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29 Nov 2019

Protecting Culloden

Written by Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager, Culloden Battlefield
Cairn at Culloden
On the face of it, the news that the Scottish Government has chosen to ‘call in’ a planning application for the conversion of Culchunaig Farmhouse, Culloden into a dwelling should be welcome.

As many will know, the National Trust for Scotland has been at the forefront of calls to offer protection for the wider battlefield - a battlefield that decided the fate of the nation and Highland culture on 16 April 1746. We only care for and protect a central portion of the battlefield – the rest, for the most part, is farmland and moorland.

The threat to this revered site, one of the world’s most intact historic battlefields, comes from the relentless growth of nearby Inverness. Developers are eyeing up the ‘empty’ space of Culloden, where the cheap potential of greenfield sites allows them to squeeze in the maximum number of housing units at maximum profit.

A nation and its economy does not exist on housebuilding alone. We have long argued that cultural and historical significance is vital to our psyche, yet can also help local communities by generating visitor income. Visitors come to see history, not rows of detached and semi-detached boxes.

We warned that allowing developments, such as the one at Viewhill Farm, would firstly threaten the integrity and setting of Culloden, and secondly set a precedent that would allow developers to argue for more of the landscape to be given over to them. That is exactly what we are seeing now.

It may therefore come as a surprise that we didn’t object to the Culchunaig proposal: we recognised that this was a conversion of an existing, ruined 19th-century building which would not unduly alter the existing sightlines. We suggested that all that was required was that the planners insist that the existing ‘footprint’ not be exceeded, that the character and dimensions of the building be the same as at present, and that archaeologists be given a chance to watch over the site during works. This part of the battlefield has never been explored before, and it could reveal some incredibly valuable archaeology which could help us better understand the battle.

The Scottish Government agency, Historic Environment Scotland (HES), took a similar view and raised no objection to the proposal.

Where our genuine surprise comes from the fact that the Scottish Government has chosen to call in this planning application, yet it took no action over far more destructive and intrusive proposals. Viewhill Farm is ‘Exhibit A’, where the Government’s Scottish Reporter overturned Highland Council’s refusal and allowed it to go ahead. Now it forms a real blot on the landscape, directly in line of site from the cairn in the middle of the battlefield.

To its credit, after the Viewhill debacle Highland Council established a Conservation Zone around the wider, historic field of battle. But this can only offer so much protection without a consistent approach adopted at national level, as well as on the ground.

As Culchunaig illustrates, we at the Trust feel that a balance has to be reached – Culloden has to work for modern generations while its historic and cultural status is respected. This can only be done by government, business, conservation and community working together better, and coming up with a more coherent vision for the Culloden landscape.

That’s why we launched the Culloden 300 initiative. Our objective is to put things in place that describe a vision for how Culloden should be by 2046, with appropriate protection in place and in harmony with the needs of people living their lives now and in the future.

We launched a wide-ranging consultation and we’re collating the submissions now. Soon, we will reveal what people told us and we will invite national and local stakeholders to join us in using this input to find a way forward.

Culloden should not be hemmed in by development – but neither should Culloden hem in our creative thinking and our livelihoods.

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