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16 Feb 2021

Behind the scenes at Culloden Battlefield

Written by Catriona McIntosh, Culloden Battlefield Estate Manager
A woman is standing in a snowy landscape, with a large stone cairn in the background.
Culloden Battlefield’s new Estate Manager, Catriona McIntosh
Having taken on the exciting and challenging role of managing the Culloden Battlefield estate, I’ll be ensuring that its special ‘sense of place’ is maintained sensitively and effectively – and with a lot of TLC!

From the age of 7, when I stood at a finds table in the pouring rain cleaning a ceramic sherd with an old toothbrush, I wanted to be an archaeologist. As an enthusiastic member of the Young Naturalists’ Club at Culzean Castle, I became very aware of history and environment and the need to look after our special places.

I commenced my studies in 2009 at the University of Aberdeen, where I gained an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and History, then on to the University of Glasgow for an MLitt in Material Culture and Artefact studies, with a strong leaning towards conflict studies. After completing my Masters, I was very fortunate to join the National Trust for Scotland at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (RBBM) as a Learning Intern. I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with schools and local interest groups to share the amazing legacy of Robert Burns, but I also learned much that is now valuable in my new role at Culloden. Chris Waddell, the Learning Manager at RBBM, had been a ranger and really knows his stuff about the flora and fauna of Scotland – and he shared his knowledge with the RBBM team. It’s amazing what sticks in your head 6 years on!

From RBBM I moved to Culloden and joined the engagement team, where I’ve shared the stories of this special place – from the archaeology to the material culture – through education programmes and events, and engaged with over 20,000 young people. I’ve also had the opportunity to promote the Trust and Culloden through filming work on various television programmes, including meeting Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish for Men in Kilts, and Elaine C Smith and Susan Calman. While I have really enjoyed sharing Culloden’s stories with visitors and interest groups, when the opportunity arose to apply for the role of Estate Manager I jumped at the chance. I care passionately about the battlefield, its past, present and future, and this role is pivotal in ensuring we manage the site for future generations.

At the time of the battle the landscape would have looked quite different – a boggy Highland moor – but today the site we look after is surrounded by trees which self-seed and become invasive. One of our biggest challenges is managing that growth. We could do this with chemicals and machines, but our commitment is to manage our properties in a sustainable way. So, we’re using conservation grazing and manual non-chemical clearance.

A person is stooped over, cutting brush by hand on Culloden Battlefield. There is snow on the ground
Brush cutting by hand at the entrance to Culloden Battlefield

The estate team includes our two Highland cattle, Vanilla and Primrose, and award-winning Shetland cattle – they are the real grafters, munching the scrub on the moor. We also have two horses in the team – Rosie and Glen. This year they’re going to be taking a more active role on the battlefield. The long-term plan is to use our younger bay mare Rosie to pull the brush of the moor and for Glen to enjoy his retirement conservation grazing. Rosie and Glen came to us from busy lives at another of our places – Mar Lodge Estate.

The human team have built up good relationships with the livestock and we’re able to move the small herd around the moor to tackle the scrub in key areas. We also have the hit squad! Our British primitive goats have grazed on the moor for over 5 years and are very effective at decimating the invasive trees. The impact of all this conservation grazing, assisted by the human team, is working well and is without doubt the best, most sustainable and appropriate method to manage the battlefield.

Culloden is a major tourist destination and this has an impact on the landscape, particularly our footpaths. While the pandemic has been incredibly challenging in terms of income for the property, the effect on staff and volunteers, and restrictions in the numbers of people who can visit, it has given our footpaths a chance to recover. However, essential tasks still need to be carried out to take care of the battlefield, visitor centre and facilities, and our livestock, to ensure Culloden is ready to receive visitors, hopefully in the near future. We have retained a small but incredibly flexible team on site, who all muck in – to muck out, feed and care for our livestock, and maintain safe access to the battlefield and visitor centre. Working outside has so many health benefits, both mental and physical, and over the next 18 months I hope to develop the volunteer programme to allow people to help care for this amazing place and enjoy the Highland weather!

As one of the most iconic places in Scotland, Culloden is culturally significant to people from across the world. The Culloden 300 report highlighted that our communities agree we have that special sense of place and it is key that as a team we maintain that.

There are so many different elements to the moor, from the archaeology and the monuments to the wildlife that call this place home. For me, it’s important we protect the battlefield and surroundings, ensure wildlife has a home and that we’re sustainable and environmentally friendly in our practices. I’d like to promote our green credentials and ensure the Trust and Culloden lead the way through our conservation grazing, how we manage the visitor facilities with biomass boilers, and hopefully introduce electric vehicles for on-site transport and provide charging points for visitors.

By preserving and protecting this amazing property for future generations in a sustainable way to encourage the natural flora and fauna to flourish, we can do our little bit to help the planet.

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