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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Experts aiming to turn the tide
Archaeologists are trying to stem the sands of time
Coastal communities in Scotland are being urged to play a bigger part in preserving local history.

Archaeologists and other experts on natural and cultural heritage are gathering in St Andrews on Tuesday.

The aim is to try to work out how to tackle the threat from erosion to thousands of historical sites.

Delegates predict they will need a great deal of help to retrieve information about historic sites before the evidence is lost to the sea.

Scientists stress that some sites have always been vulnerable to erosion but climate change is putting more coastline at risk.

We're really in danger of losing things before we've fully discovered what it is that we've got
Professor Christopher Smout
University St Andrews
They are concerned that it is not simply rising sea levels but the increasing frequency of storms battering the shoreline.

Historic Scotland estimates that as many as 12,000 archaeological sites may be lost to the sea, which is an average of one for every kilometre of coast.

One of the aims of the Fife conference is to try to work out how communities can play a bigger part in recording valuable information before it disappears under the waves.

Professor Christopher Smout, of the University St Andrews, said: "There are so many new events, we have such heavy weather, there are new sites in danger of being washed away.

Surveying the coastline
Experts say a wealth of knowledge could be lost
"We're really in danger of losing things before we've fully discovered what it is that we've got."

The professor said the potential losses ranged from coastal stone age settlements to mediaeval castles, 16th Century salt pans, early harbours and Second World War defences.

He is urging more recording of the coastline, undertaken by groups like Shorewatch, to prioritise the best sites for excavation to rescue the most important artefacts.

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