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Lesley Davidson

Natural environmental impacts on cultural heritage landscapes.

Project title

Assessing and predicting natural environmental impacts on cultural heritage landscapes: a case study on Hadrian’s Wall


  • Professor Jon Mills
  • Professor Ian Haynes (Newcastle University, School of History, Classics and Archaeology)
  • Professor Charles Augarde (Durham University, Department of Engineering)
  • Paul Bryan (Historic England)
  • Mark Douglas (English Heritage)

Area of research

Project description

Understanding the dynamics of cultural heritage landscapes is important for effective management of the historic environment. This is especially true given the challenges posed by the current changing climate regime. This interdisciplinary research combines geomorphology, geoscience and archaeology. It will assess and predict the impact of natural hazards on cultural heritage landscapes. We are using Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site (WHS) as a case study.

The Hadrian’s Wall WHS and buffer zone cover an area of c. 17 square kilometres and 450 square kilometres respectively. Due to the vast scale of this ancient monument, we have selected three characteristic sites for detailed analyses. Each of the sites have been deemed to be at risk from natural environmental hazards. These at-risk sites include:

  • the landscapes surrounding Beckfoot Roman Fort
  • Birdoswald Roman Fort
  • Corbridge Roman Town

All three sites are under threat from different kinds of erosion. These include coastal erosion, soil erosion and fluvial erosion.

I will use both 2D and 3D spatio-temporal approaches to identify past landscape change. I am using time-series data extracted from historic maps or created with archived aerial photographs and lidar datasets. The results of these 2D and 3D approaches will inform numerical models to predict future landscape change.

I will compare results from the time-series analysis and the predicative modelling to the known archaeological record. The record includes:

  • exposed remains
  • historic maps
  • excavation records
  • geophysical survey data
  • National Mapping Program data
  • Historic Environment Record data
  • aerial photography and lidar

From this, we can draw conclusions about the impact of natural hazards to the characteristic sites of this cultural heritage landscape.

The outcomes of this research will have a far reaching impact. It will provide a methodology for climate change heritage risk assessment and prediction across all World Heritage Sites.

Funded by: IAPETUS DTP



  • UAV remote sensing, specifically lidar and Structure from Motion
  • Structure from Motion and archived aerial photographs
  • Climate change heritage


  • BA Archaeology, Wilfrid Laurier University
  • MA Landscape Archaeology, University of Birmingham