Sir Tom Devine calls for battlefields to be protected in law

Sir Tom Devine, who is considered the great authority on Scottish history, has called for battlefields to be protected in law following recent controversy over a new housing development at Culloden. PIC: TSPL.
Sir Tom Devine, who is considered the great authority on Scottish history, has called for battlefields to be protected in law following recent controversy over a new housing development at Culloden. PIC: TSPL.
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The nation’s leading historian has called for Scotland’s battlefields to be protected in law from developers following controversy over new housing to be built at Culloden.

Sir Tom Devine, emeritus professor of history at Edinburgh University, has backed a petition to Scottish Parliament that seeks legal protection for the historic sites.

A housing development has been approved for land on the fringes of Culloden Battlefield with a new holiday park and restaurant proposed for land within the boundary of the  historic site. PIC: Herbert Frank/Creative Commons.

A housing development has been approved for land on the fringes of Culloden Battlefield with a new holiday park and restaurant proposed for land within the boundary of the historic site. PIC: Herbert Frank/Creative Commons.

It follows widespread protest over 16 new homes to be built on the edge of Culloden Battlefield, scene of the last pitched battle on British soil in 1746.

Sir Tom said the integrity of Culloden had been threatened as a result.

READ MORE: Historian asks ‘are we going to lose Culloden?’

Sir Tom said: “It goes without saying that battlefields are an important part of Scotland’s national heritage and of course several key battles have been turning points in Scottish political and religious history.

“Some also contain the last resting places of the fallen. Even those which are lesser known mean much to local communities which neighbour them.

READ MORE: Heritage chiefs ‘no not object’ to Culloden holiday park

“There have been cases recently of developers threatening the integrity of two very significant sites, Culloden Moor and Bothwell Bridge, where the last bloody stand of the Covenanters took place in 1679.

“Local people often resist these incursions but are not always successful in their efforts. More protection for the battlefields would do much to strengthen their cause.”

Just over 1,000 people - many from the United States and Canada - have signed the petition so far.

The petition has been lodged with parliament by Jack Gallacher, chairman of Bothwell Historical Society.

Sir Tom, who formerly held the Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography, is honorary president of the organisation.

Mr Gallacher said parliamentary legislation was required to insure that the battlefields were preserved.

He said: “We consider that these battlefields are not protected by any legislation enacted by Parliament.

“We consider that these battlefields are an important part of the national heritage and should be protected by legislation for the benefit of presents and future generations.

“In common with many other historical communities, we are aware of the economic benefits of tourism and that many people visit our country because of its history.

“We would suggest that our turbulent history as represented by our battlefields is worthy of protection, not only for their heritage value but also for the potential for economic benefits they might provide for local people.”

Mr Gallacher said two attempts had been made to build on Convenanters Field, the last piece of undeveloped land where the Battle of Bothwell Bridge was fought in 1679.

The encounter was the largest of the Covenanter uprisings of the 17th Century with a major Government victory essentially bringing the rebellion to an end.

Stiff opposition to the housing plan, and the inclusion of the land on the Historic Environment Scotland battlefield inventory, led to the developer withdrawing its proposals in 2014.

At present, planners must only consider the impact of development on 39 battlefields included in the inventory drawn up by Historic Environment Scotland.

The inventory, which includes Culloden and Bothwell Bridge, gives detailed information about the significance of the battle and how the different parts of the landscape influenced the engagement.

But inclusion in the inventory does not automatically rule out development altogether.

Plans for a holiday park and 100-seat restaurant have been lodged for land within the official battlefield boundary at Culloden.

Historic Environment Scotland said it did not object to the proposal given it was planned for an area that was “not central to the events of the battle itself and primarily forms a backdrop to the battlefield landscape.”

Scheduled monuments on battlefield sites - such as the Jacobite Memorial Cairn at Culloden - are protected in law by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

The petition will close on June 25 with it then passed to the Public Petitions Committee to consider.

The committee can make recommendations for action by the Scottish Government and ask for time in the Chamber to allow for debate.