Heritage Responds

Credit: English Heritage

The UK heritage sector is united in its pioneering response to climate change, according to Heritage Responds, a new report launched by the Historic Environment Forum charting how heritage organisations are taking positive action.

The report brings together the expertise of 26 of the country’s leading heritage organisations – including English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust – ahead of COP26 in Glasgow to highlight examples of how through revolutionary research, carbon reduction and maximising the potential of the historic environment, the heritage sector is making a major contribution to the response to climate change.

Historic Environment Forum Chair Dr Adrian Olivier said:

The Historic Environment Forum exists to bring people together. And there is no other single issue that requires us to work more closely together than climate change. As the world turns its eyes to COP26 in Glasgow, this work intends to highlight the positive contribution heritage organisations and their partners are making to the debate, the actions needed to adapt to a changing world, and how heritage itself is part of the solution. The work creates a fantastic repository of good practice, lessons learned and interaction between different groups and sectors that anyone can draw on. I’m grateful to all the organisations who have provided us with such a rich and diverse selection of material. Let’s continue to build on the positive progress we’ve already made.

Rob Woodside, Chair of the Historic Environment Forum’s COP26 Task Group and English Heritage Estates Director said:

“What Heritage Responds clearly demonstrates is the proactive work of so many organisations across the heritage sector to find solutions – leading on ground-breaking research, innovating on approaches to adaptation, harnessing the use of technology, retro-fitting historic buildings and reducing carbon emissions by retaining and reusing existing buildings. We are working across sectors to bring approaches to nature and culture closer together to help manage the green lungs in our cities and adapt to new environmental challenges. We’re also forging new skills to help maintain and adapt historic buildings. This isn’t about protecting the past but using heritage to find solutions for the future.”

The work is the culmination of six months of collaboration by the members of the Historic Environment Forum and showcases how the sector is responding to climate change, including investment in traditional low-carbon building adaptation techniques, nature-based solutions to mitigate future impacts, and renewed efforts to increase the lifespan of heritage assets and save the embodied carbon which might otherwise be sacrificed in demolition, new construction, or poor upkeep.

The case studies within the report highlight some of the UK’s leading projects to introduce sustainable solutions in the historic environment, including:

Alongside examples from heritage buildings in public ownership, the report also highlights case studies relevant to the almost a third of the UK population who live in buildings built before 1919, showcasing how homes can be made sustainable by adapting and “retrofitting” to help them compete modern low energy standards. These include a ground-breaking project which has seen Victorian townhouses in Manchester adapted to meet demanding PassivHaus standards for energy efficiency, and new training for craftspeople on improving energy efficiency in traditional buildings.

The case studies also shed new light on how the sector is ensuring there is an active dialogue between the natural environment and historic sites, including incorporating issues of flood toleration and improving biodiversity into plans for Somerset’s historic Toneworks textile mills – supported by Historic England – and a CITiZAN’s Museum of London Archaeology historic mapping project which made use of photos, postcards and memories from the community to map twentieth century changes in the Essex coastline.

To complement the report, the Historic Environment Forum launched a Heritage Responds Climate Change Story Map providing digital mapping of all the case studies and demonstrating the geographical breadth of the heritage sector’s action to address climate change.

Read the full Heritage Responds report here and explore the Heritage Responds Climate Change Story Map here.