Cultural Landscape risk Identification, Management and Assessment (CLIMA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: Biological and Environmental Sciences


Europe has rich and diverse cultural heritage resources, which include landscapes and landscape elements, comprising standing monuments, buried archaeological sites, and artefacts. This cultural heritage is endangered by environmental processes and anthropogenic pressures, and specifically by intensive agriculture activities and climate change. These pose a range of immediate and future threats to these sensitive cultural landscapes and the historical, archaeological and environmental archives they preserve. Recent research carried out both in Britain and Italy, has highlighted that at least 70% of archaeological sites in rural areas are subject to direct and physical damages caused by agricultural activity. In addition to direct damages (due to ploughing, drainage, irrigation, etc.), agriculture has also been shown to increase the extent of soil erosion and to affect the soil properties, reducing the ability of the soil to preserve the buried heritage and affecting the structural stability and amplifying the natural deterioration of the exposed structures. Meanwhile, climate change is one of the most important and urgent problems facing us today, with implications for natural and societal systems (agriculture, human health, forestry, and infrastructure) including cultural heritage. The consequences of these pressures are proving to be catastrophic for the European Cultural Landscape as testified by recent collapses in Pompeii and the Aurelian Walls in Rome. The authorities responsible for the preservation of the cultural landscape are well aware of the huge costs required by rehabilitation intervention as compared with preventive ones, hence they require systematic, effective, usable and affordable tools to monitor the degradation process and enabling preventive maintenance.
n light of the critical issues described above, monitoring soil processes and soil use changes that can be produced by climate changes (environmental pressures) and agricultural activities (anthropogenic pressures) can therefore help to prevent damages to our buried and exposed archaeological heritage. The CLIMA project aims to promote highly interdisciplinary research, based on one hand on a soil-oriented approach to monitoring and modelling soil based processes that may affect cultural preservation, whilst designing and developing a multi-task WebGIS platform, to combine advanced satellite and ground based remote sensing technologies for mapping and monitoring of cultural landscapes with archaeological remains.
The CLIMA platform will be able to create high resolution maps and to document archaeological features (anomalies, soilmarks, cropmarks, etc.) linked to buried remains, by the using and the innovative processing of optical high resolution satellite images. In addition it will be able to generate periodic warning maps aimed at monitoring human and natural changes in the cultural landscapes and in particular, land use change and vegetation change (increase or reduction). CLIMA will also allow the acquisition of time sequences of data concerned with identifying minimal shifts in standing architectural structures, and movements of ground surface related to landslides and subsidence phenomena, as well as alterations of the ground surface related to erosion processes, in order to produce periodic vulnerability maps. Furthermore, an innovative ground-based tool for mapping and monitoring lateral soil erosion and vertical disturbance of soils affected by agricultural activities will be developed utilizing in-situ gamma spectrometry technology to enable real-time, non-destructive drive-over survey of soil erosion across archaeological sites. This will be particularly powerful for monitoring and managing risk from agriculture and land use change in rural cultural landscapes.

Planned Impact

The project (CLIMA) impact will be delivered by the technologies, procedures and systems developed for the long term monitoring of cultural heritage in rural areas allowing the monitoring and identification of changes in the landscape due to climate changes and anthropic pressure and by finally providing risk maps of the sites surveyed as resources for decision making authorities.
The full impact of the CLIMA platform will be ensured by dissemination activities aimed at the stakeholders and end-users involved in cultural heritage management to make them aware of the available technology and science as well as the benefits CLIMA offers.
The dissemination and promotion of the results of the project to facilitate uptake by a variety of end users communities, including commercial subjects, will be developed through several initiatives: i) presentation of CLIMA activities, intermediate and final project results at three main conferences and workshops; ii) producing short articles in newspapers and sector magazines; iii) developing promotional material: leaflets, press releases, newsletters and a final publication in pdf format; iv) creating electronic documents on selected results, papers and publications to be disseminated also during workshops, conferences and fairs during which CLIMA results (preliminary and final) will be presented. A web site with a content management system will be used for data exchange and result evaluation between partners and institutions involved, integrating the primary source of information about the project to be diffused according to the user's privileges. The relevant regulatory authorities in the UK, Italy and Cyprus act as project partners in CLIMA further ensuring dissemination, uptake of the technology and impact in the form of improved monitoring and management of European cultural landscapes.


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Varley A (2020) Near real-time soil erosion mapping through mobile gamma-ray spectroscopy. in Journal of environmental radioactivity

Description 1. Developed new survey tools and methods for mapping soil movement within and between fields and identifying the risk to cultural heritage from a combination of soil erosion, soil thinning and agricultural management activities, including ploughing. 2. Limitations to the method have been identified in areas with high natural background concentrations of U. High soil moisture and areas of high deposition also have to be taken into account in interpretation of results. 3. The erosion maps produced by this new tool have been used to generate risk maps identifying how erosion in agricultural fields poses a risk to standing archaeological monuments through direct erosion and to buried archaeological remains as the overlying soil thins and the buried remains are progressively exposed to plough damage. The technique has been tested at sites along the Antonine Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site in Scotland. The results reveal that areas of the upstanding wall that run through arable landscapes have suffered a net loss of material since the 1960's. It has also demonstrated that much of the associated buried archaeology of forts and fortlets occupy landscape positions that are particularly prone to soil loss meaning they will be being damaged by ploughing even where plough depths remain unchanged.
Exploitation Route There is interest in taking the research forward for cultural heritage arena, both for risk mapping and as a tool for archaeological prospection, discussions with Historic Environment Scotland have been held. There is also interest in the value of the technique as a way of mapping soil erosion both at a catchment level in order to understand soil-water linkages and pollution risk, and at field level as a means of monitoring soil erosion impacts on the efficiency of fertiliser and other agricultural applications.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The findings of this study are beginning to be incorporated into the management plans of the Antonine Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site as the PI sits on the UNESCO WHS Antonine Wall Research Group to advise on the impacts of land use and land use change on monument condition based on the findings of this research. The technique was presented to a user group of cultural heritage managers in Rome, Italy in May 2018. Whilst the Italian test site used in the project was unsuitable for the technique due to naturally high concentrations of Uranium, there is interest in applying the technique to other sites on different geologies.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Membership of UNESCO WHS Antonine Wall Research Management Committee
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Title Development of real-time drive over mobile gamma spectrometry mapping of 137Cs 
Description Real-time, mobile gamma spectrometry survey array utilises two large volume (20 litre) NaI detectors linked to high precision GPS logging to map the distribution of 137Cs in topsoils using either drive-over (car mounted) or walk over (motorised trolley mounted) survey. Detector configurations have been optimised for count rates using Monte Carlo modelling of interactions of gamma rays with soil and atmosphere. Mapped distributions of 137 Cs enable rapid identification of areas of soil loss and accumulation on a field scale that can indicate erosion and loss of soil fertility, or soil thinning and areas of buried cultural heritage at risk of deterioration due to land use or environmental factors. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This research method has allowed risk mapping of upstanding and buried cultural heritage along the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site. It allows cultural Heritage managers to identify areas at risk of deterioration due to agricultural activities and to advise farmers of altered management strategies to aid preservation.