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6 Jul 2020

10 behind-the-scenes ways we protect Scotland

Aerial shot of Inverewe House surrounded by woods and with the shoreline of Loch Ewe.
Inverewe House
We’re famous for stately homes and historic buildings. But we do so much more than that. Here are 10 behind-the-scenes examples of the way the Trust protects Scotland’s heritage and boosts local communities.

1. Grazing battlefields

Two Highland cows in a field with woods in the background, under a blue sky.
Highland cows help to keep the battlefield at Culloden under control

If nature was allowed to take its course, the battlefield at Culloden would look very different. We work hard to control the relentless growth of self-seeded trees on the site, and get invaluable help to do so from grazing animals – Shetland cows, Highland cows and goats – to do so, which allows us to cut our use of machinery and chemicals to a minimum. ‘You might not realise that the heather moorland associated with Culloden actually needs constant management’, explains operations manager Raoul Curtis-Machin, ‘but without it, trees would take over and obscure the battlefield’.

2. Safeguarding a sanctuary

The seashore at Iona, with the abbey in the distance.
The clear waters of Iona’s shoreline

Iona is a uniquely special and spiritual place, and our work here helps the island to flourish. As well as monitoring plant life and seabirds and encouraging traditional crofting techniques, we support the community by helping to facilitate important projects such as the new village hall and fire station. ‘We’re also involved in ongoing maintenance – repairing old stone walls, footpaths and drainage ditches and clearing invasive species’, says Clea Warner, general manager for the Highlands & Islands. ‘Shared areas of the island could quickly fall into poor condition without our contribution.’

3. Lockdown lifeline

A man in a hi-vis jacket looks out to sea with binoculars while standing on a pier.
Canna’s harbourmaster checking for floating debris before the ferry arrives

On Canna and Fair Isle, the Trust’s role in sustaining local communities was thrown into sharp relief during the coronavirus lockdown. ‘The Trust is responsible for the aerodrome on Fair Isle, providing access for locals and visitors, and which has become a lifeline service’, explains Clea Warner. ‘Canna has a population of 16 and a working farm with 40 cattle and 600 sheep. We look after the island, including its harbour, where we also employ the harbourmaster. Getting supplies to the small community is vital work.’

4. Protecting our peaks

A man lifts a large stone while repairing a mountain footpath
Our mountain footpath team work all year round in all weathers

With 245 miles of upland paths in our care, it’s a massive job keeping them in good shape. ‘If we didn’t maintain and restore the path network, it would soon deteriorate’, says upland path manager Bob Brown. ‘The erosive power of the Scottish weather combined with visitor pressure would result in habitat loss and the visual scarring of our wildest places.’ Our team of four work 10-hour days all year round to keep the mountains beautiful.

5. Traditional techniques

A pink harled tower house surrounded by parkland on a sunny day.
Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle is one of the best examples of a 17th-century tower house in Scotland. A decade ago, we removed the cement render on the walls – the cement was stopping the castle ‘breathing’ and the resulting dampness was damaging the ornate plaster ceilings inside. Traditional lime harling in Craigievar’s historical pink colour was put on in its place. ‘Repairs to the harling were due this year, particularly to areas where water can penetrate the building’, says James Henderson, operations manager for Aberdeenshire South. ‘We were also going to give it a new limewash to maintain its unique colour. But a loss of capital budget means we can’t carry out this work, which will impact massively on the conservation of this key piece of our built heritage.’

6. Digging for history

A person looks through a theodolite on an archaeological excavation on a hillside.
Thistle Camp volunteers digging and surveying a Bronze Age roundhouse at Coire a’ Bhradain on Arran

Trust archaeologists and volunteers regularly uncover fascinating clues to Scotland’s history. Recent fieldwork at Threave has unearthed flints from ploughed fields, suggesting Neolithic and Bronze Age activity. Other finds include limekilns on Arran and a prehistoric settlement on Unst in Shetland. ‘Our archaeologists gather information about how our properties have changed over time, helping us to tell their complex histories. Teasing out these stories is a long-term commitment’, says Derek Alexander, head of archaeological services.

7. Preserving our poetry

A white-coloured bust of Robert Burns in a display case in a museum.
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

The Trust has the most extensive Robert Burns collection in the world. Among the most treasured items are two first edition copies of his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, commonly known as the Kilmarnock Edition. One of these is in the unbound state it would have arrived in from the printers in 1786 – the only known such example in existence. We have carried out meticulous conservation work on the fragile volume to preserve it for the nation.

8. Roping up to rare plants

A man in climbing gear on a hillside, holding a National Trust for Scotland omega sign.
Dan Watson monitoring hard to reach rare plants

With the climate emergency forcing alpine plants to move ever higher up our hills in search of the ideal growing conditions, scaling the heights to get a better understanding of plant life is now essential work for our countryside experts. Some have received specialist rope training so they can reach previously inaccessible areas. ‘I monitor a number of rare plants at Glencoe National Nature Reserve, but I’m sure there’s much to be discovered in even more remote locations’, says ecologist Dan Watson. ‘At the botanically rich Creag an Lochain at Ben Lawers NNR, for example, much of the ground is inaccessible.’

9. Conservation at Culzean

An aviary surrounded by woodland with a large pond in front of it.
The aviary at Culzean Castle

Culzean has provided unforgettable days out for generations of families, both in its castle and its incredible grounds – those 260 hectares of woods and formal gardens, plus 3 miles of coastline, became Scotland’s first country park in 1969. But most visitors are probably unaware that Culzean, like so many of our properties, is also a sanctuary for wildlife. ‘Our team is involved in the long-term monitoring of fulmars, warblers and bats’, says Gareth Clingan, Culzean’s operations manager. ‘The results feed into site-specific projects as well as into regional and national monitoring schemes.’ The data goes back a remarkable 45 years and is an invaluable conservation resource.

10. Highland habitats

Red squirrel on a lichen-covered branch.
Red squirrel at Balmacara

When red squirrels were reintroduced to the north-west Highlands in 2017, the diverse woodlands of our Balmacara estate and Inverewe proved the ideal home for these iconic creatures. We worked with Trees for Life to identify the right locations, assisted with the squirrels’ release and supplied food while they settled in. ‘Our traditional croft management scheme supports rotational cropping and the grazing of cattle instead of sheep’, explains Balmacara property manager Iain Turnbull. ‘The result is that we have this wonderful woodland habitat.’

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