments as a whole. However, the range of issues faced by
unscheduled monuments is likely to be very similar.
Historic Scotland undertook analysis of the condition of
scheduled monuments based on Field Officer reports. Key
findings are reported in the 2012 Scotland’s Historic Environment
Audit (SHEA) and are summarised below.
- the percentage of monuments in an optimal or satisfactory
condition has increased over the last 13 years, and is currently
- there is a direct relationship between condition and risk, with
monuments in an optimal or satisfactory condition likely to be
associated with a low risk of future deterioration;
- there is an increasing trend of monuments assessed as being at
high or immediate risk of further deterioration. Currently around
12% of monuments fall into this category;
- particular monument types appear more vulnerable than others.
There is a significant variation in condition between each category
of monument. Prehistoric and roman monuments are in general in a
better condition than ecclesiastical, secular and industrial
- around 28% of scheduled monuments show an improvement in
condition over time, with 26% showing a decline;
- around 26% of monuments show an decrease in assessed risk over
time, with a further 26% showing an increase.