Advice and Support

Designation process: Inventory of Historic Battlefields

How we assess Inventory applications, along with requests for removal or review of existing entries.

1 Overview

Historic Environment Scotland researches in detail all sites considered for inclusion in the Inventory of Historic Battlefields. This involves desk-based research of historical sources and field visits to identify the extent of the battlefield.

Each Inventory record includes a list of all the sources used for compiling the information.

The research carried out for the Inventory is extensive. But there is still more to be learned through new research and through archaeological survey and field investigations.

Information held in the Inventory will be added to and reviewed as new evidence and research emerges. We welcome any additional historical or archaeological information that you can provide.

You may also find it useful to view our Glossary of battlefield terms [PDF, 39KB]

2 Desk-based research

This involves a review of documentary sources that mention the battle, both contemporary (or near-contemporary) accounts of the event and major sources created at a later date.

Historic maps and contemporary paintings are a very important source of evidence for locating events of the battle in the landscape. These often portray landscape features that can still be identified on the ground today.

3 Site visits

Landscape plays a major role in deciding where and how a battle is fought, and often affects its outcome. Evidence of the terrain is thus very important.

The site visit allows:

  • information from the desk-based research to be analysed
  • events to be located in the modern landscape

Although archaeological investigations are not normally carried out when researching the Inventory sites, evidence from previous archaeological fieldwork is used where appropriate.

Modern archaeological investigations of some sites have provided information about:

  • the location of specific aspects of the battle 
  • troop deployments
  • weapons and equipment used
  • features in place at the time of the battle or which resulted from the action

4 Defining the battlefield boundary

The battlefield boundary is defined through:

  • desk-based research of documentary sources and historic terrain maps
  • a site visit involving landscape and terrain analysis to locate events in the modern landscape
  • additional sources of information such as place names and military find-spots, where available

The defined area is considered to have high potential to retain important landscape characteristics, specific features, strategic viewpoints and archaeological deposits associated with the battle – all of which are useful in understanding the course of events.

Understanding the battlefield landscape

The main action of the battle usually began when opposing armies formed and advanced, coming into close contact. But skirmishing or secondary fighting also frequently occurred before, during and after a battle.

Troops also move around the landscape during battle. As well as areas of fighting, there will have been routes of advance and retreat, overnight camps and strategic viewpoints.

Landscape features were used for cover and to aid movement, or to hinder movement of the opposing force. Combatants who fell were generally buried on or near the battlefield.

While it will inevitably have changed since the time of the battle, the landscape and terrain of a battlefield can provide valuable information that helps us to understand the events which took place.

All of these aspects of the landscape are considered when deciding on the extent of a battlefield for the Inventory.

The defined area may thus include:

  • the areas of fighting
  • major movement routes of troops before, during and after the battle
  • key vantage points for viewing events or directing troops
  • overnight camps
  • specific landscape features that played an important role, whether natural elements such as hills or ravines, or built elements like earthworks or field boundaries
  • burials, whether of individuals or massed graves
  • memorials to significant individuals or to the event itself, often dating from long after the battle
  • areas of known or potential archaeological evidence 

The Inventory boundary will also contain areas of known and potential archaeological evidence that could help us to understand more about the battle events.

Further dispersed evidence of the events leading up to and beyond the battle  such as extended lines of approach, retreat or rout may survive beyond the defined boundary, potentially at significant distances. Although outside the main area of battle, and so not included in the Inventory, these can still tell us about the events and the people involved.

5 Consultation

Following research, we evaluate the battlefield site and reach an initial view on its merit to the inventory.

If we find that the site may be of national interest, we prepare a draft Inventory description and boundary map.

We then consult with the planning authority and the owners, where possible, about this decision. We also welcome views from interested parties through our portal.

We will also consult if we propose a change to the boundary of an existing Inventory site.

We are primarily concerned with views that relate to the cultural significance of the site. We also consider comments on the purpose and implications of designations.

The consultation period is usually 21 days. For more complex sites or larger projects this stage can take longer.

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6 Completion and notification

Following consultation, we consider the responses and make a final decision about whether to:

  • include the battlefield site in the Inventory
  • amend the record of an existing Inventory entry

We will normally tell you and the planning authority if a site that you own or occupy has:

  • been added to the Inventory
  • had the boundary of the Inventory record changed, if this directly affects you

You can write to us if you want to know who proposed a site for inclusion in the Inventory. We consider each request individually. Data Protection legislation may mean that we can’t name the proposer.

Send your request to:

Historic Environment Scotland
Longmore House
Salisbury Place

Or email:

7 Review

Use our designations application form to ask us to review a site on the Inventory.

As the Inventory was begun in 2011, we will only review decisions to add a site to the Inventory or amend the boundary of an existing designated battlefield if there is good reason to do so.

Such reasons might include:

  • loss to the site since its designation
  • significant evidence, not previously considered, relating to the site's merit

8 Criteria

The Inventory of Historic Battlefields is a list of sites that meet the criteria for defining national importance, as set out in the Designation Policy and Selection Guidance 2019.

A battlefield is defined as an area of land over which a battle was fought or significant activities relating to a battle occurred. A battle is a combative engagement involving wholly or largely military forces with the aim of inflicting lethal force on an opposing army.

We assess the national importance of battlefields against three main headings:

  • historical association
  • significant physical remains and/or archaeological potential
  • battlefield landscape

It must also be possible to define the battlefield site on a modern map with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

All sites included in the Inventory are considered to be of national importance. There is no category or grading system to show relative merit.

Find out how to propose a battlefield for the Inventory.

Sites not included in the Inventory

Some nationally important battlefield sites aren’t included in the Inventory because there remains doubt over their exact location. Such sites can be added to the Inventory in future if new evidence or research emerges to confirm the site location.

Scotland also has many battlefield sites that don’t meet the national importance criteria but still make an important contribution to the local historic environment, landscape character and sense of place. Planning authorities and other public bodies should identify such sites in their areas and develop policies for their management.

We publish a report for each battlefield site we have researched but not added to the Inventory. This covers what is known about the battle and reasons for not including the site.

9 Service standards and timescales

Our overall aim is to provide a high quality, transparent and professional service within defined timescales.

We aim to respond to phone and email queries within 3 working days. Our preferred method of communication is by email.

Individual designation applications

We aim to complete individual designation requests within 6 months.

The timescales for our assessment and decision-making vary depending on the circumstances of the case. We prioritise cases according to factors such as our understanding of risk to a site, the potential impact on people and communities and any planning or development context.

Please note that we are currently experiencing a high caseload and cases are taking on average 6-12 months to complete. Some cases may take longer depending on the case type and priority. For example, some sites may be considered for recording and/or further research in the first instance or for a thematic designation project. We will contact you to let you know if we think the case will take longer than initially expected.

We ask that you let us know if circumstances affecting the site under review so we can consider the priority of the case.

Keeping in touch and feedback

You can follow the progress of your case by checking our portal using the Case ID (ex. 300065300) or by contacting us by email or by telephone.

We welcome feedback about our service. Please let us know what you think.

Telephone: 0131 668 8914