Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken out in Parliament on the need to ensure the sustainable future of Northern Isles heritage sites. Speaking in a debate on Tuesday led by fellow Liberal Democrat MP, Jamie Stone, Mr Carmichael highlighted the need to manage the impact of mass tourism and climate change on historic sites such as Skara Brae in Orkney, and asked for an update on the process of UNESCO heritage status for Zenith of Iron Age Shetland.
The responding minister, Stuart Andrew MP, undertook to update Mr Carmichael on the UNESCO process for Shetland.
Speaking in the debate, Mr Carmichael said:
“We know a thing or two about heritage sustainability in the northern isles; we have been doing it for 5,000 years. Since 1969, Orkney has been home to a UNESCO world heritage site—the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
“Earlier this year, the Government gave their support to the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, to acquire UNESCO status as a world heritage site. Can the Minister give us any update on support for the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland? If he can give us an indication of what his Department is doing to sustain that process, it would be most appreciated.
“In many ways, heritage defines what we are about in Orkney and Shetland. That is both an opportunity and, if we are not careful, something of a threat. It has developed in Orkney and Shetland a tremendous visitor economy, all made up of small and medium-sized enterprises; in particular, there is now an army of well qualified and well trained tourism guides who are able to offer a great visitor experience to people coming to the Northern Isles.
“In recent years, however, we have seen an enormous growth in cruise ship traffic. That has been enormously valuable to the community, but there are challenges given the sheer number of people who come to visit. I commend everybody who has been involved in the management of that influx of tourists, because they have balanced the needs of maintaining the integrity of our world heritage site while making sure it is open and accessible to those who visit our islands.
“The other threat to all built heritage, of whatever age, is climate change. Skara Brae on Orkney has been listed as a site that is particularly vulnerable to the threat of climate change. It would be an absolute tragedy for our country if we were to lose such a site. I would like to see our Government in Scotland and the UK Government in Westminster come up with a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to ensure that these very important sites are maintained for future generations.”