Showing posts with label land ownership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label land ownership. Show all posts

Friday, August 14, 2015

Glorying in Blood-sports

The first day of the grouse shooting season, traditionally known as the "Glorious Twelfth" has just passed and the Scottish land-owners have launched a campaign to protect their privileges called ‘Gift of Grouse’. The 'sport' has an appalling record of crimes against wildlife, and its land management practices not only work directly against efforts to counter climate change, they cause immediate damage to communities downhill from shooting estates through increased flood risks.

The RSPB Scotland has again called for grouse moors to be licensed following the discovery of a dead hen harrier on a moor in south west Scotland. The young female bird, named Annie, had been fitted with a satellite transmitter as a chick.

Tom Quinn of the League Against Cruel Sports said people were giving the impression shooting game for the table was healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly, but that it was none of those things.
“Millions of other animals and birds are deliberately killed to protect the grouse shooting industry. The environment is being devastated by the burning of grouse moors, and millions of tonnes of lead shot are left to poison the countryside.” 

Ownership and use of much of the land in Scotland is positively medieval. Those neo-feudal landowners got their large estates by nefarious means and over many generations have systematically cleared the land for the venal pursuit of profit. Socialists would like to see the moors, hills, glens, shores and mountains rewilded and repopulated, a place where we are not shooting the life out of the birds, the deer and raping the landscape. We have no doubt that the loss of a few cap-doffing, servile gamekeepers and ghillies will be more than compensated by new employment resulting from proper agricultural use, leisure and tourism, and wildlife conservancy. Reforest the moors, re-introduce wolves and watch the country come back truly alive.

Scottish “grouse moors” cover an estimated area of approximately 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) making it one of Scotland’s most extensive land uses. Much of the land was taken from the working people so it could usually be handed over to sheep farming or grouse coursing. It was privatized from commonly held lands to the ownership of a few elites. Those people were squeezed into the unhealthy cities of Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh or onto ships to the New Worlds where they could take the lands of other peoples further down the chain.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Monbiot's one step beyond

‘Tartan Stalinists”, the “Highland Stasi”, “Scottish Nazi party”. The mild proposals in the Scottish government’s land reform bill, published last week, provoke much fulminations among the proprietorial class. David Cameron’s stepfather-in-law, Lord Astor described Scotland’s proposals as “a Mugabe-style landgrab”. He owns, among the other properties he was enterprising enough to inherit, the deer-ravaged Tarbert estate on the isle of Jura, run by a trust patriotically registered in the Bahamas.

Much of this fury is caused by the plan to cancel the business rate exemption (granted to the aristocracy by John Major’s government in 1994) for deer-stalking estates, grouse moors and salmon fishing. Talk about a culture of entitlement.

As a result of the Highland clearances, which dragged much of the population off the land destroying their houses and replacing them with sheep ranches or deer and grouse estates, Scotland vies with Brazil for the world’s highest concentration of ownership. (It’s hard to tell which comes first as the ownership of many estates has been kept secret.) One estimate suggests that 432 people own half the country’s private rural land. No other rich nation has so excluded its citizens from their common heritage.

Given these circumstances the bill is, if anything, too timid. It gives local people consultation rights over how land is used, strengthens the ability of communities to buy land, improves the position of tenant farmers, removes the business rate exemption, tries to discover who the owners are, seeks to reduce the ridiculous densities at which deer are maintained for stalking, and creates a land commission to keep the issue alive. That’s all.

It seems that two things are missing from the bill. While there are new opportunities for families and communities, there is no designation of land for the nation as a whole. There is also little that will alter the ownership pattern where it is most extreme: in the rocky Highland cores, which are likely to be unsuitable for community buyouts. As the Scottish minister Aileen McLeod concedes, “community ownership may not be appropriate for all land: it’s not a panacea”. 

But perhaps there’s a way in which both issues could be addressed.

 With the possible exception of the western side of the Cairngorms, there are no nature parks in Britain that meet the international definition: places protected mainly for their wildlife and habitats. When the International Union for Conservation of Nature sought to classify Britain’s national parks, of which there are 15, it had to invent a new category. Ours are not set aside for nature. They are, strictly speaking not parks. There are good reasons for this and bad ones. When the parks were designated, many people were living within their boundaries. It’s essential that they can make a living and keep their communities alive. (Unfortunately the industries covering most of the land offer neither possibility: though lavishly subsidised, they still bleed jobs and money.) But on the rare occasions when the private owners are not wrecking the land with sheep, overstocked deer and scorched-earth grouse shoots, the park authorities step in to finish the job.

With a few exceptions the ecological management of our existing national parks is irrational, anally retentive and scientifically illiterate. They remain subject to a 19th-century worldview in which the natural world is seen as a garden to be pruned and trimmed rather than as a thriving, living system in which we could escape from the management and control that surrounds us everywhere else.

Scotland, thanks in part to its dismal feudal legacy, has only two national parks, and less land designated than in the other parts of Britain – 7%, while England has 9% and Wales 20%. Is it not time to augment those with new parks, with a different philosophy. Where Scotland’s deer stalking and grouse shooting provide possibly the lowest level of employment per square mile to be found in any temperate region in Europe, national parks could generate new jobs within an economy built on wildlife and tourism. They would restore both human populations and the other species that were wiped out by the clearances. They would bring life of all kinds to barren lands. Long live the Highland spring.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The country life

There has been a significant shift in the ownership of Scottish estates in recent years with a move from people buying them to enjoy their retirement, to wealthy individuals, often from overseas, who are attracted to the sports on offer. In the last year buyers spent around £54 million on shooting and fishing properties, with a large interest from Scandinavia. Experts even believe that Scots estates are becoming more attractive as prices for property in London rocket.

Although only five or six estates with sought-after grouse shooting or salmon fishing are sold each year, there has been no sign that the recent financial crisis has slowed the market. One estate renowned for its grouse shooting sold for almost £20 million this year, with two properties selling for between £8 and £10 million. The total worth of the estate market this year was up £10 million this year.

“The market for sporting estates is now dominated by high net worth individuals seeking good quality sport in beautiful surroundings, away from the incessant demands of business life. All of this can be found from deep within the grouse butt.” estate agents Savills, Evelyn Channing, of the company’s rural department, said.

Charles Dudgeon, head of the firm’s rural agency, said two thirds of viewers originated from Europe, and in particular from Scandinavia, with strong interest from Denmark. He said: “Acquiring a Scottish country estate is still a popular ‘trophy buy’, and with the recent significant property price growth in London, the Scottish Highlands have never looked better value for money. It is possible to buy 10,000 acres in the Highlands, with a Grade A listed nine-bedroom castle and 10 ancillary dwellings for the same price as a 3-bedroomed flat in Knightsbridge.”

Savills is currently marketing the 10,000-acre, £7.5 million Cluny estate near Kingussie in Inverness-shire, which has “walked-up” grouse shooting, stalking, pheasant shooting, salmon fishing and a seven-bedroomed castle. The estate is being sold by Alain Angelil, 70, an Egyptian-born telecoms tycoon who is based in Norway and bought the property in 2000. It includes a farming enterprise and 10 estate houses and cottages. Cluny Castle was the ancestral home of the MacPhersons of Cluny until the direct line died out in 1943. Dudgeon said the interest in Cluny and other estates had been “global”, with two thirds of viewers coming from Europe.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Glorious 12th

The grouse season opens.  A week of fishing and stalking in Sutherland's Reay forest estate is being offered for £6,500.

Scotland has the most inequitable land ownership in Europe. More than half of of all privately owned in Scotland is in the hands of 432 people. In Scotland, the largest eight landowners own 908,000 acres or 3.2 per cent of accessible land. 50 individuals own  20 per cent of Scottish land.

 According to the academic and land reformer, Jim Hunter explains "We're now six years into an SNP government which has so far done absolutely nothing legislatively about the fact that Scotland continues to be stuck with the most concentrated, most inequitable, most unreformed and most undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world."

Agricultural subsidies and forestry grants are weighted so that the largest farms, owned by the biggest landowners, receive the largest handouts. Such owners can claim five-figure sums a week in subsidies. The landowners also cash in on windfarms to the tune of £1bn a year. Scotland's richest people are skimming off more millions from taxpayers when benefits are being capped and the bedroom tax is forcing people on to the street.  A 28,000 acre Highland estate near Bridge of Orchy is on the market for £11.4 million and whoever buys it will immediately qualify for state-funded hand-outs of £12,000 a week,

Land means power, so Scotland's few hundred aristocrats can scarcely be expected to give up on four centuries of owning more than half of the country. They regard themselves as the sole arbiters of what is good in the countryside. As for protecting wildlife, then perhaps we simply have to assume that those golden eagles and other birds of prey found dead on grouse shooting estates every year must have poisoned themselves.

Since the end of the Second World War landowners have without regulation been able to create tracks across their property providing they are for farming or forestry purposes. However, the environmental groups – who include the RSPB, Ramblers Scotland, Scottish Wild Land Group and the National Trust for Scotland – say many of the tracks laid are for country sports such as shooting and have no agricultural or forestry use. They also insist that a number are poorly constructed, unsightly and threaten the environment. Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland and co-convener of the campaign group said: “Currently tracks can simply be bulldozed across the countryside almost anywhere in Scotland, and have caused huge visual and environmental damage in some of Scotland’s finest landscapes.”

Beryl Leatherland, also of the Scottish Wild Land Group, added: “Tracks have been dug deep into peat, releasing large quantities of CO2 and destroying sensitive habitats, carved straight up steep hillsides and even over the summits of several hills, leaving erosion scars that spread for years and are visible for many miles. Some of the examples we have seen amount to little more than vandalism.”

Since the early 17th century, a cabal of landowners has enjoyed the riches and privileges conferred on them by ownership of land that, for the most part, was obtained illegally and at the point of a sword. The Scots aristocrats are as Tom Johnston once said in his book Noble Families “the descendants of successful pirates and rogues”.

Andy Wightman, author of “The Poor Had No Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland (and How They Got It), explains "The land on which many of our lairds sit was stolen in the 17th century. But these ill-gotten gains were protected by acts which maintained their hegemony after the rest of Europe ditched feudalism and concentrated land ownership." He describes how the aristocracy embraced the 1560 Reformation as a means of getting their hands on land belonging to the "Auld Kirk". They needed to protect their stolen goods with a robust law. The Act of Prescription (1617) declared that any land occupied for 40 years or more was indemnified from future legal challenge. The law remains in place and has effectively upheld the gentry's rights to stolen goods for 400 years.

Tom Gray, spokesman and co-ordinator of the Scottish Tenants Farmers Association, said "The families of many of Scotland's tenant farmers have worked this land for generations. They have invested money in them and made improvements, while the estate owners sit back and employ agents to raise rents every three years...we are seeing an increasing number of cases where our members are being forced out due to a lack of co-operation by the estate owners and often downright intimidation."

 Andrew Riddell was a tenant farmer. He and his family had worked on the farm for more than 100 years and then, one day, he was given notice to quit by his landlord, Alastair Salvesen, billionaire and Scotland's third-richest man. The notice followed a year-long legal case which finally found in favour of Salvesen. The judge ruled that the protections Riddell thought he had in the tenancy arrangement were trumped by the landlord's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. He killed himself after collecting his final harvest.


Richard Scott is the 10th Duke of Buccleuch. He owns 240,000 acres of land worth between £800m and £1bn, making him the largest private landowner in the UK. His title confers on him chairmanship of the Buccleuch Group which has interests in commercial property, rural affairs and food. The title was created in 1663 by King Charles II for his eldest son, the Duke of Monmouth.


The 12th Duke of Atholl is Bruce George Ronald Murray, who inherited the title following the death of John Murray last year. The Atholls were to become participants in the Highland Clearances when tenants on their land were thrown off to make way for sheep.


Guy David Innes-Ker is the 10th Duke of Roxburghe. He was the elder son of the 9th duke by his second wife. He succeeded his father to the title of Duke of Roxburghe in 1974. The duke is also a baronet and a lieutenant in the Blues and Royals, having been educated at Eton and Sandhurst. He has expressed disappointment that the Land Reform Review Group "concentrates so heavily on expansion of community ownership".

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Blue-Bloods of Scotland Mobilise

The Duke of Roxburghe and other members of the nobility have lobbied the government on its moves to help individuals and communities buy land which  has been in the hands of the aristocracy for generations. A Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) has been set up by the Scottish Government to examine ways of increasing community ownership of the land. A forthcoming review of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act will look at granting an absolute right-to-buy for tenant farmers. That would give them the right to buy-out landowners, even if they are unwilling to sell.

The duke owns the Roxburghe Estate, an enterprise with a £10.1 million turnover with Floors Castle, near Kelso, at its heart  and includes the Roxburghe Hotel and a championship golf course.

 The Earl of Seafield at its head, warned against the “fragmentation” of the land and played the ecological environmental green card to justify his extensive ownership of land as of his shooting and hunting grouse moors were run naturally.

James Carnegy-Arbuthnot, director a family company that owns the 3,250-acre Balnamoon  near Brechin described the extension of  right-to-buy legislation as a “highly vexatious proposal in the eyes of landowners” and described“This amounts to the dispossession of land from one person to the advantage of another and has no place in any democratic system.

Atholl Estates, which oversees 145,000 acres in Highland Perthshire, was critical of increasing community ownership as a means of redistributing land, saying: “It certainly should not be used as a tool to politically engineer property ownership away from one group of people to another as this fundamentally undermines Scotland’s credibility as a nation that respects the private sector, free markets and the protection of property rights as a cornerstone of human rights and financial security.”

 Douglas and Angus Estates, which are owned by the family of the former Tory prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home and currently under the stewardship of David, the 15th Earl of Home, remarked the current ownership arrangement put the estates at the heart of community life.

The agent for Kinnordy Estates, Kirriemuir, owned by Lord Lyell, former Tory minister said: “In the instance of Kinnordy Estate and its locality to the town of Kirriemuir, I do not believe there is justification for the wider public community to have a stake in ownership, governance, management or use of the land… land and estate management must remain in the hands of those qualified for the task (by merit of both qualification and experience) as demonstrated on Kinnordy Estate.

Land-reform campaigner Andy Wightman said: “I want to live in a land where class distinctions are no longer legitimised by the recognition of aristocratic titles and where the principle of equality underpins access to land rights… I want to live in a country that finally puts an end to the centuries of landed power and returns the land to the people of Scotland – both men and women.”

Half of Scotland is owned by just 500 people, many of them those relics from feudal time who believe they have a birth-right to “their” land.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The rewards of owning Scotland

Wealthy landowners are qualifying for state hand-outs of £12,000 a week, according to a new report.

The report claims that with just 432 owners controlling 50% of all the privately owned land, Scotland has "the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in the developed world".

The report notes "the ready access estate ownership gives to the public purse" is a key attraction of land ownership to "the rich and super-rich".

It points to the £600,000-plus a year in government subsidies available to the future purchaser of a £11.4m Argyll property – the Auch and Invermearan Estate near Bridge of Orchy, that is on the market, a fact which is highlighted in the sales brochure.

See also this post on our companion blog.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Buying Scotland

Billionaire Danish fashion magnate, Anders Holch Povlsen, has become the second-largest private landowner in Britain with the purchase of the 20,000 acre Gaick estate in Inverness-shire.

 Povlsen already owns the Glenfeshie, Ben Loyal and Kinloch estates, has increased the 43-year-old's land portfolio in Scotland to around 150,000 acres. It is second only to that of the Buccleuch Estates, with an estimated 280,000 acres. He has been criticised in some quarters for mounting a "land grab" of Scotland to take advantage of farming subsidies.

Rob Gibson MSP, a member of the Scottish Government's Land Reform Review Group, told The Herald: "It will be interesting to see what plans this gentleman has in terms of biodiversity and the local community. Some estates are used as private kingdoms by their owners..."

Povlsen, whose family owns Bestseller, the Danish fashion company that last year had a turnover of £2bn, also has substantial farming interests in his home country and owns areas of forestry in Romania.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

land up in value

In 1986 Scottish farmers had an estimated net worth of around £5.8 billion, land valued at £4.8bn, representing 68% of total assets. In 2011 figures reveal that total assets had grown to £38.4bn, of which land and buildings had increased as a percentage to 88%.

They also now owe lot less.  In 1986 liabilities were 17% of total assets. 2011 it i now only 6%

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fact of the Day

Just five percent of the population own 80 percent of the farmland in Guatemala.

Fifty-four percent of the population lives in poverty and 13 percent in extreme poverty, according to the 2011 National Survey of Living Conditions, while half of the children under five suffer chronic malnutrition, according to UNICEF

Friday, December 07, 2012

Henry George

Green MP Caroline Lucas is supporting an annual land value tax, based on its market price, but, of course, with many "new" ideas this one has been proposed before. Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”

Henry George's book "Progress and Poverty" was very popular. The book's starting point was man's God-given right to the land. Private property in land was unjust as it restricted access to the land. As technological progress increased industrial production, the benefits, George argued, went not to the labourers or even to the capitalists but to the landlords in the form of increased rent. The remedy proposed in Progress and Poverty was the raising by the state of a tax equivalent to the rental value of the land. Not only would this "single" tax compensate the poor labourer for his lost birth right to the land, but it would obviate the need for other forms of taxation and be politically more acceptable than full land nationalisation.

Scotland proved the most receptive to his message. It was here after all with the Crofters' Revolt raging and the cities crowded with Highland and Irish exiles that the unacceptable face of landlordism was most apparent and keenly resented. The Presbyterian Scots also responded to the religious strain in Georgism. The Scottish Land Restoration League, a purely Georgite body was established in Glasgow with branches in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. "The land question" Henry George wrote to an English friend, "will never go to sleep in Auchtermuchty."