‘Protection’ for our battlefield sites is a mirage
The call from the National Trust for Scotland to political parties to provide greater protection for historic battlefields (Scotsman, 16 April) is to be welcomed.
Threats to their integrity from housing and other developments led to the establishment of the Scottish Battlefields Trust in 2014. As an independent, non-political charity, whose prime purpose is to speak up for the preservation of the scenes of battles that shaped the nation's history and character, we will be pleased to work with the NTS on our shared objective.
Historic Environment Scotland has designated 40 battlefields as being of national importance. Spread over 15 local authority areas, they range in date from the 1296 battle between Scottish and English knights and mounted men-at-arms near Dunbar in the First War of Scottish Independence, to the bitter Jacobite defeat on Culloden Moor in 1746.
From the outset, a major issue the Scottish Battlefield Trust has had to grappled with is the so-called "protection" of designated battlefields claimed to be afforded by the planning system. When seriously put to the test, this has turned out to be a mirage.
At Culloden, planning applications for housing and holiday accommodation have posed recurring threats.
Yet another possible threat has emerged in a vision document commissioned by East Lothian Council, which advocates the flooding of part of the site of Bonnie Prince Charlie's famous victory at Prestonpans to create an open-air water sports park. And so it goes on.
The Scottish Battlefields Trust sent a submission to all of Scotland's political parties encouraging them to include pledges to preserve historic battlefields in their election manifestos. Based on an American exemplar, it recommended government funding to support the purchase of key areas of designated battlefields by heritage charities, to be held in trust for future generations.
Further proposals included financial assistance towards the use of 21st century technology to interpret battlefield landscapes. Also, and perhaps most importantly, 100 per cent grants to meet the transport and other costs of school visits to the nation's historic battlefields. By this means, and at the sites where they were fought, young people would be given accurate accounts of the historic contexts of the battles, and told the stories of those who participated in them.
HERBERT COUTTS, Chairman, Scottish Battlefields Trust, Kirkhill House, Queen's