Energy chiefs have been accused of gagging one of Scotland’s leading archaeologists after he discovered that proposed power lines would run through the site of a major “lost” battlefield.
Dr Tony Pollard has pinpointed the precise location of the 1715 Battle of Sheriffmuir, but the firm that commissioned the work, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), will not let him reveal his findings due to “legal advice”.
SSE is already facing growing environmental opposition to its plans for a £320m, 137-mile string of pylons from Beauly in Inverness-shire to Denny in Stirlingshire.
Pollard is understood to have discovered that the proposed power lines run straight through the site of the Sheriffmuir conflict and might destroy priceless historical evidence of a battle that derailed the Jacobite rebellion.
The site of the battle is loosely marked on Ordnance Survey maps, but Pollard, who heads the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University and stars in the BBC’s Two Men In A Trench, has discovered that the real location is about a mile away.
Speaking at the time of his commission earlier this year, Pollard said: “I felt it was vital that this site was treated seriously and that the power cables did not just burst through without taking account of what was there.
“Scottish and Southern Energy also want to make an informed decision on their power lines, based on the information I am able to provide.”
But yesterday he confirmed he would no longer be able to discuss his findings. However, locals who attended Pollard’s excavations claim that musketballs, horseshoes and other artefacts found in the fields at Sheriffmuir shed light, for the first time, on exactly where the armies stood.
Stirling Before Pylons campaigner and Battle of Sheriffmuir historian Virginia Wills, whose 18th-century home overlooks the battlefield, said: “Dr Pollard was determined to preserve the battlefield.
“His survey was the first archaeological search of the area. He finally revealed exactly where the battle took place and even where the sides first clashed on the field. Modern Ordnance Survey maps have given the wrong position.
“Dr Pollard was very excited with his findings. He turned up lines of musketballs, decorated buttons, horseshoes and coins from the period.”
Campaigners claim immeasurable damage could be caused to the historical site by heavy plant vehicles, new access roads and digging to the depth of 10ft to embed the pylons.
Wills added: “SSE are now fully aware that their power lines will run straight through the very heart of the site. These lines will also follow the route from the Jacobite army camp at Kinbuck, right up on to the battlefield. Construction traffic, digging and the huge access road will destroy the field, the very land where the fallen men were left to lie.
“These discoveries should be convincing enough for SSE to change their minds. You wouldn’t put power lines through Culloden Moor. It would be tragic to push this plan through.”
Historic Scotland, the agency responsible for safeguarding the nation’s heritage, said it was powerless to intervene, as the Archaeological Areas Act of 1979 did not apply.
A spokeswoman said: “There are areas that are protected under the legislation, but Sheriffmuir is not a scheduled area and we have no right to intervene.”
However, Scots historian Dr Fiona Watson, who will live in the shadow of the pylons if they are built, said: “Scotland needs to strike a balance between being at the forefront of good renewable energy practice and preserving a landscape that is vital for tourism, heritage and general wellbeing.
“Running huge pylons through as important a site as Sheriffmuir does not seem to be striking that balance.”
SSE argues there will be 200 fewer pylons than the present 800 along the route, though they will be up to 210ft high. The present pylons range from 80ft to 135ft in height.
The company also claims that going below ground would cost 12 times more than the present plan, and that underground cabling could do more environmental damage, as insulation fluid could leak.
Yesterday, a spokesman for SSE said it had acted on legal advice and it “would not be appropriate” to disclose the findings before the start of a public enquiry into the power lines, due to take place next year.
Some Sheriffmuir protesters are planning to set up a campaign group to protect all battlefields from development.
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