FROM the 5,000-year-old Skara Brae settlement in Orkney to the Old Course on the St Andrews links, some of our most prized natural heritage and land are under threat from climate change and coastal erosion. In all, one-fifth of Scotland’s coastline is in danger, according to the results of a new mapping tool used by scientists that projects accumulated data forward to show the potential change to Scotland’s coastline.

The conclusions of the Dynamic Coast: Scotland’s National Coastal Change Assessment (NCCA) could not be more concise. Since the 1970s, rates of coastal erosion have doubled, with scientists previously estimating that around 10,000 historic sites were in danger.

Referencing more than 2,000 maps and using more than one million points of data to make predictions, scientists conclude that perhaps as much as £400 million worth of property, roads and infrastructure along coastlines could similarly be affected through erosion by 2050.

As Professor Robert Furness, chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage’s scientific advisory committee, emphasised following the launch of Dynamic Coast in St Andrews yesterday, there remains a lot of work to be done.

Scientific evidence increasingly points also to the fact that Scotland’s climate is changing faster than at any time since instrumental monitoring began. Average temperatures have risen by about 1.8°F since 1961 while heavy rainfall and severe storms have become more common. Sea level rise has accelerated during the last 20 years. This data should be enough to make even the most hardened climate change sceptic think again. For coastal archaeologists, however, the alarm bells have been ringing for some time, with many warning that world-renowned sites are facing an existential threat.

Writing only last month, Adam Markham who has compiled evidence for Unesco and who directs the Union of Concerned Scientists on climate impacts, warned that a global crisis for cultural heritage is unfolding along many of the world’s coasts, including those in Scotland.

In an article for the Yale School of Environmental Studies, he made special mention of the remains of the Stone Age settlement of Skara Brae in Orkney, which he described as the “world capital of eroding archaeology” and a consequence of coastal threats.

As the mapping shows, it is not only natural heritage sites that are at risk. There are also massive infrastructural implications. Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham points out that the pace of coastal erosion and the threat it poses will only worsen.

While millions of pounds worth of coastal infrastructure is already protected by natural defences such as beaches and dunes as well as man-made features, now is not the time to be complacent. The Dynamic Coast project and its NCCA assessment findings are a timely reminder of that fact. The clock is ticking and we need to take action promptly before it is too late.