Radical plans emerge to buy up Culloden on “behalf of nation”
Parts of Culloden Battlefield could be bought up from private landowners and held on “behalf of the nation” in a bid to protect the historic landscape from further development.
Radical plans have emerged to help guarantee the integrity of the battlefield, where the Jacobites were defeated by the British Army in 1746, given a recent planning case which has exposed the lack of protection for the historic site.
At present, only around one third of the battlefield falls under the care of National Trust for Scotland with the remaining two thirds held by a small number of private landowners.
One recently sold his land to a housing developer with 16 homes, in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area, now nearing completion after winning planning approval.
Dr Arran Johnston, director of the Scottish Battlefields Trust, said that buying up privately-owned pockets of the battlefield could be the “only way” of safeguarding the land from development in the future.
Dr Johnston is working with the Historians Committee on Culloden, which includes figures such as Jacobite-era expert Dr Christopher Duffy, on the proposals.
Dr Johnston said: “There is a very clear level of frustration at what has happened at Culloden and a clear sense that something has to be done.
“We have had five to six years of these problems and threats to Culloden and we need to look at a positive way forward.
“We are pretty sure that ownership is the only way to guarantee protection of the landscape.
“It is early days, but the plans is that Scottish Battlefields Trust will take ownership of some of the land in trust on behalf of the nation.”
A public appeal to help raise funds for the purchase will be launched in due course once initial talks have been held with landowners in the area.
It is hoped that the huge success of television series Outlander, which charts events surrounding Culloden, could help raise the profile of the campaign.
The proposals comes as homes on a hugely controversial 16-home development at Viewhill Farm, less than a mile from the NTS site, go up for sale.
The plans were approved on appeal by the Scottish Government’s planning reporter despite being rejected by the local authority.
Some historians claim the properties have effectively been built on a war grave given events there in 1746.
Dr Johnston said he wanted to compliment work done at NTS Culloden and further add to the story of the battle.
Dr Johnston added: “The National Trust for Scotland site is just a small part of the landscape and it does not cover an area of considerable fighting and casualties.
“To really understand that, you have to look beyond the boundaries of what is already there.
“It is very early days but I would expect we would be looking to work in partnership on NTS and in no way do we want to get under their feet.
“Our goals are very similar indeed to those of NTS. This really is about finding the most efficient way to secure the land.”
Dr Johnston said he did not want it to be the case that “nothing could happen” on any new land acquired.
Interpretation and signage of key battle areas would be created with sight lines of important locations improved, perhaps by removing forestry in some cases.
Some of the land, much of it grazing ground, could be rented out and used for sustainable agricultural practices, Dr Johnston added.
He said: “There are a lot of hurdles to jump over but this is about protecting and conserving the landscape and having a long term plan for it.”
NTS has long shared its concerns over the protection of the battlefield site.
It is currently working on Culloden 300 - a mass public consultation over how the future of the battle field should look.
It has also supported applying for UNESCO World Heritage Site status amid hopes of gaining further protection for the land.
However, Dr Chris Duffy said that buying up the parts of battlefield that are held privately would be key to any UNESCO World Heritage site.
“The danger is that the bid has already been compromised by the new housing at Viewhill. If not, it will certainly by jeopardised by any further development in the future,” he said.
A spokesman for National Trust for Scotland said: “As a charity, wholly funded by our members and supporters, we must use our funds as effectively as possible. This is why we have embarked on our Culloden 300 public consultation to generate support and ideas to create a robust vision for the site. The consultation runs until the end of August and we are looking at all options and welcome suggestions on defending this hugely significant historic landscape.”
Meanwhile, an application to build 14 holiday chalets and a 100-seat restaurant at the former site of Treetops Stables at Faebuie, Culloden Moor, is being considered by 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.
The Viewhill Farm housing development also sits within the Culloden Muir Conservation Area.