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Horse tales down on the farm

The history of Scotland's countryside since the agricultural revolution is a story of man-made changes, says Deedee Cuddihy, all on record at the Museum of Scottish Country Life.

On the face of it, it does seem a bit strange that the new Museum of Scottish Country Life (due to open mid-2001) is situated in East Kilbride, population circa 70,000, one of Scotland's most successful new towns. On the other hand, the museum might not have been there at all, if the farmer who used to own the site had not sold off some fields so that houses for the new-towners could be built.

In fact, its location puts this addition to the National Museums of Scotland within an hour's travelling time of half the population of the country.

The project consists of a 170-acre historic farm and new museum exhibition building, which will cover the story of Scotland's countryside from the start of the agricultural revolution in the mid-1700s to the present day.

The general manager, Duncan Dornan, says: "People assume that our countryside has always looked the way it does now, but most of what we see today is man-made and dates from the 18th century, when drastic measures were introduced to transform agriculture from a way of life into a business.

"Even farm animals changed," Mr Dornan points out. "The Clydesdale horse, for instance, didn't exist before the agricultural revolution. It's an example of engineered stock and was bred because a bigger, stronger horse was needed to plough bigger fields."

The story of the evolution of Scotland's countryside also takes in its human inhabitants who, during the same period, shifted in their tens of thousands - voluntarily and forcibly - into the booming towns.

The Kittochside experience (Kittochside being the area of East Kilbride in which the complex is situated) begins at the new museum exhibition building, which was designed by award-winning architects to look rather like a very large andposh barn.

The countryside story unfolds in three themed galleries: people; the land and environment; tools and technology. There is an orientation area, the essential shop and cafe and a stopping point where visitors can see how events in the past have shaped today's countryside. Current issues are also tackled, such as how genetically odified crops and landfill might affect the countryside of tomorrow.

From the new building, visitors follow a fieldside pathway to the historic farmhouse which dates from the agricultural revolution.

Wester Kittochside farm was owned by the Reid family until 1992, when they gave it to the National Trust for Scotland, which is running it in partnership with NMS.

The Reids had owned and worked a farm at Kittochside since 1567 and the family's decision, centuries later, to sell aparcel of land for new town housing meant the farm could continue to be worked as it hadbefore the 1950s, when chemicals and combine harvesters were introduced.

Now the site includes a field containing the largest selection of wild flowers in central Scotland. The farm and its buildings have been restored and the house re-fitted with its original 1950s furnishings. The farm, with a new herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, one pig, possibly a pair of Clydesdales and the original Massey Ferguson tractor, will continue to be run as before.

However, Duncan Dornan points out that, although visitors will be able to see the animals, access to them will be strictlylimited in the interests of health and safety.

Emma Webb, the NMS education officer responsible for Kittochside, says:

"We're well ahead with work on our education packs for primary and secondary schools, covering both people in the past and the wholefive to 14 environmental studiescurriculum. In addition, we're working in partnership withScottish Natural Heritage to develop geography and biology field days for older secondary pupils.

"We're also looking at educational opportunities, workshops and events for non-school audiences. For instance, we're in the process of designing special backpacks that can be borrowed by families.

"They'll be filled with binoculars and field keys to help identify birds, examples of animal skins and fur and possibly simple jigsaw puzzles based on what can be seen in the surrounding countryside.

"Pupils at St Ninian's high school in Giffnock are designing a trolley to hold the backpacks and there are other schools involved in the development of the museum before it opens."

Official school visits to Kittochside are due to start next August. Tel: 0131 247 4274.

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