It remains one of the most controversial periods in Scotland’s history – a dark legacy of upheaval that still provokes passions to this day.
Now long-forgotten townships destroyed by the Highland Clearances are set to be reborn under ambitious plans put before the Scottish Parliament.
Campaigners have called for Scotland’s deserted glens to “once again ring to the voices of children playing in their landscape” as they laid out proposals to inject life back into rural areas.
Community Land Scotland (CLS) – which represents Scotland’s community landowners – has proposed amendments to new planning laws currently going through Holyrood in an effort to right some of the wrongs of the past.
It wants ministers to be able to compulsorily purchase land for the purpose of resettlement, and also called for communities to be handed powers to buy up land that has sat neglected for three years or more – insisting current policies don’t do enough to promote re-population.
Policy director Dr Calum MacLeod said the Highlands’ famously sparse rural landscape was “socially constructed” through historic depopulation, and argued encouraging sustainable settlement was a “really important thing to do”.
He said: “In Scottish public policy at the moment, the mapping of wild land has got a lot of attention – and, of course, there’s a role for that. But what we don’t want is for people to be airbrushed out of that.”
He added: “What we would like to see is certainly more areas that have had populations in the past actually being reinstated where that’s feasible and practicable. It’s an ongoing process.
“To be clear, this is an issue for all parts of rural Scotland, and how we are framing the idea of sustainability within rural Scotland. People have to be at the centre of that.”
Hundreds of thousands of people left the Highlands during the Clearances, which lasted between roughly 1760 and 1850.
Many of the most notorious examples of forced evictions occurred in the later years, as landlords sought to cash in on sheep farming.
In the far north, the Duke of Sutherland’s factor Patrick Sellar was even put on trial after allegedly burning down a croft with an old woman still inside.
CLS has now called on the Scottish Government to create a map of “no-longer-existing communities” in order to highlight long-gone townships – and earmark them for potential future use.
In its submission to MSPs, the body said there were many areas of Scotland where “vast tracts of land are unpeopled as a result of the (often forced) removal of people from the land in past centuries”.
References: Grant, A. (2018, February 1st). Plans to regenerate ‘lost townships’ decimated by the Highland Clearances. Clydebank Post. Retrieved from http://www.clydebankpost.co.uk/news/15912493.Plans_to_regenerate__lost_townships__decimated_by_the_Highland_Clearances/