Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Rare Pictish cave drawings 'could be lost to sea'

Wemyss caves Image copyright Kevin Rae
Image caption Some experts say the sea will breach the entrance to the caves within 50 years

Action must be taken to save a group of caves in Fife containing Pictish drawings thought to be nearly 1,700 years old, a report has warned.

It is feared the cave carvings near East Wemyss, which could date from the 5th Century, might be lost forever if nothing is done.

More than £250,000 has already been spent trying to conserve the Wemyss caves over the last 20 years.

A plan of action will be put to councillors on Wednesday.

The report to Fife Council's Levenmouth area committee also suggests a cave trail and visitor centre could be built which "could revive the area's ailing economic fortunes".

A final decision will have to be agreed by the full council's executive committee.

A combination of coastal erosion, coal mining and vandalism has left the caves in danger and it is feared the rare, historic drawings will be lost if nothing is done.

Image copyright Rob Burke
Image caption Many of the caves have been vandalised

Experts predict that without some form of coastal defence, the sea will breach the entrance to the site within 50 years. Even the most expensive defence will only slow the process down by 15 to 20 years.

The six caves, set into a sandstone bluff below the village of East Wemyss, were created by the action of the sea.

The rare Pictish carvings are regarded as a unique set of heritage assets of national importance and the caves are preserved as a scheduled ancient monument. The site has been preserved digitally using 4D technology.

In 2013, the Scottish government asked Historic Scotland to set up a working group to look at ways to manage the caves. It has now come back with a number of recommendations, some of which it describes as "aspirational".

Among the suggestions are the installation of a layer of rock armour at the bottom of the beach to offer protection from waves, as well as reinforcing and raising a wall in front of one of the caves.

This would slow the erosion but would need continual maintenance.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The report says a cave trail could increase tourism in the area

Other recommendations focus on tourism and education, with mention of interpretation boards talking about coastal erosion and climate change, the recording of oral histories and photographs, and a heritage centre to raise awareness of the caves' value.

Local councillor Tom Adams, chairman of the Levenmouth area committee, said: "The recommendations are great for people walking on the coastal path and will give them an outlet to stop and find out about the heritage of the area, but Fife Council cannot possibly fund this on its own."

Local MSP David Torrance said: "The caves must not be lost to Scotland's future generations.

"If this all comes together it could be a huge economic boost for the area."

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