Culloden 275: 'Protect our battlefields in the same way as castles and stone circles'

They were where history twisted and turned and men lost their lives as the nation both fought for itself and defended against others.

A re-enactment of the charge at Culloden Battlefield 275 years ago today. Politicians have been urged to protect the "gem" in Scotland's historic landscape which is coming under increasing threat from development pressures. PIC: Contributed.

Now, the strongest call yet has been made for Scotland’s battlefields to be protected in law like other historic monuments, such as castles and stone circles, given their importance in the country’s story.

On the 275th anniversary of Culloden today, National Trust for Scotland has urged politicians to introduce statutory safeguards for battlefields with the charity publishing its own manifesto ahead of the parliamentary elections next month.

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It follows a number of housing developments and ongoing planning applications for land that falls within the historic battlefield boundary, but which NTS does not own. One development of 16 homes at Viewhill, to the north of Culloden, is now in the eye line of the memorial cairn.

The conservation charity also wants political support for Culloden’s bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a move that would better control the environment surrounding the landscape.

Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager at Culloden Battlefield said: “Everyone wants to protect the cultural crown jewel that is Culloden Battlefield, but the existing planning mechanisms are too weak.

“We averaged more than 300,000 visitors a year pre-covid, and we work hard to keep the battlefield open and accessible 24/7. Yet we are frequently surrounded by planning applications for developments, and we struggle to defend against them all.

“Once development takes place on or right beside the battlefield, the fragile but powerful sense of place is shattered. Surely there is a strong, clear case for stronger legal protection for sites like this?”

The Battle of Culloden was fought on April 16, 1746 in the last act of a final and failed Jacobite rising which led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart to return his family line to the British throne.

In the manifesto, published today, NTS urges political parties to include battlefields in the forthcoming National Planning Framework 4, which maps out a long-term plan for national development and infrastructure.

NTS wants battlefield protection, similar to that afforded to scheduled monuments and listed buildings, to be included in the planning document.

MSPs are also being asked to support Culloden’s application for UNESCO Word Heritage Site status, which would give it the same recognition as the Antonine Wall, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, New Lanark, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, St Kilda and the Forth Bridge.

Diarmid Hearns, Head of Public Policy, Risk and Compliance at the ‎National Trust for Scotland continued: “Historic battlefields are often extensive areas in multiple ownership, which can make them more challenging to conserve.”

He said that ‘management plans’ for such sites, similar to ones introduced in England, would offer them further safeguards beyond existing planning rules.

Mr Hearns added: "In the case of Culloden, a largely intact battlefield and a turning point in Scottish history, it could also be deserving of the accolade of World Heritage Site status. This would bring additional protection and a more sustainable approach to the site’s development.”

Currently, historic battlefields are part of Scottish Planning Policy, and there is an expectation that planning authorities should protect and conserve their key landscape characteristics.

However, these protections are weaker than those for altering Scheduled Monuments or for listed buildings. Culloden falls within a conservation area and a battlefield inventory drawn up by Historic Environment Scotland, both which can only guide decision making.