A collection of three ancient settlements in Scotland have received Government backing to win Unesco World Heritage Status.

The settlements and surviving structures of Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof, known as the “Zenith of Iron Age Shetland”, are in the running to join the prestigious list. 

The three sites, located at the south end of Shetland, date back thousands of years and provide some of the most significant examples of the European Iron Age in an area outside the Roman Empire.

The historic and uninhabited island of Mousa, now an important RSPB Nature Reserve, is best known for the Broch of Mousa, the most complete extant broch in the world and one of the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe.

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The complex Iron Age and Pictish village of Old Scatness is an archaeological site consisting of mediaeval, Viking, Pictish, and Bronze and Iron Age remains, while the Pictish and Viking settlement of Jarlshof is internationally renowned for encapsulating 4,000 years of settlement, in particular the transition from Iron Age/Pictish to Viking periods, with no comparable rural Viking township in existence, even in Scandinavia.

The sites are among five across the UK and overseas territories to have received Government backing to win Unesco World Heritage Status, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced.

Joining them are York city centre, Birkenhead Park in Merseyside, The Little Cayman Marine Parks and Protected Areas in the UK overseas territory of the Cayman Islands and East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory bird route over western parts of Europe including Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent. 

The Herald: The Broch of MousaThe Broch of Mousa

The five sites join two more that submitted their full nominations to Unesco earlier this year, and remain on the Government’s Tentative List. They are the Gracehill Moravian Church Settlement in Northern Ireland and The Flow Country, a large, rolling expanse of blanket bog found in Caithness and Sutherland which plays a crucial role in supporting biodiversity. Covering about 1,500 m2, the Flow Country is widely considered to be the largest area of blanket bog in the world. 

Unesco’s World Heritage site system offers the opportunity for cultural and natural heritage sites to gain international recognition and promote themselves on a global stage.

The DCMS “Tentative List” is published around every 10 years and sets out the sites it is felt have the best chance of succeeding in being included.

If successful, the seven sites would join the 33 other World Heritage sites already based in the UK such as Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, St Kilda and The Forth Bridge.

Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “Today we are confirming our support for some of the most enchanting heritage sites and breathtaking landscapes in the UK and its overseas territories as they bid for Unesco World Heritage Site status.

“All the locations being put forward would be worthy recipients of this accolade – and we will give them our full backing so they can benefit from the international recognition it can bring.”

Laura Davies, HM Ambassador to Unesco, said: “It is great that the UK is contributing to making World Heritage more representative.

“These five sites brilliantly reflect the diversity and beauty of the UK and its overseas territories’ natural and cultural heritage, and I look forward to working with them towards World Heritage listing.”

The DCMS says it will now work with local authorities and devolved administrations to develop their bids.