WHEN we think of climate change, it is often far off places that spring to mind; the Arctic, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

All of these areas are indeed at high risk from the devastating effects of rising temperatures and sea levels, extreme weather events and prolonged floods. But according to research carried out by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), we should be increasingly concerned about the impacts closer to home.

A new report by the body outlines how dozens of Scotland’s world-famous historical sites – including Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow Cathedral and Skara Brae - are at risk due to climate change.

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The scale of the problem makes for grim reading, with a fifth of the 352 sites managed by HES given red alerts and some 70 per cent handed amber warnings. Among those said to be most at risk are Fort George, near Inverness, built after the Battle of Culloden, and Inchcolm Abbey and island in the Firth of Forth, which are not currently receiving adequate protection.

Even some of the biggest names in Scottish tourism are at risk. Holyrood Park in Edinburgh, which encompasses Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, and borders the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace, gets an amber rather than a red rating only because it is looked after by HES rangers. Edinburgh Castle – the second most popular visitor attraction in Scotland - is also under threat from landslides and flooding.

As pointed out by researchers, changing weather patterns are to blame. Average rainfall has risen by more than 20 per cent in Scotland since the 1960s, with old buildings particularly vulnerable to the accelerated decay this can cause. Extreme and unpredictable weather events are also on the rise, meanwhile, as are sea levels, leading to an increase in floods and erosion.

In some ways, of course, this report is a positive development because it enables us to pinpoint the sites most in need of help and better understand the risks they face.

The depth of research and knowledge shown by HES researchers, meanwhile, puts Scotland at the forefront of the global challenge to protect and adapt our historic environments for the future.

We should not forget, after all, that with both visitor numbers and tourist spend rising, Scotland increasingly relies upon tourism and culture to boost the economy in these uncertain, post-Brexit times.

We often worry that bad planning decisions can have a negative impact on our historic built environments. But this report is a prescient reminder that a far bigger issue is already causing real and lasting damage. Indeed, it provides a timely reminder to all of us that climate change is the biggest political, economic and social problem of our time.

We have been aware for many years now that this problem exists, but sadly that hasn’t made it easier for scientists, activists and indeed politicians to engage people in the debate around how we create, implement and fund solutions.

Scotland is well known for its wealth of historic sites, and cultural heritage is undoubtedly one of the things that rightly makes us proud. But how far will we be prepared to go to save our heritage for future generations? That is the key question posed by this important report.

And there are clearly no easy answers. The Scottish Government announced an extra £6.6m to support historic sites last year, but this is surely a drop in the ocean when one considers the potential scale of the environmental damage.

In the short term, tens of millions will be required to stabilise these precious national resources. In the longer term, however, only a global push to tackle climate change can hope to preserve their historic and economic value.