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Skye farmer fined £18,000 after destroying ancient cairn – to build a new shed

Damage to Upper Tote Cairn in the north of Skye. Image supplied by Crown Office.
Damage to Upper Tote Cairn in the north of Skye. Image supplied by Crown Office.

A farmer has been fined £18,000 after destroying a historic cairn dating back 4,000 years – because he wanted to build a new shed.

Duncan MacInnes used the earth from Upper Tote Cairn in the north of Skye as topsoil to help with the building project elsewhere on his land.

The 59-year-old pled guilty to damaging the protected monument when he appeared at Portree Sheriff Court on August 25. Today he was fined £18,000.

MacInnes owns the land next to the A855 near Upper Tote on Skye where the Upper Tote Cairn stands.

The Upper Tote Cairn in the north of Skye in 2012. Supplied by Crown Office.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) had written to MacInnes on three separate occasions about the existence of the cairn, with the most recent letter being sent in 2015.

It dates back to the Neolithic period between 4000 BC and 2401 BC.

‘Showed a complete disregard for its importance’

The agency also carried out routine site visits every 10 years.

MacInnes, of North Skye, excavated part of the ancient monument between December 1 and 12 2018.

He was building a shed elsewhere on his land and needed topsoil, the court heard.

Andy Shanks, Procurator Fiscal for Grampian, Highlands and Islands, said: “As the owner of the land this ancient monument sits on, it was Duncan MacInnes’ duty to help protect it.

“Instead, he showed a complete disregard for its importance when he dug for soil and damaged Upper Tote Cairn.

“This prosecution shows how seriously the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service takes these crimes, and we will continue to work with Historic Environment Scotland and other partners to make sure Scotland’s history is preserved.”

Following the outcome of the case, a HES spokeswoman said: “We welcome the court’s decision in this case. Upper Tote Cairn is a well-preserved prehistoric burial cairn and is protected as a scheduled monument.

“It is significant as one of only a handful of such sites on Skye.

“The monument was damaged by deep excavations using a mechanical excavator, causing significant and irreversible damage, with a portion of the cairn destroyed.

“This has impacted the monument’s national importance, causing a loss of important archaeological material and diminishing its ability to inform us about prehistoric lives and burial practices on Skye.

“Heritage crime is a serious matter which can cause irreparable damage to our monuments and cultural assets, and cause us to lose pieces of our past forever. While incidents of heritage crime have increased over the past few years, serious cases such as this are thankfully rare.

“We would like to thank our partners at Police Scotland for their assistance in this case, and we will continue to work closely with them to investigate and pursue offenders to protect Scotland’s historic environment.”

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