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Abstracts 2019-20

September 2019,   Archaeology and the Historic Environment  —  in Scotland’s National Forests,   Matt Ritchie

One hundred years ago the Forestry Commission was set up to increase the amount of woodland after the country’s forests had been depleted after WW1. Our speaker this month was Matt Ritchie from Forestry and Land Scotland — the new agency for managing and promoting Scotland’s forest estate. Matt came to tell us about what else there was to find in the woods other than trees — specifically in terms of the historic environment.

To put things in perspective, Scotland’s forests amount to 9% of the land surface of the country. Up until recent times, not much interest had been taken in archaeology within the forest estate, but that has now changed. Matt is an archaeologist and one of a team of national advisors giving guidance in relation to the protection, conservation and presentation of archaeological sites and historic environments.

He outlined three key priorities: to understand, to care and protect and to value. He used a number of case studies to expound these themes. Where culturally significant and scheduled sites are identified, then positive actions need to be taken, such as preventing future tree planting and active conservation management. Protection, interpretation, access to sites and public safety are also key considerations.

Methods such as laser scanning and drone photography can be used to survey and record places, providing the detailed archaeological information which can be used by artists to reconstruct these sites to express an historical narrative.

However, in all cases a pragmatic approach needs to be taken. Sometimes this can mean making an accurate record, but then allowing a site to decay naturally. The progress of time, exposure to the elements and the reclamation of nature are all part of history too.

Matt’s talk showed many examples of digital images and artistic narrative drawings to reconstruct and explain sites and celebrate the heritage within Scotland’s forests.

Please join us on Thursday 17 October at 7.30pm for our next talk on Healing Wells: their contemporary use, history and folklore. Our speaker that evening will be Roddy McKenzie.

Visitors are always welcome and the meeting takes place, as usual, in the West Church Hall, Cromarty.

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