Most vernacular harbours from mediaeval times to the early 19th century were of un-bonded coarse rubble construction and, with regular attention and repair, served well for hundreds of years. Many are listed monuments. The declining economic base in many harbours has resulted in the loss of local control so that maintenance and repair becomes the prerogative of local authorities, often with little experience of working in marine environments.
Repairs have often been made with little concern for authenticity (though at Portsoy one can see a recent example of the application of the traditional technique of consolidating an un-bonded quay face with oak wedges, which can be tightened up from time to time after heavy weather). Generally however, there has been much employment of cast concrete and steel reinforcement to repair open block-work structures.
The results have been of uneven quality and success. Sometimes expensive works have had to be repeated after relatively short periods in service. There is a growing sense that seemingly primitive open-heart piers may be more resilient than expected and that massively engineered rigid repairs may be less able to withstand the impact of storm waves.
There is scope for interdisciplinary research in this area, in which archaeological data on the harbour-building techniques of the past can be allied with science-based models of the best repair techniques that modern marine civil engineers can devise. Such collaboration, if effective, could have far-reaching implications for many coastal communities and their harbours, thus making a significant contribution to cultural resource management.
The major technological development of lighthouses, harbour lights and other navigational aids is a rich area for research, which has been pursued by many (Beaver 1971, Hague & Christie 1975, Paxton 2011, Stevenson 1959) and brought into popular culture (Allardyce & Hood 1986, Bathurst 2000). Recent exhibitions, such as Shining Lights, curated by the National Museums of Scotland in 2011 (Morrison-Low 2010), and the celebration of the bicentenary of the Bell Rock lighthouse (http://www.bellrock.org.uk/) , have demonstrated their enduring popularity. Archives and information contained with the offices and personnel of the Northern Lighthouse Board, RCAHMS, NAS and those at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses (http://www.lighthousemuseum.org.uk/), which can be readily accessed, pertaining to the lighthouses of Scotland, ensures that further research can be encouraged.
Areas of research that could be pursued include research into the archive material, which should precipitate data accessibility improvements, such as making archive material digitally accessible. Other forms of research could include the locations of lights, tracing their locations over time and their depictions on historic charts, and using aerial photography, both historic and recent, to define the positioning of lights. In addition, their optical qualities, their value for maintaining safe passage in local waters and, of course, the human stories of the lives and deaths on Scotland’s coasts, would all enhance the knowledge base of lighthouses and navigations.