Lighthouses in Scotland have guided mariners to safety for more than 200 years, but a national review is set to identify which of the coastal landmarks deserve special protection. 

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has announced it will undertake a review of listed and unlisted lighthouses owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB).

As part of the year-long project in partnership with the board, HES will update existing listed building records for lighthouses and explore unlisted lighthouses to determine if they meet the criteria to become listed. 

Research will be undertaken using information and photographs from NLB’s collection held in the National Record of the Historic Environment. 

The project will be a major project throughout Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020.

Buildings listed as having “special architectural or historic interest” form part of the nation’s rich heritage and help to tell the story of Scotland’s past. Listing buildings ensures their special interest is considered in the planning process.

HES, Scotland’s lead public body for the historic environment, is responsible for listing buildings while NLB is responsible for the provision of Marine Aids to Navigation in the waters surrounding Scotland and the Isle of Man. It operates and maintains more than 200 lighthouses.

Philip Robertson, deputy head of designations at HES, said: “There are about 150 listed lighthouses throughout the country, and they are not only wonderful landmarks but also a testament to Scotland’s exceptional engineering achievements. 

“There are a range of lighthouses that have never been assessed for listing, including some dating from the 1970s and 1980s, so we’re really excited to look at these structures for the first time and explore their potential.

“By reviewing and updating the records of these fascinating buildings, we will be able to offer more information about what makes them special to help their future care and maintenance.”

Jane Ryder, chairwoman of the HES board, said: “Scotland’s lighthouses are iconic features of our coasts and seas, with rich associations with those who have designed them, who have lived and worked in them and those who have and continue to rely on them.

“With the Year of Coasts and Waters encouraging people to explore Scotland’s coasts, we hope our project with NLB will highlight the importance our nation’s unique lighthouses have as part of our community heritage as well as our wider maritime history.”

Since the building of Scotland’s first lighthouse in the 17th century, lighthouses have played a crucial role in the safe passage of ships. 

One of the most famous is the A-listed Bell Rock Lighthouse, which was built in 1808-11 by Robert Stevenson – grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

The remote Flannan Isles lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides also gained notoriety due to the strange disappearance in 1900 of its three lighthouse keepers. The mystery, which remains unsolved, was recently made into a film, The Vanishing, starring Scottish actors Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan.

Mike Bullock, chief executive of the NLB, said they were delighted to be taking part. He added: “We place a great deal of importance on the preservation and sharing of our remarkable history.Many of our lighthouses are now moe than 200 years old but they continue to serve the same purpose as when they were built – to guide all mariners safely through Scottish and Isle of Man waters.

“It will be enormously helpful to determine the appropriate listed status for our lights built in the 1970s and 1980s. Architecturally, they might be very different structures to the Stevenson lighthouses but they are very much a part of our 
lighthouse heritage.”