Culloden: Call for World Heritage Site status to protect battlefield from developers

Custodians of Culloden Battlefield say securing UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the historic landscape could be the only “sure fire way” of protecting it from developers.

The battlefield, scene of the last pitched battle on British soil on April 16 1746, has come under increasing pressure from developments that fall within the historic boundary of the clash.

The outlying areas of the battle ground, where Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites were defeated by British Government forces, are owned privately with planners equipped with few powers to block development depite the sensitive nature of the area.

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Historian asks '˜are we going to lose Culloden?'
Custodians of Culloden Battlefield may try and secure World Heritage Site status for the historic development to protect it from development. Pictured is the memorial cairn to those who died during the clash between Jacobites and British Government forces on April 16, 1746. PIC: Jane Barlow/TSPL.

Raoul Curtis-Machin, operation manager at Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, which is owned by National Trust for Scotland said he believes securing UNESCO World Heritage site status for the site could be the only “sure fire way” of protecting the area.

Mr Curtis-Machin told the Inverness Courier he believes Culloden qualifies for a World Heritage listing on the grounds of its “universal significance”.

He said: “Culloden represents so much more than a battle – the event itself is of outstanding significance. It was the culmination of a massive cultural struggle in Scotland, the UK and Europe.”

“Around 80 per cent of our visitors are international, which to my mind reflects the significance of the site.”

If it secures World Heritage Status, Culloden would join six other elite historic sites in Scotland - The Antonine Wall, Heart of Neolithic Orkney, New Lanark, Old and New Town of Edinburgh, St Kilda and the Forth Bridge.

In an interview with the Inverness Courier to mark the 273rd anniversary of the battle, Mr Curtis-Machin said it could be the only “sure fire way” of halting development in the future.

A Unesco listing creates a ‘climate of assumption’ against development in an around designated sites with a general rise in the level of protection and conservation then following.

Mr Curtis-Machin’s comments come as part of the controversial Viewhill housing scheme on the edge of the official boundary nears completion.

Historian believe Viewhill Farm area was the scene of significant contact on April 16, 1746 with the land effectively a war grave.

Meanwhile, an application to build 14 holiday chalets and a 100-seat restaurant at the former site of Treetops Stables at Faebuie, Culloden Moor, has been lodged with Highland Council.

The land sits to the eastern edge of the Culloden Battlefield Inventory and within the Culloden Muir Conservation Area, which was drawn up in 2015 to protect the area from inappropriate development.

Asked whether any potential heritage listing would come too late to preserve the site, Mr Curtis-Machin told the newspaper: “No, quite the opposite.

“The very fact of listing it as a potential World Heritage Site will get all the major players and stakeholders together and focused and the effect of that on potential developments would be significant.”

Local councillor Ken Gowans, a long-time supporter of the battlefield who helped set up the original conservation area is “absolutely supportive” of the idea of World Heritage status.

“Where we are today is a direct reflection of what happened at Culloden all those hundreds of years ago,” he said.

“This was a pivotal battle in human history. Without Culloden there would be no destruction of the ancient clan system – without that there would be no diaspora – and without that the sheer impact of Scots across the world would never have happened.

“Making it a World Heritage Site is the obvious next step, putting it on an official protected footing by recognising its importance in history.

“It could also potentially be another major boost to the Highlands as a tourist destination.”

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director, also welcomed the news.

“Culloden already attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe keen to learn more about the Jacobite uprising and immerse themselves in the history of the area, with the ‘Outlander Effect’ helping increase this interest.

“Attaining World Heritage Site status would lend even greater appeal to one of the Highlands’ most famous locations, classing it as of ‘outstanding universal value’ which, we would expect, would bring even greater footfall and economic benefit to the area.”

A spokesperson for National Trust for Scotland said: “UNESCO World Heritage Site status is one of the various options being mooted as part of our Culloden 300 public consultation which runs until the end of August this year.

“We’re inviting the public to get involved in creating a vision for the landscape that acknowledges Scotland’s past, present and future.

“By engaging a wide and diverse audience, the outcome will give a clear recommendation of what would be acceptable and appropriate development for the area - one which takes account of the place’s importance to Scotland and beyond, as well as the needs of the local and wider community and economy.”

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