Culloden’s Spirit of place is a wonderful and powerful thing – causing emotional, spiritual and physical responses in most of us. We may never be able to define it, and we can’t bottle it to replicate elsewhere, so it behoves us all to make the effort to protect it.
And yet today this precious landscape is under more threat than it’s ever been. But rather than the usual wringing of hands and finger-pointing, we feel that the root problem is a lot more subtle and nuanced. Culloden will not be lost to inappropriate development because of apathy and inertia, it will be lost because the key players – the council, Government, heritage bodies and community - are not working together as they should.
We think that Culloden matters, but then we would say that wouldn’t we? We are the National Trust for Scotland and it’s our job to conserve and protect. But does it matter to anyone else? Last year we asked everyone as part of our Culloden 300 initiative, named so because we want to create a vision for the landscape 300 years after the battle, in 2046, 26 years from now.
Almost 3,000 people responded to our simple online survey with a strong affirmative ‘Yes, it matters, and it matters a lot.’ A further hundred-odd people came along to our community hall events for more in-depth conversations to tease out what type of development might be appropriate and what definitely would not.
It’s not about saying no to everything. We want to find a way to enable people to live on the landscape around the battlefield, without destroying that sense of place which is such a powerful experience for everyone.
The consultation responses came from all across Scotland, the UK and beyond, with only 15% coming from an IV postcode, so this is clearly an important national and international asset for us. There is already a Conservation Area designation by The Highland Council, and there is a large entry for Culloden in Historic Environment Scotland’s Battlefields Inventory. The National Trust for Scotland owns about a third of the area fought upon on the day. We are not short of interested parties and designations, although it won’t hurt to have a few more.
What we are short of us is joined-up action on what should be allowed and what shouldn’t. And we’ve had some shockers which have slipped through the goalkeeper’s legs recently. As you walk west beyond the Memorial Cairn now, and look straight north towards the Moray Firth, you look straight at the sixteen five-bedroom, modern executive home Viewhill development. Inappropriate Development 1, Sense of Place 0.
The Culloden 300 consultation phase has given us the mandate for action. Buying the land around the battlefield will enable control over what can be built. Despite these straitened times, we will start fundraising to do this. Long-term conservation agreements will also help to protect the landscape, and we will also investigate whether UNESCO World Heritage Site status will help.
We will create better guidance and tools for the poor planners who now carry the weight of the world on their shoulders when they have to make a decision about Culloden. Creating a measurement tool for sense of place will be a good start.