5.1 Introduction

Securing carved stones for future generations is a dynamic and ongoing process of understanding and seeking to manage change. This means making careful judgements about how to retain the cultural significance of carved stones at the same time as providing for their future needs, including access, security, maintenance and repairs. We need research to underpin our decision-making to help us to identify and adopt the highest standards in conservation management. Scientific and digital technologies have opened new research avenues. These include geological analysis (Magnetic susceptibility: Case Study 9) and 3D recording and modelling (Robert the Bruce: Case Study 5). Such work contributes significantly to our appreciation of the triggers of deterioration and the methods and techniques available to arrest these in order to preserve stones. Scientific and digital technologies additionally create baselines to map future changes in condition and risks to preservation (Section 3.3.2).

Research can help ensure protection through an understanding of carved stones that is both forward-looking and retrospective. We need to be able to anticipate what would happen as a result of our intervention but also to recognise the changes that have already taken place and, where possible, their cause as well as effect. Carved stone biographies can help us to identify previous work in terms of action taken. These may also reveal the philosophies that guided early conservation practice and past use of carved stones within their particular historical contexts (see for example Figure 89). Our work must be reflective for 'without understanding conservation is blind and meaningless' (Clark 2001, 8). There is a need for research to be more joined-up with practice to help drive the conservation heritage cycle and strategy outlined in Section 1.4. This means engaging more fully with the philosophical and practical dilemmas that arise in consequence of our actions (or indeed lack of action).

Figure 89: As part of the local authority's landscape 'improvements' carried out during the 1950s, many of the gravestones in Preston West Churchyard, Prestonpans were moved from their original positions and laid flat into a concrete and pebble bed. © Susan Buckham

Anecdotal evidence and existing research (Section 10) indicate the range of issues facing carved stones (not least the effects of weathering and erosion Figure 90). Currently it is difficult to respond to these strategically without a more detailed understanding of diversity in management practices, the extent of actual conservation on the ground and the current condition of, and risks to, carved stones (Section 3). Consequently, there is an urgent need for research to identify the nature and scale of threats and the options and opportunities to resolve these to safeguard stones. This research will help us to identify the most vulnerable stones, prioritise action and direct future analysis.

Figure 90: A sandstone headstone suffering from severe stone decay. This stone was moved and reset into the boundary wall of Preston West Churchyard, Prestonpans, East Lothian. © Susan Buckham