OFFICIALS at York Minster have expressed concern that listed buildings could be damaged if people attempt to use olive oil as a waterproof coating in a bid to protect them.

Following reports in national newspapers that olive oil was to be used to cover the magnesian limestone of the historic York landmark, architect Andrew Arrol said he had received several phone calls from concerned members of the public, and English Heritage.

Mr Arrol, whose official title is surveyor of the fabric at the Minster, said: “We are worried because people have been contacting us asking if we’re really sure about it.

“We’re worried that members of the public in listed buildings might take it as an idea and damage buildings or artefacts.”

The Press reported in December that researchers at Cardiff University were developing a technique to apply a layer of fatty acids, derived from olive oil, to limestone.

Researchers believe this micron-thick layer of fat should form a waterproof coating which would stop rain getting in, but allow salts and moisture to escape, ensuring protection, but ensuring the stone does not become brittle and erode.

Mr Arrol said the reports in the national papers over-simplified the research, which led to the panicked phone calls, and he wanted to set the record straight.

He said: “We welcome scientific exploration and are commissioning it all the time, but this is just one interesting development.

“Everyone’s looking for the magic thing to stop water going into stone but allowing it to breathe. Whoever discovers it, we will be grateful to them and this could be a step in the right direction.”

Chris Wood, from English Heritage, said: “We are aware of the enthusiastic reception that this research has generated in the national press and would be absolutely delighted if a very simple solution to the problem of conserving magnesian limestone could be found.

“Unfortunately, our research and experience over the years and that of a great many international experts has shown that this is very complicated and great care is needed.

“Indeed, the solution claimed by the researchers from their laboratory tests may end up causing more harm to the existing stone once exposed to the harsh environment several hundreds of feet up on the Minster.”