With the latest contribution to the Historic Environment Forum’s Sector Resilience Interviews series focussed on Climate Change, we hear from Dr Paul Lankester, Climate Resilience Lead at English Heritage.
Read on to find out more.
Paul, what is involved with your role at English Heritage?

I began working in my current role as climate resilience lead at English Heritage in February 2022, having previously worked for the charity as a conservation scientist. Before that I studied for a PhD which looked at the impact of climate change on historic interiors. With my current work I am coming back to researching the impact of climate change on historic buildings, but now considering how this will impact upon all aspects of what English Heritage currently does, and what we will need to do, to adapt and ensure we can be resilient to climate change – so that we can continue to preserve the remarkable historic sites we look after for future generations. English Heritage wants to share its insights and experiences of caring for the National Heritage Collection to help provide and shape guidance that will add to our understanding within the heritage sector about how we can tackle climate-related challenges.

What does the climate resilience remit at English Heritage seek to achieve?

The project I am currently working on, which has been supported with funding from the Benefact Group, is helping us to build a better picture and understanding of how climate change will affect the historic buildings and landscapes that English Heritage cares for and the way in which the charity looks after these remarkable places. This will take into account five key areas of our work – the built assets in our care, the historic collections and items that we look after, the gardens and landscapes within our guardianship and how future climate change could impact upon the work of our staff and operations and the experience of visitors.

Gathering relevant data and completing a climate change risk assessment at individual sites will help us better understand how different climate hazards will change over time and how they could impact each site in our care in different ways. Grounding this knowledge by considering the current risk at different sites will help us to identify what may be vulnerable and where action may be needed to address this, through this second part of the project where we will be carrying out site-specific climate change risk assessments. These will be developed with local site stakeholders to understand the specific issues at each site and how climate change may impact upon these different factors, so that we can work to make any necessary adaptations, with the aim of making the site more climate resilient. This work at individual sites will continue, whilst we work to take learnings from this and to build a toolkit to help embed climate resilience within the organisation.

How does this contribute to climate resilience in the heritage sector?

Part of the toolkit we will be working to develop this year will provide practical guidance to support colleagues in making climate-informed decisions related to the adaptation of historic sites and we will make this available across the heritage sector. We will also develop an interactive 3D model as part of the toolkit to visualise this work.

We are also working collaboratively across the sector to carry out research in areas where there are gaps in knowledge, to better understand how climate change will impact heritage, and therefore how we can successfully adapt. I think that it is critical that we all pull together in the same direction, ensuring we do not duplicate efforts, to ensure the resource we collectively have available within the sector is used in the most effective way to tackle the climate change challenge that we all face.

How will you know this work has been successful?

Success for me personally is developing a climate change risk assessment tool which will support English Heritage to complete site specific risk assessments and to identify any areas of particular vulnerability, whilst enabling us to share this knowledge across English Heritage and with the wider sector and to help inform climate change adaptation measures that can then be implemented across the country. Climate resilience is a key strand of English Heritage’s Climate Action Plan, with the ambition for 50% of the hundreds of historic sites we care for to have undergone a climate change risk assessment by 2025.

How can colleagues find out more?

I am intending to host a webinar later in the spring to share learnings and insights from our climate adaptation work, which I hope will be helpful to sector colleagues facing similar challenges. Do get in touch with me at paul.lankester@english-heritage.org.uk if this would be of interest to you and I can share details with you in due course. Further information about the work English Heritage is undertaking to respond to climate change is available on our website at www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/our-priorities/sustainability/

Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

I think that collaborative working with a holistic approach is crucial to embedding climate adaptation into decision making in the heritage sector.

This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Paul as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities. 

If you’d like to contribute an interview as part of the series, follow the link below to find out more:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum