COUNCILLOR for Melrose & Leaderdale Jenny Linehan joined MSP for South Scotland Craig Hoy at Melrose Abbey recently as Historic Environment Scotland prepare for a first phase of conservation work.

While the Abbey remains partially closed, its visitor centre and grounds are open with reduced ticket prices.

In the first half of 2023, a total of 18,500 people visited the site, an increase compared to the same period last year.

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There are several complex challenges at the site including bat roosts and vulnerable masonry at the face of the Reformation period church, which is formed in the Abbey Choir, in addition to fragile high-level carved masonry presenting a risk to public safety.

Border Telegraph: Stuart Holmes (Regional Visitor and Community Manager at HES), Craig Hoy MSP, Clive Cruickshank (District Architect at HES) and Cllr Jenny Linehan inspecting Melrose AbbeyStuart Holmes (Regional Visitor and Community Manager at HES), Craig Hoy MSP, Clive Cruickshank (District Architect at HES) and Cllr Jenny Linehan inspecting Melrose Abbey

Ms Linehan said: “While it is reassuring that work is being undertaken to restore the Melrose Abbey site for generations to come, it is important that the public are kept informed as matters progress.

“Our abbey is at the heart of Melrose and, along with the other abbeys, it is an extremely important tourist attraction to the Borders.

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“I very much hope we can continue to keep the public informed as Historic Environment Scotland does the vital work needed to maintain our monuments.”

Mr Hoy welcomed the progress being made at the site.

He said: “There are safety concerns at Melrose Abbey. I welcome that plans are well underway by Historic Environment Scotland to gain more access to the site as quickly as possible and that visitor numbers are up on last year.

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“Melrose Abbey remains a pivotal tourist attraction for Melrose and for the wider Scottish Borders community, and I will keep the pressure on to ensure that the site is fully re-opened as soon as it is feasibly possible to do so.

“It is crucial to continue to remind people that the Abbey grounds and visitor centre remain open and that ticket prices have been halved.

“If the site is to be closed for long periods I have also encouraged HES to examine how to screen off the fencing to make the presentation better in order to enhance the visitor experience.”

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Clive Cruickshank, District Architect at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “In addition to identifying specific defects, our High-Level Masonry Programme is allowing us to assess the compounding impact of numerous factors on the fabric of our historic sites, including the materials used in an individual building’s construction, its age and physical location, and whether roofed or not.

“Increasingly, changes in climate have been found to heavily influence building fabric, working with other factors to accelerate vegetation growth and deterioration.

“This is not an issue unique to Scotland and is something heritage managers are facing globally. Since inspections began last year, we have increased access at, or fully reopened, more than 45 sites.

“Melrose Abbey has complex conservation challenges, given its height, position and ornate stonework, and a first phase of conservation work is being planned for the site which will allow us to take the first steps towards re-opening some parts of the Abbey to the public.

“In the meantime, visitors can access the grounds and other areas where it is safe to do so, including the cloister and museum, and we hope to update visitors with our progress soon.”