The New Clearances

East Ayrshire has lost 9 homes to open-cast coal mining during the past decade. Now, applications have been made to East Ayrshire Council planners to demolish three farm steadings on the Whitelee Plateau near Kilmarnock. Apparently, they are empty, derelict and surplus to requirements.

The steadings and farmlands of Whiteleehill, Croilburn and High Overmuir were originally tenant farms of the Loudoun Estate on the high, wet, windy, peaty Whitelee Plateau. In 1921 they and the rest of the Estate farms were sold to the tenants when the Estate was broken up. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Forestry Commission bought them, along with many other steadings, when it was planting 6000 ha of the moorland as the new Whitelee Forest. The farmlands were planted with Sitka spruce, except for their inbyes; the Forestry Commission let each steading and its inbye to forest squad workers to run as smallholdings. Squad members ran the smallholdings as well as doing their heavy manual work in the forest! There were 10 such smallholdings in the Forest on the Whitelee Plateau.

When, in the late 20th century, governments asked the Forestry Commission to sell off some assets, the steadings were sold to private buyers and made into attractive homes. Some are used for rural business enterprises; others are (were) just homes.

Substantial finances were spent by some new owners on modernisation. They were lived in until the new Whitelee Wind Farm came along early in the 21st century . . .

The residents of Whiteleehill, Croilburn and High Overmuir ‘left’ when told that very tall wind turbines would be built close to them – and they were sold to the Wind Farm. In due course they and other farm steadings on Whitelee became empty. High Allerstocks, in East Renfrewshire, has already been demolished. Imagine how the family, which lived in and worked it as a smallholding for over 30 years, must feel!

In my book: From Peat Bog to Conifer Forest: An Oral History of Whitelee, its Community and Landscape, people who lived on Whitelee Plateau during the 20th century tell the stories of their lives. They describe how they farmed the peat-bog landscape, foraged and caught wild food, and later, planted 6000 hectares of Sitka spruce forest by hand. Since the coming of the wind farm, parts of the ancient landscape, its old March Fences and carbon-holding peat have gone under miles of new roads, concrete turbine-bases and sub-stations. Thankfully, at least some of the old graves have been left.

Thinking of Scotland’s history, it is difficult to understand how organisations can consider demolishing large, good quality, stone-built, 17th and 18th century farmhouses and their farm buildings. They were designed in a U shape, with the house at the bottom of the U, the byre and barns forming the sides and all joined into one unit.

The wind turbines will live for 25 years, the farmhouses have already been there for more than two centuries.

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