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CHERISH: A Climate Heritage Legacy

Condensing this monumental project, and a six-and-a-half-year journey, into one blog was not an easy task. The Royal Commission has been the lead partner for the EU funded CHERISH Project since January 2017. It has managed and delivered this project, with the objective of raising awareness and an understanding of our past, present, and the near-future impacts of climate change on the cultural heritage of our sea and coast in Ireland and Wales.

As project manager, it has been a privilege to work with our three partner organisations, and the project has benefitted greatly from their expertise and knowledge. The partnership was formed in Dublin before 2017 – and before my time! – between the Royal Commission and the Geography and Earth Science Department of Aberystwyth University from Wales, and The Discovery Programme and the Geological Survey of Ireland from Ireland. The project would look to become an integrated, joint nation team of geographers, geologists, and archaeologists, sharing best practice and delivering an ambitious project.

The CHERISH team from both sides of the Irish Sea.

In Phase 1, CHERISH began its journey with nine strategic initiatives. The aims were to reconstruct past environments and weather history, discovering, assessing mapping, and monitoring heritage on land and beneath the sea, targeting data and knowledge gaps to raise awareness of heritage in remote coastal locations, and establishing new metrically accurate baseline data and recording standards.

Following a successful bid, we managed to secure the additional funds needed to deliver a further two initiatives, this time focusing on the tourism and education sectors. Full details on the project initiatives can be found on our website.

Animal footprints found on a beach near Abersoch.

Work began in earnest in 2017 on both sides of the Irish Sea. Since then, we have witnessed and recorded erosion, exposure, and changes to heritage along our dynamic coastline. In 2018, four major storm events hit Wales and Ireland. These included the ‘The Beast from the East,’ and in June later that year, we witnessed a major heatwave and drought event. Over the course of that year, CHERISH made two significant discoveries. Firstly, exposed peat layers containing a series of animal footprints, dating from the Bronze Age, some 3,000 years old, were found on a beach near Abersoch. Later, during a return monitoring visit to the Sunbeam shipwreck situated on a beach in County Kerry, Ireland, we were shocked to see that the 200-year-old wreck had disappeared, and we were greatly saddened when we subsequently located it, damaged and exposed, over 2 kilometres away.

During that year, winter storms and increased rainfall saw dramatic collapses at two important monuments: Dunbeg coastal promontory fort in County Kerry, and Dinas Dinlle coastal hillfort in Gwynedd. Such collapses take with them valuable archaeology and information about these special places.

Put simply, we can’t save these sites, so we have to accept their loss, however it’s vital that we learn as much as possible about them before they’re permanently lost to the waves. It’s also important that our work here is planned, rather than reactive. A planned response is exactly what CHERISH is all about, and with an investment from the European funded Ireland-Wales Programme, we have achieved a considerable amount since 2017.

One of the many successful outreach events held by the CHERISH Project.

As the CHERISH Project comes to an end in June 2023, I would like to highlight three examples of what this investment has enabled us to achieve:

Over 50 monuments have been surveyed to centimetre accuracy on the coasts edge, in the intertidal zone and on the seabed. This has not only provided accurate baseline data for future erosion monitoring but has increased our understanding of monuments at risk, which in turn helps with their management, but also provides new data and 3D models to engage all generations.

We have obtained detailed sedimentary records from multiple sites around the Welsh and Irish coasts. Analysis of 120 metres of sediment core has provided new insights into the history of climate change, storm activity, and sea level change over millennia. Our evidence demonstrates the dynamic and ever-changing shape of our coastline. It has always changed, and we need to acknowledge this as we adapt to the significant challenges we face now.

We’ve engaged face to face with over 14,000 people. This includes 3 community excavations in Wales and Ireland which attracted over 120 volunteers, beach cleans, guided walks, day schools and training events, all raising awareness of the impacts of climate change on heritage to coastal communities. But it’s also enabled us to talk with and learn from those communities. A number have become our eyes on the ground, reporting to us any changes they observe.

One of the greatest successes of CHERISH has been the collaboration between the four project partners, and our two nations. We’ve worked together, sharing, and combining our skills and expertise to operate as a single survey team. We’ve learnt so much from each other and hope to build on these relationships in the future.

We know that climate change is happening, and that there’s an increasing sense of urgency to the discussion about the best way forward. We hope that the work of CHERISH can help here. The project leaves a legacy of data, records, and resources, including the Best Practice Document, a resource that shares our practice of investigating heritage and climate change in coastal and maritime environments. This looks at our ‘tool-kit’, and the technology and methods we employed. The evidence we collected on long term landscape and climate change, recent losses, and new archaeological discoveries, provide the basis for local site management, broader policy decisions, and discussions with communities who are facing loss and change.

Throughout the project we have produced various resources, and in the coming months staff from the partner organisations will continue to upload information, but for now here are a selection that are readily available for you:

• Newletters detailing the work that has been undertaken on both sides of the Irish sea, are freely available on our website.

• We’ve produced some amazing SketchFab 3D models, so you can visit some of our study sites virtually.

• The project’s YouTube channel holds a variety of videos from conferences and lectures, and dive diaries from the first archaeological dive in Welsh waters for over 15 years.

• Online educational resources will be available soon on Hwb for Welsh education centres and will also be available on our website.

• An animation created following the research at Dinas Dinlle between 2017 – 2023 can be viewed here.

The Evolving Landscape of Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has worked on the project, past and present, and for the support that we have been given from the four partner organisations to deliver CHERISH. As this chapter now comes to a close, it is with immense pride that I look back on a successful project, and with hope that it’s legacy will continue to help future generations monitor and adapt to the impact of climate change on coastal heritage.

Clare Lancaster

CHERISH Project Manager


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Keith Allsop
Keith Allsop
9 months ago

I am particularly interested in the data from two of the objectives – Enhanced Historic Environment Data and Enhanced Paleoenvironmental Data. Where can I find it?


Marisa Morgan
Marisa Morgan
9 months ago
Reply to  Keith Allsop

Hi Keith, Thanks for getting in touch. The results for these objectives can be found in these main places: 1. The 6 monthly newsletters are full of interim notes and news items about where we have worked and some of our results, including Palaeo work: https://cherishproject.eu/en/resources/newsletter/ 2. CHERISH additions to our Historic Environment Data can be browsed across 209 site records and 2800 archive items online here: https://coflein.gov.uk/en/search/?term=cherish+project 3. Our final ‘Annual report’ as such is the ‘Sharing Our Practice’ document, which includes our working methods and many of our results. Free to download here: https://cherishproject.eu/en/end-of-project-conference-ambition-delivery-and-legacy/ 4. A number of… Read more »


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