THE sale has been blocked of a Sutherland woodland where the houses of victims of a particularly notorious Highland Clearance still stand.

Scottish Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse intervened after Forestry Commission Scotland's (FCS) 6360 acre Rosal Forest in Strathnaver was put on the market.

FCS was seeking offers over £1.85m after the local community did not register an interest. But criticism of the sale decision began to grow on social media.

Last night an FCS spokesman confirmed the sale was off, following Mr Wheelhouse's request.

He added: "We are now reviewing the sale options."

Mr Wheelhouse had been embarrassed earlier this year when it emerged that without his knowledge, civil servants had taken away sporting rights from the crofters' island of Raasay after a bid from a stalking firm based in South Ayrshire.

There was an outcry, and that decision was quickly reversed. It is understood the minister wanted to avoid anything similar in Strathnaver.

Highland historian Professor Jim Hunter had tweeted: "That Scottish Ministers are selling Rosal is proof that the Scottish Government is bereft of anyone with a sense of history."

Land reform campaigner Andy Wightman agreed "This forest will probably be sold to an absentee investor from England, or a Russian oligarch, or a multinational timber corporation."

While Raasay was a symbol of the worst of absentee land ownership in the 20th century, Strathnaver became a byword for the violence and cruelty of the agricultural "improve-ments" ordered by House of Sutherland at the start of the 19th. The process began 200 years ago next year.

The people had to make way for sheep, and the estate's factor Patrick Sellar burnt them out if they refused. He was later tried, but acquitted.

One of those who was cleared from Rosal was stonemason Donald MacLeod, who was to end up in Toronto. His influential book Gloomy Memories recalled what he saw as a young man.

"I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted 250 blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition - whether in or out of the flames - I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins."

The title of the book had been in response to Sunny Memories written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, about Sutherland after a visit to the Duke and Countess of Sutherland's Dunrobin Castle.

Last night, Jim Hunter, who wrote the seminal work, The Making of the Crofting Community said: "The Forestry Commission has done a good job of interpreting Rosal and making the place accessible to visitors.

"I'd have very little faith in private owners of the sort presently active in the Highland land market being keen either on encouraging visitors or on commem-orating the clearances."