Highland Clearances village could be repopulated once again

A village that suffered the worst excesses of the Highland Clearances could be re-populated once again if a community buyout of the land goes ahead.

Land at the village of Rosal, which was emptied of its population during the Highland Clearances, with the outlines of the homes and outhouses still visible in the ground. PIC: geograph.org/Valenta
Land at the village of Rosal, which was emptied of its population during the Highland Clearances, with the outlines of the homes and outhouses still visible in the ground. PIC: geograph.org/Valenta

Rosal in Strathnaver was emptied of its population between 1814 and 1818 as the Countess of Sutherland set about removing tenants from her land to make way for sheep farming.

Up to 18 longhouses once made up the village with the ruins of many, along with traces of barns and outhouses, still visible in the ground today.

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Residents in North Sutherland are now considering a community buyout of the site, which is managed by Forestry and Land Scotland.

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One possibility being explored is the return of a small-scale settlement on land surrounding the abandoned village, which is a scheduled monument.

North Sutherland Community Forest Trust; Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council and Strathnaver Museum, which tells the story of the Clearances, are all involved in pushing the buyout forward.

Magnus Davidson, of the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Highlands and Islands, said he supported the “aspirations” of the potential buyout to include re-population of the land at Rosal.

Mr Davidson, whose ancestors were among the Mackays cleared from Strathnaver, said: “It is symbolic. The depopulation started with the Clearances and it is nice to be able to say ‘this is where we are going’ in the recovery from that.

“It’s an issue that resonates with Scottish people, particularly those in the Highlands and Islands where it is an issue that is deeply felt.”

He said the community aspirations of the potential buyout was a “juxtaposition” to the “landlordism” felt in the area given attempts by Scotland’s biggest landowner, Danish entrepreneur Anders Polvsen, to block attempts to build a spaceport near Tongue.

The spaceport is planned for land owned by the Melness Crofters’ Estate (MCE) on the A’ Mhoine peninsula, next to one of Polvsen’s estates.

Money paid to MCE, after land management costs, would go into a charitable fund for the benefit of the whole community with 250 jobs expected to be created by the venture..

But Povlsen’s company, Wildland Ltd, has gone to the Court of Session in a bid to overturn planning permission for the spaceport on environmental grounds.

This is the second attempt by the community to buy land at Rosal, with a 2014 bid blocked by the Scottish Government.

Forestry and Land Scotland, formerly Forestry Commission Scotland, wanted to sell the land but former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse requested it be withdrawn from sale given its historical significance.

Jim Johnston, of Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council, said: “I do share the view that the land would be a valuable asset which will allow the work of the Strathnaver Museum to spread into the surrounding countryside.

"I do also think there is a huge amount of land in the Highlands which was depopulated and remains depopulated which could be given over to the opportunity for people living on the land once again.”

A spokesman for Forestry and Land Scotland, said a growing number of local communities were pursuing opportunities through its Community Asset Transfer Scheme.“The scheme is a great way to marry up focused, local knowledge and ambition with the resources to help communities put their drive and talents to work to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.”

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