New paths and a viewing platform are being created at Skara Brae, as part of a series of alterations to the site aimed at protecting the prehistoric village from the thousands of visitors it receives each year.
The changes are due to be carried out in several stages, to avoid disruptions to visitors, and are expected to be completed by October 2007.
Existing arrangements mean that in the past decade alone, more than half a million people have trod paths which run across that wallheads of some of the houses in the 5,000 year-old village.
Close monitoring of House Seven has shown signs of movement, which could become a problem if they are not addressed. Visitors can still walk around the detailed replica of this house.
Stephen Watt, Historic Scotland district architect, said: “Skara Brae is of world importance and we need to protect it from harm while making sure it is as open and accessible as possible to visitors. This project is a great opportunity to provide improved paths and a new platform so visitors can get excellent views of the village and move around more easily at busy times.
“While the existing arrangements were satisfactory in the past, our monitoring showed that the effects of tens of thousands of visitors a year could take their toll unless action is taken.
“If a site like this was being opened up to visitors for the first time it is highly unlikely that paths would be laid across wallheads.”
The initiative follows the creation of a new on-site virtual tour which lets visitors see what the houses and passages look like from the inside.
The first phase of the operation, which began on March 6, and is expected to be completed before the visitor seasons begin, involves laying a new and wider Orkney flagstone finished path from the entrance round the south of the site.
Improving the pathways will enable health and safety issues of the current path network to be addressed. At the moment, large sections of the path network are along the edge of a 1.5 – 2.2 metre drop and there is a danger that people can fall off them if they become overcrowded, or step back to take photographs.
Ramps, which are believed to have allowed water to leak into House Seven, will also be removed.
Recent conservation measures saw a reflective film fitted to the glass roof covering House 7 and access to the path across part of the wallheads closed off.
Later in this year, and during 2007, there will be further improvement to paths and the building of a new viewing platform near House 1.
Assessments will also take place to see if damage has already taken place and decide on any necessary conservation measures.