Enhancing community and stakeholder participation for the management and conservation of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and its wider landscape

Full Solution
Ranger tour at Ring of Brodgar.
Historic Environment Scotland

The solution focuses on the management arrangements for the World Heritage property of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and the recognition of the need to enhance community and stakeholder engagement. The site plays an important role in shaping the identity of Orcadians and over the years it has become a major element in supporting the local economy of the archipelago as a key driver for tourism to Orkney. The protection of the natural and cultural features of the place and its role in the development of tourism and business opportunities on the island has called for cooperation between agencies, local government and charities as well as for the enhanced involvement of local communities and businesses for the development of an effective management strategy for the conservation of Orkney. The key actors in this solutions are Historic Environment Scotland, Orkney Islands Council, NatureScot (former SNH), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise .

Last update: 07 Oct 2020
Challenges addressed
Infrastructure development
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
  • Environmental challenges:  the possible issue of site degradation due to tourism impacts, especially where combines with climate change impacts, as well as the need to ensure the protection of the surrounding landscape which supports the Outstanding Universal Value of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
  • Cultural and social challenges: lack of community consultation and engagement in World Heritage management decision-making; lack of understanding / inclusion by decision makers of community values in relation to the World Heritage status and the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.
  • Economic challenges: need to improve and enhance the “spreading of the load” via local tourism connectivity with other cultural and natural sites both to reduce peak pressure on the World Heritage Site monuments and to ensure and enhance wider community benefits for the communities, stakeholders and businesses of Orkney, including those not in immediate proximity to the components of the World Heritage property.
Scale of implementation
Pool, lake, pond
Buildings and facilities
Connective infrastructure, networks and corridors
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Outreach & communications
World Heritage
Skara Brae, Skail Bay, Stromness, Scotland KW16 3LR, United Kingdom
North Europe
Summary of the process

The solution highlight the enhanced cooperation and community engagement necessary to ensure the protection of the World Heritage property of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and the wellbeing of its communities and stakeholders.

The site is managed by a joint World Heritage Site Steering Group. Additionally, a strategic partnership has been set up to enhance visitor experience for tourists and the benefit of local people, which foresees the use of investments to develop a more diverse and comprehensive tourism experience reaching to sites and places not immediately connected with the site. As tourism at the site is both a blessing and a burden, a wider consultation campaign has been carried out to better understand the perceptions of local community and businesses in relation to both the World Heritage status and the tourism and other values of the site. The information collected will become an integral part of the knowledge and information used for the preparation of the new Management Plan for the World Heritage site and the further development of the management partnership. Communities play a vital role in the conservation of the site, both through goodwill and community stewardship, but also through their direct involvement as rangers.

Building Blocks
Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Steering Group

The World Heritage property of Heart of Neolithic Orkney is managed through an integrated and joint Steering Group composed of representatives of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Orkney Islands Council (OIC ), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Orkney College University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute, NatureScot (former Scottish Natural Heritage - SNH), and input from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). HES manages the individual monuments that make up the WHS, while the other partners are involved in the wider management of the WHS and buffer zone in various ways. A WHS coordinator ensures effective liaison between the partners and drives forward the implementation, monitoring and revision of the Management Plan and associated action plan, promotes the OUV and public benefit of the WHS, increases awareness and understanding among partners, stakeholders and the public, and serves as a central point for advice.

Additionally, the Steering Group is also responsible for ensuring the protection of the relationships and linkages between the monuments and the wider landscape. The areas between monuments that comprise the World Heritage property and those in the area outside it that support the OUV are potentially at risk from change and development in the countryside.

Enabling factors

The integrated nature-culture competences of the Steering Group, through its multidisciplinary cooperation between the management partners are necessary for the protection of the cultural and natural values of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

Lesson learned

- The experience of the previous cycle of management plan and the cooperation between multidisciplinary institutional stakeholders has highlighted the need for a change of focus in the revised Management Plan, which strongly builds on the relationships between the World Heritage property of Heart of Neolithic Orkney and the wider landscape and seascape of the archipelago.

- The integrated management approach is key to the protection of the World Heritage property of Heart of Neolithic Orkney and its Outstanding Universal Value, particularly when dealing with infrastructure and other development proposals (one example is the past proposals for the construction of wind turbines and related facilities).

- The management of the World Heritage property of Heart of Neolithic Orkney has to be integrated into wider local and national planning, looking not only at the site itself but also at the wider setting of the property and its surrounding landscape.

Partnership for the enhancement of visitor experience for tourists and the benefit of local people

Tourism is a key industry for the economy and source of employment for local communities and businesses in Orkney and therefore contributes to the long-term sustainability of its communities and businesses. As the World Heritage Site and Orkney more widely faces key challenges, such as climate change and impacts of volume tourism during peak times, a formal partnership between key national and local agencies has been set up to address these the challenges and opportunities posed by tourism. This partnership brings together HES, OIC and HIE, with a focus on, but not restricted to, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney site, seeking to ensure a sustainable and enhanced visitor experience for tourists and optimising  the benefits to local people.

The partnership foresees a development of different and more inclusive and sustainable tourism opportunities for Orkney in hand with the management plan for the site. An initial investment of over £300,000 at the Stones of Stenness will upgrade car parking facilities and improve the pathways network to encourage greater connection between monuments and surrounding natural and cultural areas.

Enabling factors

The Gateway strategy partnership is established on the base of a shared Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on 11 June 2019 by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Orkney Islands Council (OIC) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Lesson learned

- Additional funding will be allocated for the development of visitor journey and exploring opportunities for greater connectivity and enhancement of how visitors experience over 5,000 years of history.

- The tourism industry is vital for the sustainability of livelihood in Orkney. Visitors do not only come to Orkney to visit the World Heritage property of Heart of Neolithic Orkney and there is the potential to strengthen the network of natural and cultural places and visitor opportunities to share tourism-related benefit and income among the multiple businesses and communities.

- At present, with the limitation of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is challenging to further quantify the impact of these efforts since the site of Orkney has been closed for great part of the summer season 2020 and entrance into Scotland is still limited to a number of nationalities. However, this unplanned “pause” has allowed further reflection by the partners on how to address these challenges.

Ranger Service

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is of high importance for the local identity of Orcadians and local stewardship and engagement is vital to ensure the adequate and effective management of the site and its wider landscape setting. Since 2005 a Ranger Service has been in place, to serve both visitors to the sites and the local community members and residents. Seasonal ranger posts have been added with volunteer ranger posts filled by local residents who work alongside the World Heritage Site Rangers employed by Historic Environment Scotland.

The volunteer rangers have an important role in the protection the natural and cultural heritage of Orkney as they assist with foot patrols, supervision of third party events, guided walks, and support for school and community groups. They are frontlines in the engagement with the public and they are actively engaged in ensuring safe and responsible access to the site and its enjoyment.

Ranger Services has been set up at a number of properties managed by Historic Environment Scotland as a measure to foster the goodwill, feeling of responsibility and stewardship of local communities and stakeholders.

Enabling factors

The volunteering programme is organized by Historic Environment Scotland and supported through the mentorship of the staff rangers working at the site level. Volunteer Rangers are provided with a ranger uniform and with all the necessary information to welcome and guide visits to the site. Over time, volunteers have moved on become employed seasonal rangers.

Lesson learned

- Rangers play a key role in ensuring a high quality visitor experience. They bring the story and sites to life for the thousands of visitors who come to Orkney every year. They conduct daytime walks and evening tours, as well as organising and conducting special tours for school and community groups. Additionally, rangers are engaged in the creation new opportunities and activities for people visiting the site throughout the year and in multiple weather conditions.

- The role of Rangers is to ensure balance between the conservation of the site with visitor experience, particularly at those sites that are most fragile like the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.

- The Ranger programme is an opportunity for capacity development as it allows to enhance and strengthen professional and personal skills.

Community and local stakeholder consultation for the Management Plan of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney plays an important role in local identity and it plays a key role in the sustainability of local tourism economy and business.

As part of the process of developing  a new management plan, local communities, residents and businesses were asked to express their views about the future management of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. In early 2020, a consultation campaign was carried out through quantitate and qualitative methods that included an survey (both online and in hard copies) and a series of three consultation sessions that took place at the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall; the Maeshowe Visitor Centre, Stenness and the Milestone Community Centre, Dounby. Additional consultations and meeting took place with local community organisations.

The consultation focused on understanding the value of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney as well as the role played by the World Heritage designation have for local communities and businesses. The consultation also explored how to improve communication with local stakeholders and addressed the issue of their key priorities for the future of the site.

Enabling factors

The community engagement exercise was implemented by an independent consultant commissioned by the Steering Group. The consultation involved 95 individuals and organisations including primary and secondary school pupils, businesses, residents and individuals representing various community groups and organisations (e.g. farmers and landowners, history and heritage passionate).

Lesson learned

The community engagement revealed important information and community perceptions that are key for the preparation of the new management plan for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney:

  • World Heritage status is important for bringing tourism to Orkney, but can also be a limitation as its focused interpretation fails to tackle the wider history of Orkney
  • A wider and joined-up approach to tourism involving also non-World Heritage sites would help to avoid bottleneck situation during peak months
  • Orkney’s tourism appeal does not only come from the World Heritage status of some of its heritage, but for the wider range of cultural and natural heritage sites and also for its local produce (beef, sheep industry, whisky, local branded produce), which is a key aspect for local businesses and their sustainability
  • Residents expressed a strong connection to the history of Orkney and its people and a desire to see this fully represented and connected in order to share with the world
  • There is the need to improve community facilities that have deteriorated through time, and tourism could be used as catalyzer to fund the renovation and upgrade of such facilities
  • : the approach established for the management of the site and the future development of tourism opportunities has identified the wider landscape as having great importance for the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.Provisions for the protection of the landscape are present inside national and local planning legislation and policies.
  • Cultural and social: the solution identified the importance of local communities, stakeholders and businesses in the management and conservation of the site. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is important to the local community not only because of its World Heritage status but also due to its role as a key element of  Orcadian cultural identity; communities are willing to engage with the site and its management and they are interested in participating in a dialogue, not only in receiving information. Strengthening the channels of communication between the site management and local stakeholders and communities has benefits for management of the site and understanding of its value(s) on both sides;
  • : tourism is a key industry for the people of Orkney. To manage tourism sustainably requires a wider landscape approach to include sites that are not included under the World Heritage status as well as wider natural and cultural areas of interest.

The beneficiaries of this solution are the local communities and local businesses of Orkney. The solution focuses on enhancing participation and working towards more joined up and sustainable tourism opportunities for Orkney.


Ranger Sandra Miller spends more time than most enjoying the landscape of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. With a particular focus on the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness she and the ranger team spend a great deal of time meeting people from all over the world who have come to see the amazing sites Orkney has to offer. On a day to day basis they provide face to face interpretation of the natural and historical landscape of this iconic area.

Spending time with visitors and locals alike is for Sandra one of the best parts of the role, it serves to remind her everyday just how special the monuments are. With large visitor numbers and easy access there is always the challenge of site protection. Understanding that people want to have the best possible experience and to see as much as they can, it is all about getting the balance right. Sandra and the team constantly evolve their ideas and thinking to ensure an excellent visitor experience but also making sure the archaeology and the natural landscape are protected too. For Sandra it is key that Orkneys young people understand the uniqueness of the sites and surrounding landscape. School visits are therefore an important part of the job and one all the rangers enjoy as they all feel that they are not just protecting the site for today but for future generations yet to come.

Connect with contributors