Arbroath World Heritage Campaign

Welcome to the Arbroath Abbey World Heritage Campaign website. Our aim is to have Arbroath Abbey, site of the famous Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, recognised as a World Heritage Site under the criteria laid down by the United Nations. For this to succeed, we need your support and would be grateful if you would write to Alex Johnstone MSP at The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

World Heritage Site Status & Arbroath Abbey


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is responsible for governing the World Heritage Convention. In the last decade, the selection process for inclusion onto the list has become more rigorous, with each state being restricted to only one nomination each per year.

There are two types of World Heritage Status:

IE Monuments, architectural works, paintings cave dwellings etc

Natural sites consisting of physical and biological formations; geological and physiographical formations etc (this is of no interest for our purposes).

Each state must compile a Tentative List of nominated sites. Although a reserved matter, the Scottish Executive is responsible for putting forward Scottish sites onto the UK list, though much of the groundwork is done by Historic Scotland.

Scotland currently has four World Heritage sites:

1) St Kilda
2) Edinburgh Old & New Towns
3) New Lanark
4) The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

The only Scottish site currently on the Tentative List is the Forth Rail Bridge, although two tentative natural sites are The Cairngorms and the Flow Country. It could be argued that Arbroath Abbey would fill a gap in the era’s represented by the existing and nominated World Heritage sites.

Points on Nomination

Each site must satisfy various criteria before being considered, one of which is that it must:

(vi) be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria).

Clearly, the Declaration of Arbroath is a literary work of outstanding universal significance by any stretch of the imagination. Its sentiments have been demonstrably quoted throughout the centuries and it is doubtful that anyone could convincingly argue that its contents are anything less than universally significant. The precise nature of how the Declaration came into being is under debate and arguments are batted back and forth about it continuously. It is not the place of this campaign to settle the arguments of authorship or whether there was actually a gathering of nobles at Arbroath Abbey in 1320 or not. This campaign aims to give the abbey and the Declaration their rightful place in history and encourage other nations to share in the celebration of the contribution that Scots have made to countries all over the world.

Further weight could be added to the argument for Arbroath’s inclusion by taking into account the style of architecture on view there (bearing in mind the abbey is largely ruined). Earlier buildings of this size were largely of the Norman style, characterised by the rounded arches (used by the Romans) supporting the roof etc. Later, the Gothic style was introduced, characterised by pointed arches. Without going into the mathematics of it, the gothic style allowed more versatile building by enabling the builder to span much bigger spaces using the pointed arches which were able to carry heavier loads over wider areas.

Arbroath Abbey has a mixture of the two architectural styles, sometimes referred to as “transitional”. The argument here is that the relatively quick construction of the abbey (some 60 years) provides a snapshot of architectural development which fulfils another criteria showing the abbey to “be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble which illustrates significant stage(s) in human history;” Other buildings of this kind often took considerably longer to build and demonstrate a larger selection of architectural styles. It could be argued therefore that Arbroath is an ideal example of this architectural style which was a “significant stage in human history”.

It must also be demonstrated that the site is protected. As Arbroath Abbey is in the care of Historic Scotland, this criteria is fulfilled.

Buffer Zone

Unesco states that:
103. Wherever necessary for the proper conservation of the
property, an adequate buffer zone should be provided.

104. For the purposes of effective protection of the nominated
property, a buffer zone is an area surrounding the nominated
property which has complementary legal and/or customary
restrictions placed on its use and development to give an
added layer of protection to the property. This should include
the immediate setting of the nominated property, important
views and other areas or attributes that are functionally
important as a support to the property and its protection. The
area constituting the buffer zone should be determined in each
case through appropriate mechanisms. Details on the size,
characteristics and authorized uses of a buffer zone, as well as
a map indicating the precise boundaries of the property and its
buffer zone, should be provided in the nomination.

It could be argued that Arbroath Abbey already enjoys a suitable Buffer zone through the pedestrianised area and car park around the Visitor Centre, the extensive cemetery in the care of Angus Council and the park located on the other side of the presbytery.
Management Plans

UNESCO also require a management Plan. It states:
108. Each nominated property should have an appropriate
management plan or other documented management system
which should specify how the outstanding universal value of
a property should be preserved, preferably through
participatory means.

109. The purpose of a management system is to ensure the
effective protection of the nominated property for present
and future generations.

This was discussed with Historic Scotland who suggested to Alex Johnstone MSP that Historic Scotland experts would be responsible for co-ordinating the management plan. Mr Graham was able to assure Alex that this would not be difficult, nor would it place any undue burden on the taxpayer.

Alex Johnstone MSP said

“I believe that Arbroath Abbey is an outstanding monument of huge importance, not only of value nationally, but internationally and I would urge local people and organisations to get behind this campaign and give it their full backing”.

“This campaign is wholly non political and open to all. Regardless of anyone’s political leanings, they should feel comfortable about supporting this bid”.

“A huge amount of work has already been done to improve Arbroath and make it a more attractive place to visit, live and work. There is no question that having Arbroath Abbey listed as a World Heritage Site would further enhance the town’s growing reputation”.

“This is a campaign that, together, we will have to run in the medium to long term, but I believe that it is something that deserves the hard work and commitment that it will take to secure World Heritage Site Status for Arbroath Abbey, not only on the basis of its connection with the Declaration of Arbroath, but also because of its outstanding architecture”.

“This campaign aims to give the abbey and the Declaration their rightful place in history and encourage other nations to share in the celebration of the contribution that Scots have made to countries all over the world”.

“Anyone who wishes to support the campaign can write to me at the Scottish Parliament and their views can be taken into account as the campaign progresses”.