When did it really end? Was it when the adjutant-general said “all is lost, seize the Prince and take him off”? Was it when Butcher Cumberland ordered the final cavalry charge? Was it when the Prince, sheltering under a tree, heard the cheers of Cumberland’s soldiers? Or was it worse than that: was the Battle of Culloden over before it began?

What the records show is that there was probably little chance of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s raggedy army ever succeeding. The night before the battle, they were led on a doomed march towards Cumberland’s camp then back again. They were exhausted. There was barely any food to eat. They were out-numbered and out-gunned by the government forces. And to top it all, the Jacobites chose the wrong place to fight: boggy, open moorland where Cumberland’s better armed force would have the advantage.

And even when the fighting on the field was over, the battle went on for days, weeks, years. Anyone who supported the Jacobites was regarded as outside the law. The wounded who were lying on the battlefield were shot or run through with a bayonet or beaten to death. The dragoons pursued the feeling clansmen on the road to Inverness and killed pretty much anyone they saw: men, women, children. And there was looting. And burning.

Then a different kind of battle started. The Government was determined to stop the Jacobites ever rising again and tried to do it by de-Gaelicising Scotland even to the point of banning the kilt. They also executed or banished hundreds of people who had been associated with the cause. Culloden was the end of the Stuart dynasty’s claims to the British throne, but it also marked the beginning of the end of traditional Highland society.

The questions about the battle lingered too, and still linger. What actually happened during the last stand of the Jacobites against the government forces? Where exactly did the fighting happen and how did it spread? How exactly did the two sides face up to each other on that day in April 1746?

The National Trust for Scotland, which is responsible for part of the battlefield, believes some of the answers could still lie in the ground and has ordered new scans of the site. Laser tests known as Lidar will be used to produce three-dimensional representations of what lies beneath. The hope is that a better understanding of that boggy, uneven moor will lead to a better understanding of exactly what the Jacobites went through.

The new laser screening is part of a number of initiatives and events to mark the 275th anniversary of Culloden this year, although the National Trust and others also hope it will be a chance to talk about another kind of battle that still rages around Culloden: how to protect it. The campaigners and custodians who care about the site were delighted recently when the Scottish Government over-ruled a decision to allow a luxury steady conversion on the battlefield, but they fear that another threat may come along before long. And their bigger fear is that Scotland’s battlefields do not have the protection they need.

One change that the trust believes is needed is for Culloden to be recognised as a World Heritage Site like St Kilda, the New Town in Edinburgh or New Lanark. Ahead of the election, the trust has also called on all the political parties to include battlefields in the forthcoming National Planning Framework 4, which maps out a long-term plan for national development and infrastructure.

The proposed planning change is included in the trust’s “manifesto for battlefields”. “Historic battlefields are hugely important for our sense of identity,” it says. “They also provide us with space to remember and inform what we know about our past. However, they do not enjoy the same protections as other historic sites, such as listed buildings.”

Diarmid Hearns, the trust’s head of public policy, risk and compliance, believes the situation has to change, but says it is not an easy problem to solve. “Historic battlefields are often extensive areas in multiple ownership, which can make them more challenging to conserve,” he says. “We think introducing management plans for these important sites, as has been done in England and in other countries, could be the way to secure them for the future.”

Mr Hearns says World Heritage status would also bring much-needed extra protection. The current position is that councils are required to consider battlefields during the decision-making process, but it is a consideration only. There is no pressure, for example, to consider alternative sites for developments, and the protections that do exist are considerably weaker than those for scheduled monuments. What the National Trust for Scotland believes is that management plans for battlefields would give owners, developers and local communities greater confidence in how the sites would be safeguarded. And it’s clear that the threat is real: in recent years, there have multiple planning applications for residential and holiday accommodation at Culloden.

Raoul Curtis-Machen, the trust’s operations manager at Culloden, is pretty clear about what the problem is. “The existing planning mechanisms are too weak,” he says. “We averaged more than 300,000 visitors a year pre-covid, and we work hard to keep the battlefield open and accessible 24/7. Yet we’re frequently surrounded by planning applications for developments, and we struggle to defend against them all.

“Once development takes place on or right beside the battlefield, the fragile but powerful sense of place is shattered. Surely there is a strong case for stronger legal protection for sites like this?”

The people who live and work near the site, as well as the wider Scottish diaspora who feel a strong connection to Culloden, feel pretty much the same way. Carolyn Seggie, who belongs to GSDC (Group To Stop Development At Culloden) says there’s a misconception that battlefields already have protection from development.

“The word protection is often misunderstood,” she says. “For example our group recently submitted a 21,600-signature petition to the Scottish Government asking for a change in planning laws to allow for greater protection for all Scottish battlefields. Their response was that protection is already in place.

“It is not in place. If it were, we would not have the current situation where Culloden has been under threat from developers for at least the last seven years.” She said the approval of 16 new homes at Viewhill Farm had effectively opened the floodgates for numerous other development proposals.

“The public conception of the area of the battlefield appears to be that it is the area which the National Trust for Scotland owns,” she said. “Historians have long since proved that this is completely inaccurate and that it extends much further than previously thought.

“More public education on Culloden and other battlefields is definitely needed. Planning laws must be changed to take into account areas of historical importance. The current laws are seriously deficient in that respect.”

So what else could be done? When I spoke to the Scottish Battlefields Trust, which works to protect the surviving sites, they suggested that battlefields could be zoned so that a central, important area could never be built on at all. The trust would also like to see a presumption against development rather than the current situation where councils are only obliged to "consider" the impact on the site. Another idea might be the creation of a sort of "battlefields tsar", an independent person charged with protecting battlefields nationally and standing up for them to councils, developers and the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Battlefields Trust is particularly concerned about the site of another of the Jacobite battles: Prestonpans in East Lothian, which was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s first encounter with British Government forces. It was short and bloody and brutal but this time it ended with the Jacobite force triumphing over the British army lead by Sir John Cope. Like Culloden, it’s a battle that has been celebrated and mythologised in songs and poetry and books, including Walter Scott’s Waverley and more recently the television series Outlander.

But the trust fears that the Prestonpans site too may be under serious threat. In some ways, the landscape is still pretty much as it was on the day of the battle in September 1745 but thousands of houses now cover the line of the Jacobite march. Part of the problem is that battlefields are more amorphous than monuments or structures or buildings. And we’re also dealing with the uncertainty that you have at Culloden too: where exactly is the battlefield? People don’t stand around in one place during a battle; they move around and it means that one place that’s very important during the fighting becomes less important a few minutes later. It can make it hard to pin it all down.

A consequence of this is it can also be hard to engage people with what looks like any other field or piece of land – drive through Battlefield area in Glasgow for example and you will search in vain for any sign of the Battle of Langside between the army of James VI and forces loyal to Mary Queen of Scots. There’s the Battlefield name itself and a monument on the roundabout near Queen’s Park, but that’s your lot.

There are also those who say you cannot hold back development and some of the campaigners have sympathy with that position, especially when it’s so hard for people to find affordable homes, but what they want is a respectful relationship between the past and the present and a robust process that asks: can this development happen just as well somewhere else?

The Scottish Battlefields Trust also has other ideas that it thinks could help. It has suggested the establishment of a Historic Battlefields Acquisition Fund, which could provide financial support to charities to buy key areas of battlefields which would be held in trust for future generations.

It also suggests a Historic Battlefields Research, Preservation and Interpretation Fund which would support research into the history of battlefields and install technology at the sites to help people interpret them. The campaigners believe this is one of the key ways to protect battlefields: help people to understand them and therefore care about them.

The plan, essentially, is protection through education, which is one of the reasons that, 275 years on, the laser tests will be conducted at the site of Culloden. Many of the men who fell that day on April 16th, 1746, are still there in the boggy moor, and the feelings are still strong too. A Jacobite officer named Roy Stewart was also a poet and wrote after the battle: “woe is me for the host of the tartan, scattered and spread everywhere.” The romance and myth and legend of Culloden is still strong, but the battle now is to protect and save the place where it happened.