World Heritage explained

A World Heritage Site is a place listed by UNESCO for being of such special cultural or physical significance that it has ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, or ‘OUV’. The List is maintained by the World Heritage Centre administered by UNESCO. The Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage was signed in 1972 and has since been ratified by 190 countries across the world.

By 2014, 1007 sites had been listed in 161 countries, of which 779 sites are cultural, 197 natural, and 31 having both cultural and natural properties. There are 28 World Heritage Sites in the UK, of which six are in Scotland. These are the Forth Bridge, the Frontiers of the Roman Empire (the Antonine Wall), St Kilda, Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, and The Heart of Neolithic Orkney. In Scotland, World Heritage does not in itself add an extra layer of statutory protection, but it is integrated into development planning processes and associated guidance.

UNESCO demands that, to be included on the World Heritage List, a cultural site must satisfy at least one of its criteria, which are:

  • (i) "represents a masterpiece of human creative genius"
  • (ii) "exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design"
  • (iii) "bears a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared"
  • (iv) "is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history"
  • (v) "is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change"
  • (vi) "is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance"

Learn more about World Heritage at the UNESCO website.