BLOOD was shed across their fields, on land where fighters armed with claymores, pikes, broadswords and, later, muskets and pistols, battled under clan colours and Jacobite flags to the death. 

The names of Scotland’s battles have become embedded in the nation’s history, from clan feuds to the rough wooing and clashes with the Auld Enemy.

Now a plea is being made to politicians to take up arms to protect and preserve Scotland’s historic battlefields by following an unlikely charge led by former US president Donald Trump. 

The Great American Outdoors Act was one of the Trump administration’s final pieces of legislation and aims to not only preserve the nation’s historic battlefields but will plough millions of dollars into acquiring battlefield sites, maintaining them, and creating new educational opportunities to turn “hallowed” battlegrounds into outdoor classrooms. 


READ MORE: Culloden battlefield planning application to go to Scottish Government

The Scottish Battlefield Trust now wants politicians here to embrace a similar approach to “preserve, interpret and foster public interest” in Scotland’s historic battle sites, and to include a commitment to protect key areas where battles were fought in their election manifestos.

The Trust says that despite their role in Scottish history, the nation’s battlefields have failed to receive protection from development in the past, with some important sites being encroached upon and lost to development. 

Quarry fear

THEY include a quarry which overwhelms part of the site of the 1650 Battle of Dunbar, and housing developments on land where the Battle of Prestonpans and Battle of Bannockburn were fought. 

Although Historic Environment Scotland now has an inventory of designated battlefields across Scotland with planning safeguards intended to protect them from intrusive and inappropriate development, the Trust claims it does not go far enough. 

Instead, it points to a series of proposals to develop parts of Culloden battlefield which have led to lengthy planning rows and legal disputes, and Transport Scotland’s controversial proposal to widen the A9 through Killiecrankie, where Jacobite forces fought government troops in 1689.

The two sides clashed as both armies attempted to reach Blair Atholl to use it as a base for their operations. The Jacobites lost around 800 men, while the government casualties numbered 2,000. 

Objectors say that work to upgrade the 14 miles of road between Killiecrankie and Glen Garry would encroach on areas where the most intense fighting took place and obliterate a particular battle line.

READ MORE: Culloden battlefield planning application rejected by Highland Council

However, at the Killiecrankie public inquiry, Transport Scotland’s legal team pointed out that current planning legislation and requirements did not afford the legal protection for the battlefield which was being claimed by objectors. 

The findings of the inquiry are said to have been delayed due to Covid-19. 

Meanwhile at Culloden, development proposals have included a failed attempt to create £1 million holiday village featuring lodges built on stilts which opponents argued would lead to the “sheer desecration” of part of the battleground and, more recently, a plan to develop Culchunaig Steading into a house. 

Having originally been given the go ahead by Highland councillors, the steading proposal was rejected by Scottish Minister on the grounds it would have an “urbanising” effect on the battlefield’s sensitive historic landscape.

An alternative plan was lodged and in February was also rejected after new historic and archaeological research was uncovered which highlighted its importance in the battle. 

Chairman of the Battlefields Trust, Herbert Coutts, said the pressure from developers to encroach on the Culloden site and other battlefield areas is likely to grow in intensity unless moves are taken to improve protection.

“The SBT is aware of other battlefields where development assaults on their integrity have gone largely unnoticed and unchallenged. As to the future, the demand for additional housing and major infrastructure developments represents an ever-growing threat.”

He said the Trust is also concerned over an East Lothian Council vision and action plan which has proposed the flooding of part of the site of Charles Edward Stuart’s victory at the battle of Prestonpans to create an open-air water sports park.

Moves to protect Scotland’s battlefields were included in the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, but the Trust claims it took three decades for Government agency Historic Scotland to begin work on creating an inventory of historic battleground sites. The agency has since been replaced by Historic Environment Scotland. 

Culloden site

TO date, the HES inventory includes 40 sites in 18 council areas ranging from the first battle of Dunbar in 1296 to Culloden, where the last pitched battle in Britain was fought in 1746.  

However, HES has previously indicated that the policy intent of the inventory was “not to stop development on designated battlefields”, raising concerns that sites are vulnerable to modern development.

Mr Coutts said: “The 30-year gap between Historic Scotland being accorded the power to prepare an inventory and starting the task speaks volumes of that organisation’s attitude towards the preservation of the nation’s historic battlefields. 

“The SBT is concerned that a similar disdain can be detected in its successor’s approach to the issue.”

It argues current arrangements which claim to protect battleground sites are not robust enough to withstand serious legal challenges and place them at risk of being lost to development. 

“It has been stated repeatedly by HES that the current planning safeguards “protect” designated battlefields against intrusive and inappropriate development,” added Mr Coutts. 

“When put to the test by powerful Scottish Government agencies and persistent commercial developers, however, that has proved not to be the case.”

The Trust is now suggesting Scotland’s political parties agree to follow Donald Trump’s lead, by backing sweeping measures to plough money into helping charities to purchase key areas of designated battlefields in order to ensure their protection, and committing to making funds available for battlefield research. 

The Trust also wants to see the creation of a Historic Battlefields Educational Visits Fund which would enable school visits to historic battle sites in the same way some make tours of First and Second World War battlefields in Europe. 

“These battlefields are central to Scotland’s history,” Mr Coutts added.

“They changed the history of the nation and many of them changed the direction of travel of the nation.”