Ancient Monuments

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Culbin Forest, anti-landing obstacle NNW and west of

A Scheduled Monument in Forres, Moray

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Latitude: 57.6358 / 57°38'8"N

Longitude: -3.7447 / 3°44'40"W

OS Eastings: 295928

OS Northings: 861989

OS Grid: NH959619

Mapcode National: GBR K83J.Z8F

Mapcode Global: WH5H2.GB1P

Entry Name: Culbin Forest, anti-landing obstacle NNW and W of

Scheduled Date: 30 May 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM11671

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: 20th Century Military and Related: Anti-landing obstacle

Location: Auldearn/Dyke and Moy

County: Moray

Electoral Ward: Forres

Traditional County: Morayshire


The monument comprises the remains of an anti-landing obstacle, built in 1940 in response to the threat of a German invasion of Scotland. The obstacle comprises an extensive network of wooden poles, located on the beach and in the inter-tidal zone. The obstacle covers a distance of just over 9 kilometres across The Gut at Culbin Sands.

It is estimated that the remains of over 2,000 poles survive today. These were erected in various alignments and patterns, but mainly in lines running N-S and E-W. Their purpose was to prevent the landing of gliders or other craft by obstructing a large area of the foreshore. The interval between the poles varies along individual rows and between rows of poles, but is generally between 15m and 20m. Where well-preserved, the spacing between lines is 14m N-S and 28m E-W. Individually, the poles are around 50cm in diameter. The condition of the poles varies, with some still standing up to 4m high and others surviving only as stumps about 0.4m high. The better-preserved poles generally survive in the central and eastern parts of the monument, where they are also at their densest. The main group covers the area between Culbin Forest and the low-water mark, including The Gut but excluding The Bar (a sandbar immediately N of The Gut).

The area to be scheduled consists of two discrete areas, each irregular in shape, to include the remains described above, as shown in red on the attached map. The small un-named island with two buildings on it is specifically excluded from the scheduled area.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is a rare survival of an unusual type of anti-landing obstacle (also known as an anti-glider obstacle). It survives in remarkably good condition given its location on an exposed beach in a dynamic coastal area. Some parts of the monument, especially in the areas most exposed to erosion by tidal streams, are not visible today and have probably not survived, but the overall form and footprint of the obstacle is clear, as is most of its original extent. There is little evidence of human damage to the monument: several poles have been cut down apparently by chainsaw, and some of the more landward examples have been removed, presumably for burning. Very few poles have fallen over or been removed from their original position. Where pole sockets are exposed, there is no indication of a concrete footing or other support. The poles normally taper towards the base and it appears they were erected by being driven vertically into the soft ground. Some poles have an arrangement of three smaller posts around them, possibly for securing wires. The tops of the poles are mainly sawn across, or sometimes narrow naturally. Some poles have single indentations around them near ground level, possibly caused by securing lines during transport or erection. Researchers have suggested that there may originally have been steel wire strung between the posts for additional defence against landings.

The monument has considerable potential to enhance understanding of 20th-century defences and the development of defence strategy during World War II. It was constructed at the height of the threat of a German invasion of the British Isles in 1940 and was abandoned as the threat receded (when Germany transferred its attention to an advance into the Soviet Union in June 1941). The monument therefore has the potential to provide information relating to a very well-defined chronological period: its short lifespan makes it a 'time capsule' of a particular type of defence on the home front during a vital phase of World War II. It can help us understand why and how such an extensive defence was designed, laid out and erected to deter enemy landings, and how it contributed to the larger picture of the defence of the UK, specifically eastern Scotland. The character and form of the anti-landing obstacle reflects the nature and mode of the anticipated invasion, with the pattern of poles and the distances between them calculated according to the expected nature of the threat (for example, the wingspan of the aircraft likely to be used).

Contextual characteristics

The monument is a good representative of a relatively unusual class. It is one of only 13 surviving anti-landing obstacles in Britain, of which this type is even rarer. Many such defences were destroyed or removed immediately after World War II. On others, the stakes have been cut down almost to ground level, whereas many of the poles here survive to 4m in height, or even more.

Between the invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940 and 22 June, when France surrendered, German forces took control of the whole eastern coastline of the North Sea and English Channel. Between 27 May and 4 June over 330,000 British and Allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk, leaving behind most of the army's heavy equipment. Over 600 tanks, 1,000 field guns and 850 A/Tk guns were lost. The Divisions at home had been partly stripped of these weapons to supply the British Expeditionary Force, and retained only about a sixth of the field and A/Tk guns to which they were entitled. The Battle of Britain, interpreted as the preliminary bombardment for an invasion, lasted from early July to the end of October. It is clear from numerous sources that both the public and the military saw invasion in 1940 not only as a near certainty, but also imminent. Against this background, the 'absolute priority' (according to primary sources) in the summer of 1940 was the defence of Britain.

The anti-landing obstacle at Culbin Sands was part of the preparations ordered by the War Office / Scottish Command for defence of the UK in 1940. It was thought likely that German forces would invade from Norway, using Culbin Sands and other beaches to establish a foothold in eastern Scotland and then moving south by land. This area was characterised as the UK's 'back door' and the defensive works were deemed vital to deter, or at least slow down, a German invasion. The labour and resources required to build such an extensive obstacle were considerable, and testify to its perceived importance given the limited availability of manpower and resources at that time. Post-war research has indicated that the German invasion plans for Scotland (translated as 'Autumn Journey') were real, but were primarily a diversionary tactic. The German strategy for invading the UK was focused on the southeast and southern coasts of England (Operation Sealion).

The country and coastline of Scotland were assessed for 'weak points', where the topography and natural defences were deemed vulnerable to enemy invasion. The obstacles along Nairn beach and Culbin Sands were the first line of defence that invading troops would encounter. In General Ironside's words, they were part of an 'extended crust of defence along probable invasion beaches'. The obstacles were intended to prevent the successful landing of troops by gliders, planes or seaplanes, and were part of a larger radial network of defence lines protecting eastern, central and northern Scotland. If an invasion had taken place, the plan was rapidly to deploy a defence force to protect key areas. Further inland, 'stop-lines' (comprising a network of pillboxes, anti-tank obstacles and gun emplacements) were aimed at slowing the enemy's advance and controlling the defence of key areas of Scotland.

The rapid evolution of military technology and tactical and strategic thinking in World War II meant that some features were in use for just a year or two. Traces of emergency constructions such as this therefore provide vital evidence of successive technical advances during the period. The anti-landing obstacle's location and relationship to the landscape are integral to understanding its original function and use. Together with the network of pillboxes, anti-tank obstacles and gun emplacements, the remains on Culbin Sands retain the potential to provide information on the course of World War II and the nature of the perceived threat.

Associative characteristics

The monument is the product of significant historical events. Modern period military sites such as these retain an important place in the national consciousness, with the collective memory of the events of World War II still strong. Such sites retain significance for those who lived through the War and their descendants. The significance of the material remains of the conflict is likely to increase as people with first-hand memories of the events pass away.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular a key period during the early stages of World War II, namely, the response to the 1940-41 invasion threat by German forces. The monument can help us understand the response to this threat, the design, planning and construction of World War II defensive features, and the use of the landscape in defence. This potential is enhanced by its unusually good state of preservation. The loss of this example would significantly affect the completeness of the surviving Second World War defence network in NE Scotland. The monument also has a place in the national consciousness, given the public's collective memory of and continued interest in World War II.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Barclay, G J 2005 'The Cowie Line: a Second World War "stop line" west of Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire', Proc Soc Antiq Scot 135, 119-61.

Barclay, G J 2011 'The Scottish Command Line: the archaeology and history of a 1940 anti-tank 'stop-line'', Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal 17 (2012), 114-56.

Collier, B 1957 The Defence of the United Kingdom. London.

Guy, J A (nd) Highland: A Survey of the 20th-Century Defences, 3 vols (unpublished manuscript).

Ironside, E, Macleod, R and Kelly, D (eds) 1962 The Ironside Diaries 1937-1940. London.

Redfern, N I 1998 Twentieth-Century Fortifications in the United Kingdom, vol 1: Introduction and Sources. Council for British Archaeology, York.

Redfern, N I 1998 Twentieth-Century Fortifications in the United Kingdom, vol V: Site gazetteers: Scotland (ii). Council for British Archaeology, York.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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