Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands, and Headlands


Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands, and Headlands

The Discovery Programme is one of four project partners working together on The CHERISH project. CHERISH (Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands, and Headlands) aims to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of climate change, storminess and extreme weather events on the rich cultural heritage of our sea and coast. We study heritage on the land and in the sea using lots of different techniques to explore many of the best known coastal locations in Ireland and Wales. These range from laser scanning, geophysical survey and seabed mapping, through to palaeoenvironmental sampling, excavation and shipwreck monitoring.

CHERISH is a six-year Ireland-Wales project, bringing together four partners across two nations: the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales; the Discovery Programme, Ireland; Aberystwyth University: Department of Geography and Earth Sciences; and Geological Survey Ireland. The project began in January 2017 and will run until June 2023. It will benefit from €6.1 million of EU funds through the Ireland Wales Co-operation Programme 2014-2020.

Since the start of the project, the CHERISH team have investigated coastal wetlands, sand dunes and islands, dramatically eroding promontory forts, estuarine abbeys and the hulks of remote shipwrecks. New and illuminating scientific data is starting to clarify our understanding of coastal and island archaeology, environments, and weather over the millennia. We’ve also met some wonderful people and wildlife!

You can visit the CHERISH Project website at

Research Highlights

A key part of CHERISH has been the establishment of baseline monitoring sites across the study area. For each site we have gathered highly accurate data from the air, land and sea and we will revisit each location at least once during the lifespan of the project. Such detailed monitoring, and the resulting datasets, are essential to fully understand and quantify change. Since CHERISH began we’ve experienced devastating storms and record droughts and the impacts of this have been seen at a number of our monitoring sites. For example, the Sunbeam wreck at Rossbeigh in Co. Kerry was found to have moved over 2.5 kilometres from its previous position as a result of winter storms over 2017–18

At a number of sites and monuments we’ve started to quantify change, such as at Dunbeg promontory fort in Co. Kerry where we have charted the significant loss of land on the western side of the fort. The image below shows a comparison of datasets from UAV surveys in June 2017 and April 2018, and highlights the loss as a result of Storms Ophelia and Eleanor. You can view a 3D model of Dunbeg Fort and other CHERISH sites on our SketchFab page, here is a sample sketchfab:

In the intertidal zone, we’ve also been able to assess coastal change in remarkable detail through UAV survey.

More detailed studies are also in progress to increase our understanding of threatened sites where loss is happening and inevitable. Using remote sensing geophysical techniques such as magnetometry, we are able  us to see below the surface of sites such as  Glascarrig motte, Co. Wexford and identify archaeological remains that could potentially be lost to coastal erosion.

Ferriters cove
Ferriters cove

Community Outreach

Community engagement is a fundamental part of CHERISH and we have been busy giving talks to the public in a variety of venues across Ireland and Wales. We have led coastal and island guided walks and litter picks over many of our sites, in sometimes challenging weather conditions and have also organised day schools and seminars introducing people to the project and its key themes. One main highlight, particularly for the student attendees, was the two-day aerial survey school we held in Dublin in June 2019. Here attendees got first-hand experience of UAV survey and took to the air in a light aircraft above the Boyne valley and Hill of Tara.

Open days have also happened in Ireland, often coinciding with events such as the National Heritage Week and over 1,000 people have stepped aboard the GSI survey vessels to learn about the maritime work of CHERISH.