Lord Johnstone, Earl of Annandale and Hartfell, is the champion of the landed gentry. He is the chairman of Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), a group which “represents landowners across Scotland.” In reality it is a body which the wealthy landowners use to lobby government, in order to reduce the effects of legislation on their estates, and to present such wealthy landowners as benign influences upon the land which they manage.
The reality is somewhat different of course. SLE represents the large shooting estates which keep our land in the condition to which we have been accustomed. They manage the land for blood sports; the shooting of animals and birds and the catching of fish. The main victims of these blood sports are grouse, pheasants, deer, salmon and trout. However there are many other victims such as birds of prey, mammalian predators, other birds (which supposedly spread disease) and numerous invertebrates.
The primary method which is used to manage these shooting estates is burning heather. This supposedly creates food for the grouse. The reality is that it pollutes the atmosphere:
It also leads to a completely unnatural look to our upland areas:
Anything caught in the fires will perish as well. Occasionally the fires burn out of control which means that the Fire & Rescue service have to be deployed to control them, this costs you and I money via our taxes and endangers the lives of the fire fighters.
A recent research study by Dr Lee Brown, from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds identified other effects on the environment such as lowering the water table depth which releases carbon into the atmosphere. It also pollutes waterways with heavy metals and organic matter. “This is of great concern, as peatlands are the largest natural store for carbon on the land surface of the UK and play a crucial role in climate change. They are the ‘Amazon of the UK’,” says Dr Brown.
All this environmental damage is perpetrated so that some “sportsmen” can have some fun for a few weeks a year slaughtering wild birds.
The land is also managed for deer stalking and for sheep farming. Both of these animals prevent any trees from growing in these upland areas and so keep them in their current unnatural state, they should be covered in a patchwork of forests.
The landowners say that they provide employment and bring money into these rural areas and to an extent that is true. But most of the money is kept for themselves. In fact we even pay them to keep these areas in their current condition via agricultural subsidies. Which leads to the question of who owns which bits of land and how much subsidy do they receive?
That’s a tricky one, finding out who owns Scotland is not as easy as you may think. It is estimated that less than 500 families own at least HALF of Scotland! Putting that another way 50% of Scotland is owned by 0.008% of the population. Various people have tried to find out who owns what like The Highland Clearances, Andy Wightman and Who Owns Scotland. The top British land owner would appear to be the Duke of Buccleuch (after the Forestry Commission). He owns an astounding 270000 acres. For the privilege of owning this land we pay him around £260000 per year. All this leads to a feudal style of land ownership in Scotland.
In order to find out who owns Scotland the Scottish Government set up the Land Reform Review Group who’s weighty report is here (48MB) . There is no doubt in my mind that the whole question of land ownership and stewardship needs to be looked at, I hope that the reforms lead to more equitable land ownership and a return of our landscape to a more natural state. The Scottish Government are about to embark on a Land Reform Bill.
Coincidentally other directors of Scottish Land and Estates are:
- James Galbraith – His father was Executive Director of Buccleuch Estates and he is Chairman of upmarket estate agents CKD Galbraith who sell large estates
- John Glenn – Chief Executive of Buccleuch Estates
Why not contact your MSPs (all 8 of them) and let them know what you think?