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Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Watch Commander Gary Wood, seconded officer to SBRC, puts the spotlight on Heritage Crime.

Heritage crime is defined as any criminal activity which causes damage to a heritage asset. This includes metal theft, vandalism, and intentional damage to both historic buildings and monuments.

That damage can often take the form of wilful fire raising and can cause irreparable damage to some of our historic assets in Scotland. During the Covid-19 pandemic with travel restrictions in place in numerous areas, this means there is an increase in numbers of people exploring sites within their local areas – unfortunately that also means there is increased potential for heritage crimes to take place.

Irreversible damage

Wilful fire raising in and around heritage sites not only cause damage to the assets themselves but can also put our fire crews attending at risk. Heritage sites and buildings can be remote in location and pose unique issues for the crews in terms of access to the sites and location of suitable water supplies.

Fires within heritage buildings can be challenging due to building construction and layout and in some cases vital salvage operations must be carried out by crews to preserve the historical and in many cases priceless items within.

There are several aspects to heritage crime, which many people may not be familiar with. SBRC members Historic Environment Scotland (HSE), know this only too well.

In his blog, Peter McGrath, Head of Physical Security at HSE, describes some of the different types of heritage crimes which can occur.

Peter is engaged in a range of activity including raising awareness of terror related threat, harm reduction for staff and visitors, combatting heritage crime, tackling the impact of anti-social behaviour and improving site security.

Losing a piece of the past

Peter said: “Historic buildings, monuments, shipwrecks and other heritage assets such as coins, statues or archives are at risk of the same criminal activity as modern assets, from laptops to rail networks.

“But when historic places or their associated artefacts are damaged or stolen, we could lose a piece of the past forever. Damage may be beyond restoration. Stolen objects might never be found or recovered.

“Heritage crime is any criminal activity which harms a heritage asset. The victims aren’t just the owners of the asset. The communities these places are part of also suffer.”

Peter has listed some other activities that you might not recognise as heritage crimes.

These include:

  • Metal detecting. Regulations are in place in many countries to protect archaeological heritage, including laws on metal detecting.
  • Theft. In Scotland, heritage crime isn’t recorded separately to other types of criminal activity by the police. Theft is recorded as theft, whether it’s someone’s purse on the high street or a historic artwork from a gallery. This means we don’t have statistics on the amount of heritage crime in Scotland.
  • Drones. At the places cared for by HSE, permission must be granted by them to operate a drone or UAV. Only pilots accredited by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be approved.
  • Demolition. Listed buildings have a legal status that means, where possible, they should be protected from demolition. Change can be necessary for places to thrive and sometimes the future of a listed building is uncertain. But before demolition is considered, the reuse and adaptation of listed buildings should be always explored.

For a full list of heritage crimes and more information on each, check out Peter’s blog post.

How to report heritage crime

If you know of a heritage crime, report it to Police Scotland by calling 101 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously by phone 0800 555 111 and online at

More information on Scotland’s heritage sites can be found on the Historic Environment Scotland website.