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Bid for Unesco World Heritage status would save Culloden site from developers

By Scott Maclennan


CULLODEN is set for another battle – as the custodians of the site fight to win Unesco World Heritage status.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) believe it is the only way to protect the battlefield from encroaching development.

Speaking exclusively to the Courier ahead of commemorations to mark the 273rd anniversary of the 1746 battle NTS’s operations manager Raoul Curtis-Machin said he believes it is the only “sure-fire” way to ensure the site is not lost to future generations.

If successful, it would become only the sixth site in Scotland to have the honour.

The five other Scottish sites deemed to be of international significance are the Antonine Wall, the Forth Rail Bridge, Orkney’s Neolithic sites, the New Lanark heritage village, Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns and St Kilda.

World Heritage status affords designated sites legal protection from destruction in warfare under the Geneva Convention.

But on a more practical level Unesco claims it also helps create a climate of assumption against development in and around designated sites.

As part of a statement on the accreditation criteria it says: “Once a country signs the World Heritage Convention and has sites inscribed on the World Heritage List the resulting prestige often helps raise awareness among citizens and governments for heritage preservation.

“Greater awareness leads to a general rise in the level of protection and conservation given to heritage projects.”

Unesco sets out 10 criteria by which sites are judged to determine whether they are worthy of World Heritage status and Mr Curtis-Machin believes Culloden qualifies on the grounds of its “universal significance”.

He said: “Culloden represents so much more than a battle – the event itself is of outstanding significance. It was the culmination of a massive cultural struggle in Scotland, the UK and Europe.”

“Around 80 per cent of our visitors are international, which to my mind reflects the significance of the site.”

Raoul Curtis-Machin...Picture: Gary Anthony. Image No.043648.
Raoul Curtis-Machin...Picture: Gary Anthony. Image No.043648.

He spoke as the first housing forming part of the hugely controversial Viewhill scheme are close to being completed near the battlefield.

It sparked major protest including a petition 100,000 signatures strong against the plans which were initially rejected by Highland Council before being approved by the Scottish Government on appeal.

Asked whether any potential heritage listing would come too late to preserve the site Mr Curtis-Machin insisted: “No, quite the opposite.

“The very fact of listing it as a potential World Heritage Site will get all the major players and stakeholders together and focused and the effect of that on potential developments would be significant.”

Local councillor Ken Gowans, a long-time supporter of the battlefield who helped set up the original conservation area is “absolutely supportive” of the idea of World Heritage status.

“Where we are today is a direct reflection of what happened at Culloden all those hundreds of years ago,” he said.

“This was a pivotal battle in human history. Without Culloden there would be no destruction of the ancient clan system – without that there would be no diaspora – and without that the sheer impact of Scots across the world would never have happened.

“Making it a World Heritage Site is the obvious next step, putting it on an official protected footing by recognising its importance in history.

“It could also potentially be another major boost to the Highlands as a tourist destination.”

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director, also welcomed the news.

“Culloden already attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe keen to learn more about the Jacobite uprising and immerse themselves in the history of the area, with the ‘Outlander Effect’ helping increase this interest.

“Attaining World Heritage Site status would lend even greater appeal to one of the Highlands’ most famous locations, classing it as of ‘outstanding universal value’ which, we would expect, would bring even greater footfall and economic benefit to the area.”

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