Moles at Culloden are celebrated by historians
The presence of moles at the scene of the last civil conflict on British soil is welcomed by the Circle of Gentlemen – the Jacobite society based in the Highlands – because the creatures are believed to have played a role in the death of William of Orange, the Protestant monarch.
It is claimed that in 1702 King William III’s horse stumbled on a molehill, causing him to fall, break his collarbone and subsequently develop pneumonia, which killed him.
Jacobite supporters still toast “the wee gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat” at gatherings.
Under many circumstances, a population of moles taking up residence under a garden or site of interest would prompt calls for their extermination.
But the Culloden moles have a certain status that the Jacobite enthusiasts hope will protect them from harm.
Alasdair MacNeill, a member of the Circle of Gentlemen, said: “In Jacobite society, the mole is a much respected creature due to its part in the fate of William of Orange. Although the molehills have been appearing around Culloden, with some extremely close to markers of where clan leaders are thought to have fallen in battle, there is no concern by the society.”
Mr MacNeill added: “Nature is nature, and there were moles under Drumossie Muir long before the battle and subsequent British atrocities took place.
“The men buried there had no choice in their final resting places but, to the moles, it’s their natural habitat. They have no concept of history or appreciation of the bones they tunnel around.
“Given this, I can’t really see it as a desecration. Humans souvenir-hunting, or sitting atop a grave mound munching on a Scotch egg is desecration, but moles doing what they were designed to do is entirely different.
“Perhaps if bones start appearing among the molehills then something may possibly need to be done. But I’m certainly not in favour of any sort of cull.”
Dr Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology and a senior lecturer in history at the University of Glasgow, said: “The mole is an unlikely hero of the Jacobites, celebrated because it killed King William III. In 1702, William was riding his horse which stumbled on a molehill. He fell and broke his collarbone, which resulted in him developing pneumonia, from which he died.”
William, also known as King Billy, was a staunch Protestent who deposed King James II and VII of England and Scotland in 1688, during the Glorious Revolution, to prevent Catholicism in the monarchy.
Dr Pollard said: “It sparked the Jacobite wars, with the first Jacobite Rising in Scotland in 1689, and we got about 60 years of war, culminating with Culloden when Bonnie Prince Charlie – James’s grandson – came back from France, where James was exiled, to reclaim the throne to the Stuarts.
The National Trust for Scotland, which owns Culloden Battlefield, said they were aware of the molehills at the historic site, but were not currently concerned about the numbers.