The Churchill Barriers are four causeways in the Orkney Islands (at , , , and ), with a total length of 2.3 kilometres (1.4 mi). They link the Orkney Mainland in the north to the island of South Ronaldsay via Burray and the two smaller islands of Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.
The barriers were built between May 1940 and September 1944, primarily as naval defences to protect the anchorage at Scapa Flow, but since 12 May 1945, serve as road links between the islands. The two southern barriers, Glimps Holm to Burray and Burray to South Ronaldsay, are Category A listed.
On 14 October 1939, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk at her moorings within the natural harbour of Scapa Flow, by the German submarine U-47 under the command of Günther Prien. U-47 had entered Scapa Flow through Holm Sound, one of several eastern entrances to Scapa Flow.
The eastern passages were protected by measures including sunken block ships, booms and anti-submarine nets, but U-47 entered at night at high tide by navigating between the block ships.
To prevent further attacks, the First Lord of The Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered the construction of permanent barriers. Work began in May 1940 and the barriers were completed in September 1944 but were not officially opened until 12 May 1945, four days after Victory in Europe Day.
The contract for building the barriers was awarded to Balfour Beatty, although part of the southernmost barrier (between Burray and South Ronaldsay) was sub-contracted to William Tawse & Co. The first Resident Superintending Civil Engineer was E K Adamson, succeeded in 1942 by G Gordon Nicol.
Preparatory work on the site began in May 1940, while experiments on models for the design were undertaken at Whitworth Engineering Laboratories at the University of Manchester.
The bases of the barriers were built from gabions enclosing 250,000 tonnes of broken rock, from quarries on Orkney. The gabions were dropped into place from overhead cableways into waters up to 18 metres (59 ft) deep. The bases were then covered with 66,000 locally cast concrete blocks in five-tonne and ten-tonne sizes. The five-tonne blocks were laid on the core, and the ten-tonne blocks were arranged on the sides in a random pattern to act as wave-breaks.
Only minor environmental impacts have been seen as a result of their construction.
A project of this size required a substantial labour force, which peaked in 1943 at over 2,000.
The prisoners were accommodated in three camps, 600 at Camp 60 on Little Holm and the remaining 700 at two camps on Burray.
Research by the University of York published in 2012 showed significant changes to the ecology of the area, and that behind the barriers an eutrophic environment dominated due to the loss of the natural through-flow of water.
In October 2011, the Orkney Islands Council took control of the barriers from the Ministry of Defence. Since then, with increasingly erratic weather events and rising sea levels as a result of global climate change, the barriers have begun to deteriorate. Of the four barriers, only Barrier No. 2, from Lamb Holm to Glimps Holm, is at high risk for needing to be replaced, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Replacing even one of the causeways is extremely unpopular in Orkney due to their historical significance. The Council was as of February 2021 exploring options that would preserve all of the causeways.
- "Orkney's 'Churchill Barriers' listed by Historic Environment Scotland". BBC News. 24 November 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
- "Race to save Churchill Barriers amid climate change threat to World War II causeways". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
- Reardon, Terry (13 March 2016). "Scapa Flow: The Churchill Barriers". International Churchill Society. Finest Hour 171. p. 22. Archived from the original on 16 July 2016. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
- Historic Environment Scotland. "Churchill Barrier No 3, Glimps Holm to Burray... (LB52392)". Retrieved 7 June 2020.
- Historic Environment Scotland. "Churchill Barrier No 4, Burray to South Ronaldsay... (LB52417)". Retrieved 7 June 2020.
- "Orkney energy hopes follow Churchill Barrier sale". BBC News. 31 October 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
- "75th anniversary of the official opening of the Churchill Barriers". The Orcadian Online. 12 May 2020. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
- Selby, K. A.; Langdon, P. G. (June 2012). "The Impacts of The Churchill Barriers on the Coastal Environment". Scottish Geographical Journal. 128 (2): 100–118. doi:10.1080/14702541.2012.716606. ISSN 1470-2541. S2CID 128535250 – via The York Research Database.
- Fraser, Gemma. "Churchill Barriers to have new role taming the tide". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
- "The legacy of the Italian Chapel". 23 November 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
- Selby, Katherine Anne; Langdon, P. G. (June 2012). "The Impacts of The Churchill Barriers on the Coastal Environment". Scottish Geographical Journal. University of York. 128 (2): 100–118. doi:10.1080/14702541.2012.716606. S2CID 128535250. Archived from the original on 3 January 2022. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
- McLaughlin, Martyn (14 February 2021). "Race to save Churchill Barriers amid climate change threat to World War II causeways". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
- Scotland, Tammar (14 February 2021). "Urgent plea to save Churchill Barriers from climate change". The Herald. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
- Historic Environment Scotland. "Churchill Barrier No. 2, Lamb Holm To Glimps Holm (112585)". Canmore. Retrieved 29 September 2021.