Preserving pasts | Imagining futures

In the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, Glasgow, 31 October – 12 November 2021 (COP26), the National Galleries of Scotland and National Library of Scotland invited visitors to respond creatively to works from the national collections to visualise how Scotland has been and will continue to be impacted by the climate and ecological emergency, unless decisive action is taken.

Teams in both organisations collaborated to select objects and artworks that depict five landscapes across Scotland. Each represents a key theme of climate change we are experiencing in Scotland as well as globally. These include sea level rise, biodiversity, land use and agriculture, low carbon energy production and transport. All areas selected are already being impacted by a multitude of interwoven climate change factors, affecting communities and environments.

The eyes of the world turned to Scotland as COP26 comes to Glasgow in November 2021 and we asked visitors to get creative and share their vision of a changing Scotland. You can view the colletion works that colleagues from the Galleries and Library chose below and follow these links to take a look at the online submissions and creative workshop submissions.

Outer Hebrides

How will coastal communities adapt to sea level rise, and what will these landscapes look like in the future?

This Climate Central map shows land projected to be below the annual flood level in 2050.


Approximately 1,200 people live on the island of Benbecula, many in coastal locations. They depend upon the north-south spinal road which connects to North and South Uist by causeways. These connections and many of the coastal settlements are at risk from inundation both from sea level rise and more extreme weather events which can cause further coastal damage. Transport links which are crucial for the community such as the airfield would also be affected. The highest point is only 124 metres, with most of the island only 20 metres elevation. With a maritime climate with a low annual range, any warming will have a significant impact on the flora, fauna and farming on the island. 

Collection works

William Scott Benbecula Dated 1962 © Estate of William Scott
Top, Aeroplane on Barra Sands, Papers of Seton Gordon and Loch Skiport, George Washington Wilson, The MacKinnon Collection.

Islands of the West

Directed by Bill Forsyth, 1972.

This film from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive portrays the scenic beauty of the Hebrides.


How do you see these mountainous landscapes in the future, with woodlands and peatlands restored?

Pictured is detail from Bartholomew ‘Half Inch to the Mile’ Maps of Scotland, sheet 16, Braemar and Blair Atholl. 1902.


While rising temperatures mostly affect the sub-arctic mountain plateau endangering flora and fauna resident since the last ice age, changes to the mountain environment will also affect the many people who make their living from the land. The Cairngorms National Park has seen a decline in the snow cover of its hills; this decline can be linked with global heating and will have an impact on the local ecology and hydrology, as well as local communities whether through farming, gamekeeping of tourism. The national park has already taken steps to adapt to climate change, including identifying the key role it has to play in tackling climate change through nature-based solutions such as peatland restoration and encouraging natural regeneration of woodland.

The aerial images below show changes in Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms over time. From left, the images were made in 1988, 1995 and 2016. Recent changes in land management are transforming a complex and important ‘wildland’ cultural landscape in this area, enabling the regeneration of Caledonian pinewood previously threatened by heavy browsing by a high deer population. 

These stunning photographs were made by Patricia and Angus Macdonald as part of their long-running and ongoing environmental photographic record and artwork projects The Unwild and Re:Wild. Patricia and Angus have been carrying out rephotography – both from ground-level and from the air – in a number of locations in Highland Scotland over several decades. The images are most often based on their own past work, but also sometimes relate to that of environmental scientists from the present day or from earlier periods.

Collection works

Patricia and Angus Macdonald, Braided river and Caledonian pines, Glen Feshie, Cairngorms, Scotland, 57° 00’ 25” N, 3° 54’ 15” W (triptych): [left to right] #1: 1988; #2: 1995; #3: 2016, from the ongoing, long-running projects The Unwild and Re:Wild photographic colour giclée prints on Hahnemuhle paper. © Patricia + Angus Macdonald.

Clyde River basin

How do you imagine the post-industrial landscapes changing, where do renewable energy technologies fit in the picture?

Pictured: John Clerk, Dumbarton Castle from the East, 1770-82.


Running from the Lanarkshire Hills through Glasgow city to the shallow estuary, the River Clyde has a diverse history associated with shipbuilding and heavy industries such as iron and steel works. More recent regeneration projects along the length of the river have been transforming these sites and shifting the industrial landscape to support healthier lifestyles and supporting the environment. Reducing the energy we use and decarbonising our urban areas by moving away from fossil fuels is an important strand to Scotland climate change plans; renewable energy projects such as the large-scale water source heat pump scheme which has been installed at Queens Quay as well as Scotland’s largest windfarm at Whitelee are examples of this. 

Collection work

Industrial Clydeside

This film from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive shows the industrial development of Clydesdale, including its iron and steelworks, textile mills and shipbuilding, 1938. 


Imagine the landscapes changing over time to protect our soils, grasslands, flora and fauna – what will it look like to you?

This map shows detail of Falkland from Sheet 66 of the Land Utilisation Survey, 1931-35. (Brown is arable land, yellow, pasture) 

Collection works

Alexander Keirincx Falkland Palace and the Howe of Fife About 1639

The Fife coast is popular with tourists for its scenic, historic fishing villages, but is also home to industry, and rich agricultural land. Our landscapes are part of Scotland’s natural capital which help support our rural communities and economies as well as our food production. The way land is used in sustainable food production and agriculture can impact climate change while also protecting our vital soils and grasslands. The target is to maintain high quality food production and environmental standards while creating more sustainable, healthier, local food systems.    


This film from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive looks at the agriculture, industries and the towns of Fife, 1950.


How will the city look in future years, with greener spaces, more active travel and less pollution? 

Chronological map of Edinburgh showing expansion of the city 
from the earliest days to the present, by John George 
Bartholomew 1919. Head here to zoom in.

Collection work

Left, Unknown photographer, Princes Street from Nelson Monument, Edinburgh, early twentieth century, the MacKinnon Collection and, right, the same view today. Image taken by Blake Milteer.

As the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh is a hub for people visiting nationally and internationally. Transport accounts for 35.6% of Scotland’s emissions (2018 data); from daily travel, aviation, maritime, as well as heavy goods. 

Thousands of people commute in and out of the city every day, many by car. Targets have been set to stop the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2032, while Edinburgh is transforming how we approach inner-city travel to encourage more sustainable low carbon and active travel to support healthier lifestyles and reduce pollution.   

Please note the deadline for submissions has now past.

Terms and conditions

  • By submitting your response, you permit the National Galleries of Scotland and National Library of Scotland to share your submission on their respective websites, external marketing communication, third party social media channels and on site without payment.

  • By sending your work to the address above you represent and warrant that you are the sole author and owner of the work and that you are entitled to grant the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland the rights granted here and that the consent of no other person is required in order for these organisations to use the work you submit. You warrant that your work does not infringe upon copyright, moral rights or any other right of any other person.