Thesis (Ph.D)

The adaptive capacity of the management of cultural heritage sites to climate change


Despite the growing body of research on the concept of adaptive capacity, there is an absence of research which investigates adaptive capacity in the field of cultural heritage management. Climatic changes have potentially serious implications for the historic environment, which is itself a non-renewable resource. Cultural heritage sites can be particularly sensitive to severe weather events and to changes in climate, both due to direct impacts on built structures, archaeology and designed landscapes, but also due to changes in visitor behaviour and the potentially adverse implications of adaptive measures on heritage significance. This research investigated the adaptive capacity of the management of cultural heritage sites in the UK, through the assessment of adaptive capacity at selected case study sites. A questionnaire survey of all UK WHS sites, a review of plans and policy, and interviews with key stakeholders at a national level also contribute to the study. An in-depth qualitative analysis of three UK World Heritage Sites was undertaken, which were Ironbridge Gorge, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal and Blenheim Palace. Fieldwork included site visits, interviews with stakeholders involved in site management such as property managers, conservators and local authority officers, and a thorough documentary review. A conceptual framework of adaptive capacity relevant for heritage management has been developed, which can be used as a tool for analysis, in order to highlight strengths and weaknesses in capacity. The key determinants of adaptive capacity in the framework, identified through the research, are cognitive factors, leadership, learning capacity, access to information, authority and resources. The research makes a contribution to adaptive capacity theory, with adaptive capacity theory being found to be applicable to heritage management, but with certain limitations. Areas of weakness and strengths in adaptive capacity at the case study sites and in wider World Heritage management planning have been identified, and practical recommendations are presented. The study found that whilst progress is being made within the heritage sector on adaptation, there are significant challenges and areas where capacity could be enhanced. Notably, there is a lack of information on best practice and guidance on adaptation within a heritage context. Tools for futures thinking such as climate change scenarios are not being widely used in management planning, and concerns about the uncertainties associated with climate data are prevalent. Although clear top down guidance is needed to provide drivers and a framework for action, this needs to be balanced with local flexibility, in order to allow locally appropriate and sensitive decision making to protect significance. There is also a need for further collaboration and dialogue between different sectors, with sustained cooperation required to combine the approaches and requirements of those from different fields e.g. the integration of heritage concerns into the work of emergency planners.

Attached files


Phillips, H

Oxford Brookes departments

School of the Built Environment
Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment


Year: 2013

© Phillips, H
Published by Oxford Brookes University
All rights reserved. Copyright © and Moral Rights for this thesis are retained by the author and/or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This thesis cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


  • Owner: Unknown user
  • Collection: eTheses
  • Version: 1 (show all)
  • Status: Live