The effect of climate change on the heritage sector

Whilst we have been confined to our homes, with most of us only venturing as far as the shops, our skies have been clear of traffic, Venice’s waterways have been cleansed, and Britain’s gardens have never looked better.

However, climate change is still a huge problem for our future and is also an issue for our past as well. Many of our listed and heritage buildings have features that were made in a time much different to now, for reasons completely adverse to the purposes they are used for today.

Melissa Osborne

We are slowly experiencing a shift from having four distinct seasons to a more tropical cycle of two: a dry, hot summer and a wet and warm winter. In recent years, this has been a catalyst for research into how these changes will affect our infrastructure, mainly our buildings.

The UK and Ireland have seen huge flooding disasters in the past ten years, with incidents becoming more prevalent across the year as opposed to one specific time of the year. Not only can it damage buildings and landscapes through inundation and saturation, but standing water is also a huge concern to foundations and soils.

The choice to dry out the buildings quickly and on a large scale is tempting, especially when charging entry to heritage buildings is often a primary source of income to continue with their upkeep. However, the rapid drying of these soaked buildings is a bigger risk to their structure, as well as the fixtures and fittings inside i.e. décor and furniture.

Conversely, as the wet weather subsides, dry conditions can contribute to soil shrinkage, which can lead to subsidence, structural damage and in some cases collapse.

These hotter, drier conditions may also increase the risk of fire, particularly for properties that are on higher land. The change in temperature and humidity could pose a detriment to native flora and fauna and encourage a rise in invasive plants and animals. These concerns could affect the physical elements of these buildings, but could also alter the character of these places, losing their appeal and in turn their profits.

Unesco has only been speaking about climate change in a formal setting for 15 years. But now that it has become a point of conversation, we now need to fund the research nationally to ensure this problem doesn’t become an irreversible one that affects our history, our economy and our future.

If you have any queries or questions regarding your heritage building or conservation in general, get in touch with Melissa at melissa.osborne@tridentbc.com, or on 07725 630 452.