Image: Allan MacRae, John Mackenzie, Michael Forsyth and Bill Ritchie 1993

When I first became interested in land rights in Scotland, I remember reading an article in Crann-tara in 1978 by Danus Skene in which he observed

It once befell me, while working in East Africa, to read widely concerning land tenure in Africa and its relation to problems of social and economic development. These days I often find myself stressing two items of African experience that seem to bear more than passing relevance to Scotland. First, no country with so inequitable a land distribution as Scotland would ever receive a jot or tittle of overseas aid in the rural sector. Second, any country with such a land distribution and with much of the landownership in alien hands would, anywhere but Scotland, be facing a revolutionary phase. Why should what is unacceptable in Rhodesia or imperial Ethiopia be of no consequence in Ross-shire?

I recalled this as Community Land Scotland convened a seminar last week at Bunchrew, outside Inverness exploring the international context for land reform in Scotland and, in particular, the rights-based approach to development.

Prior to 1997, the UN, governments and NGOs based most of their development programmes on a ‘basic needs’ approach. Since then, however, and following the UN Secretary-General’s 1997 Programme for Reform, human rights is now a cross-cutting theme of all UN activity and the rights-based approach is now being adopted by donors and NGO’s as the framework within which to plan development assistance.

Following an international conference on community land rights in 2013, delegates from international agencies, human rights groups explored these issues with activists from across Scotland in two days of very productive discussions that will inform the debate in the years ahead. Out of this emerged the Bunchrew Declaration which is reproduced in full below.

David Cameron, the Chair of Community Land Scotland said,

We have had a very valuable meeting with other Scottish, UK, EU and international land reform interests over two days last week. By referencing ourselves to what has and is happening internationally in land reform you are forcefully reminded that land reform has been and remains a cause that is legitimately pursued to empower communities and win a more people centred approach to land governance. Far from land reform being just the interest of a small group of radicals, as it is often portrayed, in fact land reform is a mainstream international cause in which the UN and national governments around the world are actively engaged.

When you meet with others out-with Scotland, you are also reminded just how far behind the rest of Europe Scotland is in land reform, most countries having brought about greater land justice in centuries past.

We have left the meeting with renewed commitment to bring about land justice through land reform and the legitimacy of the cause, and we are pledged to learn from and work with others to bring this about.”

Michael Taylor of the International Land Coalition observed that,

Like any country facing high concentrations of land ownership, challenging this structure also means challenging the concentration of economic and political power with which land ownership is so intertwined. Community Land Scotland is now setting its sights internationally; on learning from land reform movements in other countries and on linking in with global processes that can support their cause.

Community Land Scotland’s efforts are simultaneously a national and a local struggle; nationally in gaining political and public support for land reform, and locally in demonstrating the tangible benefits to communities of moving from being tenants to being landowners. Their achievements, and of the many that work with them, are impressive.”

Some of the thinking developed at the meeting was stimulated by a very interesting paper written by Professor James Hunter – Rights-based land reform in Scotland: Making the case in the light of international experience. Copy here (762 kb pdf)

Rhoda Grant MSP has tabled motion S4M-09502 in the Scottish Parliament as follows.

That the Parliament congratulates Community Land Scotland on the publication of the Bunchrew Land Declaration; supports the renewed commitment that it makes to what it considers the just cause of further land reform in Scotland, including in the Highlands and Islands; notes its reference to Scotland having yet to take the decisive action of other European countries to bring about more equitable patterns of land ownership; further notes its call to established land ownership interests to recognise the manifest unfairness of current land ownership patterns in Scotland, and welcomes its reference to more people-centred land governance and the achievement of land justice in Scotland.

Bunchrew Land Declaration

This declaration was adopted following a meeting at Bunchrew House, by Inverness, Scotland on 19 and 20 March 2014 involving land policy and reform interests from Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally and which explored land reform in Scotland within an international context and with particular reference to the achievement of greater social justice and the realisation of human rights.

Community Land Scotland:

having shared the experience of land ownership in Scotland, the effects of that ownership being in the hands of so few people, and its impact in contributing to the decline of communities historically and today, and in denying opportunity for more people and communities to take responsibility for and share in the bounty of the land;

having explored the parallels with land reform internationally and the solidarity felt with peoples facing dispossession of and clearance from their lands today;

knowing Scotland lags behind land reform interventions which in Europe delivered greater land justice in past centuries;

understanding the impacts on bio-diversity and on the degradation of land caused by land uses favoured by many current owners in Scotland;

desiring to achieve more people-centred local land governance arrangements;

recognising the relevance and legitimacy of international legal frameworks, obligations and guidance to Scotland for change in land governance arrangements to help tackle land injustice and secure more sustainable futures for its people;

aware of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure 2012;

conscious of the possibilities flowing from the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights to contributing to deliver change;

mindful of the consideration and scrutiny of the Scottish land reform question within the Land Reform Review Group within Scotland, and the Scottish Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament, and the development of the Community Empowerment Bill;

whereas calling for established land ownership interests to recognise the manifest unfairness of current land ownership patterns;

Community Land Scotland:

re-affirms with renewed strength its commitment to pursue the just cause of establishing new land ownership patterns in Scotland;

cites international and inter-governmental agreements in helping give legitimacy to nation states intervening in land ownership arrangements to create greater fairness and land justice;

anticipates thus empowering more people and communities to negotiate with current land-owners to take ownership and responsibility for land and associated assets, such as housing, bringing a people centred approach to land governance in support of the common good;

associates itself with terms of the Antigua Declaration adopted by the International Land Coalition in 2013;

pledges to work in collaboration with others active in Scotland, the rest of the UK, and internationally, in pursuing policies to secure greater land ownership justice;

undertakes to learn from others what it is appropriate to learn and apply in Scotland;

offers to contribute to wider land reform movements and nations the Scottish experience in seeking to establish new land ownership patterns to serve the public interest, in combatting decline, expanding opportunity, developing stronger, more resilient, empowered and sustainable local communities and economies, and to achieve greater social justice.

Community Land Scotland
20 March 2014

151 Comments

  1. Looks as though progress is being made.
    I also get the feeling that there is a real move to local community empowerment more generally

  2. I see Community Land Scotland are guilty of “truth creep” on their website when they say “Half of the entire country is held by just 432 owners”. It’s an arresting statement so let’s not worry too much that it’s not actually true!

    That apart, my eye alighted on the reference to “the degradation of land caused by land uses favoured by many current owners in Scotland”. Assuming that’s a reference to grouse moors, deer forests and hill sheep farming, what sort of alternative, more beneficial (economically and environmentally) uses for the same land are there? (That’s a question, by the way, not a rhetorical way of saying they don’t exist.)

    • Neil, that strange statement about land degradation struck me as well. There aren’t even any sheep on the hills any more. You can walk from the west coast to the east coast without seeing a single one of them. Even the heather is hardly burnt any more, apart from on the grouse moors and where some silly right to roam guys failed to put out their camp fires. There are just a few deer left, as long as the John Muir Trust doesn’t manage to persuade the government that they have to be machine-gunned out of the countryside completely, plus eagles, black and brown grouse, all kinds of rare divers breeding on the lochs, trout and char in the lochs, salmon and sea trout in the rivers… it is certainly an original definition of degradation. Usually, land is degraded by over-use, not by leaving the environment to look after itself.

      • er, how many deer do you think there really are, is it nearer to 300,000 than 30?

        • Walk the hills and have a look. Don’t go by the number of deer grazing by the roadside. Speak to the people who know.

          • I live in rural Perthshire, and travel the Highlands quite a lot, I can see what’s happening. Take a look at the photos in http://www.andywightman.com/?p=3291

            and can you tell me what do you think is causing the difference inside and outside of the fence? Is it climate, soil or something else?

          • so do the people you know carry out detailed surveys and if so are the numbers of deer nearer to 300, 000 than 30?

      • There were over 9 million sheep in the last decade of the 20th century, with associated muirburn. We will not repair 3 centuries of sheep damage overnight.

        • Show me the damage. There is loads of grazing even at this time of the year. The deer that there are can’t chomp their way through it.

    • herewith a wee keek at what’s going on in the Cfb/Cfb oceanic coastal montane zone of the Caledonide ( wonder how that was coined) Mountains in the nearest part of the European continent ( clue–nearest railway station to Lerwick is?) with a bioclimatic, geo-botanical, phyto-geographical set of parameters very similar to the Grampian part of the Caledonides. Nae windfarms, nae nondom landowners, nae privately owned national parks, and most of the land under under an extensive private tenure system owned by local residents. Who needs the Victorian -Edwardian nightmare world of rural Scotland.
      http://www.westcoastpeaks.com/Peaks/hoklane.html

      • Have a wee keek what’s going on in the Assynt Foundation’s massive Glencanisp and Drumrunie Estates. That’s far more interesting.

        • why’s that Reiner?

          • Doesn’t work as well as it is meant to. Derelict land, derelict farms, internal dissent, huge deficits, eternally changing directors, people running the estates who havn’t got a clue about land management. The picture at the top of this thread from neighbouring North Assynt Estate has, unfortunately, also very little to do with today’s realities.

      • Ron, in that part of Norway you linked to, to what alternative uses are the local resident owners you referred to putting land the equivalent of which in Scotland CLS say is being degraded by land uses favoured by many current owners here. You’ve told us there are no wind farms in Norway but what else are they doing differently with their land the equivalent of which we’re degrading?

        • Neil,
          There is not the plethora of windfarms in Norway that we or the Danes have, but they are certainly there. Norway, due to a large number of big lochs at higher altitudes within higher mountains with greater snowfall, has a hydro-electric potential we can never realise here in Scotland.

          The initial study trip in 1984 I took part in with Angus McHattie of the SCU and his family, as well the later one by Reforesting Scotland was concentrated in the Rogaland and Hordaland areas of Vestlandet ( the west country), where the greatest bioclimatic/geo-botanical similarities with the Grampian part of the Caledonides pertain. We made several key points in our seminars and discussions on our return, which Derek Pretswell elaborated upon in later work. Most were ignored and when we tried to implement them in a holistic project called ‘New Caledonia’ we ended up with more pugios in our backs than Julias Caesar.
          The differences in the two cultural landscapes obtained from a basically similar set of environmental conditions, are derived from the radically different systems of land tenure and the land use priorities of that tenure. My old quote of ‘In Norway, they have private landowners per square mile, whilst in Scotland we have square miles per private landowner ‘ is of course a bit simplistic, but sums up the strategic difference fairly well.
          I have never been at ease with the community buy out concept and certainly not with hostile compulsory purchases to obtain that. We repeatedly pointed out that the landscape outcome you can see in the photos was the result of an extensive participatory private tenure system, based on local resident owners and their land use activities. It is a cultural landscape, not a wilderness and certainly nothing at all like so-called traditional Highland estates with or without absentee landlords. Most of the owners we visited and talked with, were sheep farmers with holdings well under 500 acres, but they were not just sheep farmers, they were foresters, bank managers, insurance agents, local politicians, artisan labourers and fishermen. They owned their own houses, their own forest, their own inbye land, but shared hill grazings on a communal basis.

          • That sounds very sensible, Ron. The problem is, you completely exaggerate when you suggest that in Scotland “we live in the world’s most beautiful ecological slum” that required de-slumming by planting trees. The next few months when the flora and fauna on the hills comes to new life are breathtakingly beautiful, an ecological wonder as every year. As to degraded land, take the famous Stac Pollaidh. When I came her in 1974, its western face was completely eroded, mainly due to climbers scrambling up willy-nilly, not to any landowner or agricultural activity. Twenty or so years ago, a path was built round the South South-East face. Today, natural growth has largely repaired the damaged side. The few trees at the bottom don’t make the slightest difference (apart from being a nuisance if one wants to ski down but there hasn’t been enough snow in the last few years in any case).

          • Reiner: We have one of the lowest coverage of trees, especially native and deciduous trees anywhere in Europe and the reason for that is not as many still seem think, an inherent soil and climate unsuitability for their growth, but what we have done in the landcape. We can change that, not only by direct planting, but by managing our herbivore populations, wild and domestic, in better balance with the capaciity of the soil vegetation complex( the baseline resource). You can note in the photos of Norway, that there is not a total blanket coverage, but a varying mix of trees in a cultural landscape that is worked and lived in by local people. Trees provide, fuel, workable timber,shelter and as the example of New England shows, a major landscape amenity worth billions. In one of the discussions I had with a Norwegian sheep farmer, I commented that in Scotland, the forested hill he managed would be bare, his reply was ‘ but would you not get soil erosion?)—–cue A83/85 landslips. There is no doubt that a devastated terrain can look spectacular, Iceland being a clear example. In some cases our cultural landscape is beautiful because of what we have done and in others, despite what we have done.

    • so Niel what acreage do the top 432 private landowners actually own?

      • Ron,

        Please enlighten us as we are being kept in the dark on the acreage they own?

        • Good point. Is there a list anywhere of the 432 and the acreages they own?

          Presumably, we could at least be told who the 16:10 are and their acreages.

        • I asked a simple open question. Perhaps Andy can update us from his Who Owns Scotland? data and the Rural Affairs Committee information. Do you know?

  3. Neil,

    When looking at upland areas ie over 400m, the only other current realistic option is wind farming, which generally leads to greater local degradation than agricultural and sporting interests. Can’t think of any others and would be intrigued to know what percentage of Scotlands land mass is found above the 400m contour. Interested to see others thoughts.

    • These areas are largely covered by SNH’s Core Areas of Wild Land, certainly in the Highlands, and therefore unsuitable for wind “farming” (wind industry would be a more suitable term).

  4. Just found the answer on MLURI website:

    68% of Scotlands land mass is over 400m asl, in other words 5.2m hectares out of 7.7m hectares is found above this contour overall. 67% is also recorded as rough grazing/grassland.

    I am not certain as to how this area will serve the public interest, in combatting decline, expanding opportunity, developing stronger, more resilient, empowered and sustainable local communities and economies, and to achieve greater social justice?

  5. Ron, I’m very impressed by your CV, I can’t compete with that. But I am walking the hills every day, and I see what I see. I’ve got a few sheep on the hill myself. I also talk a lot to actual land users, be they the last few crofters / sheep farmers or keepers. But one thing is clear. If you stuff a landowner – be he private or a trust – with subsidies to plant “native trees” which necessitates fences and an ever decreasing area for deer to roam in, you’ll concentrate them in fewer and fewer places, in particular along the roads. They love the growth on the verges. I suppose the verges are well fertilized with the nitrogen of exhaust fumes.

  6. Scottish people have no right to reside in their own country. That is why we are scattered to all corners of the earth.
    The landed gentry have creamed off the profits from tenants investments for too long, spending the ill gotten proceeds on monuments to excess.
    Theft of our birthright carries on apace while politicians dither with review after review.
    Even the small areas of common land, supposedly for free use by the people have been stolen.
    Time for change has come.

    • Hector, my son is just emigrating to Australia with his young family. Nobody denied him his right to reside in this country. No landed gentry involved, nor any theft of birthright, just a sense of adventure to go to pastures new.

      • Why is it then that tenant farmers are still being evicted or rent racked to bankruptcy in time honoured fashion? And forced to emigrate?
        Our ancestors who went to the colonies didnt do it by free choice, they were denied a home and land in scotland by landlord greed.

        • There is nothing like grievances about the past – the lifeblood of nationalism. There were actually a lot more emigrants as a percentage of the population from Norway that seems to be held in such high esteem by certain contributers to this blog.

          • I think the norwegian landlaws were changed to try and reduce the mass emigration.
            Maybe others will know better.

    • “Scottish people have no right to reside in their own country”

      Eh?

  7. When you look at the figure of 432 landowners and then refer to the 1995 figures contained in “Who Owns Scotland”:

    441 owners then held 3.07m hectares (40% of Scotland) based in 12 counties.

    353 of those were based in Sutherland, Ross & Cromarty, Inverness, Perth and Argyllshire.

    They had a combined ownership of 2.49m hectares (32% of Scotland) out of combined total of 3.87m hectares (50% of Scotland) for those 5 counties.

    When you consider 5.20m hectares (67% of Scotland) is marginal upland rough grazing over 400m asl and the majority of this ground falls within these 5 counties, much of the land owned by the 441 must therefore have fallen over the 400m contour.

    I think some land reformists should ask themselves the question, how many people let alone communities are there living successfully over 1,250′ above sea level in Scotland? And what are the abundant natural resources (apart from wind) available in these areas?

    I am not an apologist for estate owners but I do feel that people need to wake up and consider the facts as analysed by Andy Whiteman.

    • any idea of how we can create an extensive, commercially viable, entrepreneurially dynamic, participatory, property-owning democracy on this kind of private tenurial distribution?

  8. If Community Land Scotland are concerned about degradation caused by land uses favoured by many current owners in Scotland, should they not get their own house in order first?

    I’m thinking about South Uist and Glencanisp which are actively marketed as sporting estates. Also North Harris where the marketing isn’t so active but their website notes “the majority of the stag stalking is leased to sporting tenants”.

    What are these estates doing about repopulating their glens? Is there not a need for a “Bun Abhainn Eadarra Declaration” which:-

    NOTES the significance of field sports in the past,

    RECOGNISES that Rome is not built in a day, but

    CALLS UPON community owned estates to develop medium/long term strategies to wean themselves off field sports and populate with humans their glens and moors currently the exclusive preserve of deer and grouse.

  9. Slurry Stirrer

    brilliant! now we have a movement which highlights the real issue of community degradation. We are getting organised, fine tuning our direction and preparing for change. How refreshing, the response from the landed elite so far has been the usual ‘confusion’ or ‘who would want to live on this useless waste land’? Change is on the way, lets hope there is also emphasis put on wildlife crime, Estates poisoning raptors!

    • Have you ever read Andy Whiteman’s analysis? It also includes all the hill farms over 2,000 hectares in size. So, would you change your final comment to estates and farmers?

  10. Slurry Stirrer

    NO, because true hill farmers don’t kill Red Grouse for personal pleasure. Scale has nothing to do with it. I know some very small land holdings which label themselves as ‘an Estate’ they just love the pretense, and killing wild animals and birds for fun is their desire. Some choose to poison birds so they have more to kill for fun, land should be permanently confiscated in such cases.

  11. Rural rascal

    Do people shoot red grouse for personal pleasure ?.

    • Sorry, the relevance being?

      • Slurry Stirrer

        the poisoning of raptors….to achieve greater numbers of grouse to kill for personal pleasure. The relevance being, we as a nation have a responsibility to stop this activity by putting some lairds in jail. It will also allow us to focus clearly on land use moving forward without this wasteful immature pursuit.

  12. Ron, just compare average wind speeds in Norway and in Scotland. I am growing trees here since 35 years. In Norway, they would be as high as houses, and in Germany as high as two houses stacked on top of each other. Here, they are more like Bonsai trees. You can grow some in sheltered places, you can grow poor quality stuff in dense plantations, as it has been done in the 1950s to 1970s, but you can’t beat the natural environment.

    • Yes, I’ve been doing that since 1974.

      Lindas( 20m alt) 6.4 metres per sec

      Rennesoy( an island) 2om alt. 6.1 m/s

      Dalwhinnie( 300m alt) 4.4 to 6.2 m/s

      Bjerkreim ( 190m) 2.2 m/s

      Blair Atholl ( 140 m) 2.4/ms

      I also have annual temperature curves, accumulated temperatures above 5.6 C, Conrad Index of Continentality, Holdridge Biotemperature, annual and seasonal precipitation data and altitudinal lapse rate. I had Grey Alder from Granvin in Hordaland, Norway growing at 2ft per year at Loch Garry at 400 metres. The evidence completely trounces the doubts.

      • Looking at the photos you’re lucky to have some mineral soils at Loch Garry. Much of Sutherland is deep peat.

        • Yes, there a huge areas of deforested mineral soils in the Grampians and indeed in the the NW Highlands ( especially the eastern parts) as well as in parts of the Hebrides. I am glad now that we did not fence off all of the truncated moraine, shown in the successional recovery sequence in the article, but left a part unfenced that shows the before’ and the ‘after’ in juxtaposition,proving the impact of grazing pressure is the causitive agent for no recovery, with all the implications that has for vast areas of the Highlands with colluvial soils. We have shown, through other small trials, that we can get broadleaved trees to grow at 10 inches to a foot per year at altitudes above 600 metres with average wind speeds in excess of the 6m/s we encountered at Loch Garry.
          Yes there are large areas of deep peat in Sutherland, so what? There are even larger areas in the Highlands that are not, and very capable, even between 400 and 650 metres, of a diverse, multi-purpose woodland, both for conservation and as a resource for human recreational and economic use. It’s just that this will mean the end of the quasi-feudal Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world we have been enduring over the last 150 years or so to suit the indulgencies of sectional landed vested interests.

      • In the Northwest Highlands, average wind speed is 10,7 m/s.

  13. Ron, you didn’t comment on the wind speed that I supplied. I covers a large area – the heartland of what you think of as the “quasi-feudal Victorian-Edwardian nightmare”. Most are privately owned, some by trusts, others by community bodies (who mostly suit political sectional interests). If you want to test the effects of the natural environment, just have a look at the “millenium forest” planted around 1998/1999 behind the Ben Mhor Coigach range, i.e. in a fairly sheltered location that had been abandoned for sheep farming many years earlier. It belongs to the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The trees are now six feet to at most eight feet high. By your reckoning, they should be getting on for thirty feet.

    • And they a rather spindly things, just growing here and there in small clumps!

    • by your reckoning, there would be no Inverewe Gardens.

      • … a “Victorian nightmare” in your book, isn’t`? Created in 1862 by a wealthy landowner. Have you worked out the cost per tree planted and nurtured?

        • Yes, as my mentor in Iceland pointed out( talking about forest cover) ‘once you have lost something it is a helluva job getting it back’. Osgood McKenzie aimed to make an exotic garden, but first he planted trees to protect the site and if they had not been able to tolerate the bioclimatic conditions they would not have grown to allow all the other things to benefit from the improved microclimate would they? The evidence is in front of your eyes.

          • My question was, have you worked out the cost per tree? Also, the idea that the tree cover was lost recently and that this was something we should re.create doesn’t chime with environmental history. I’m sure you’ve read TC Smout, according to whom the “Caledonian Forest” was a myth created by Tacitus 2000 years ago. The Highlands lost their forests long before then in a castastrophic climate episode.

          • I never said it was lost recently. I use the same argument against stasis conservationists trying to recreate some ancient mythic sylvan structure that may not have been there for centuries or even millenia. Man has impacting on woodland conditions since at least the Neolithic and this has interacted with climatic fluctuations on the forest. We can even see this in the forest history of Shetland where there were two phases of woodland ( including oak and elm) before a ‘final’ cleareance. The question is what kind of cultural landscape do we wish to move forward to. I would suggest something more like that which pertains in the oceanic Caledonides in our nearest European neighbour. In that we have a climate and soil site conditions that could support multi-purpose, multi species, varying density woodland over much of the country.

        • have you worked out the cost of having no trees?

          • I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. You might as well pose the question, have you worked out the cost for Austria of having no oil? Well, you can do that, but it’s a bit pointless. If you haven’t got it, and you need it, you import it. But then – Scotland does have trees. Just not very many, and of rather poor quality. A few years ago, I was looking for stress graded timber. I couldn’t get it in Scotland to the required parameters, so I bought it in Germany. Very simple. And if I want to have trees of top quality for building violins, I’ll go to Italy (though there is also some good stuff in the Bavarian Forest). Horses for courses. Isn’t that what it is all about?

          • so what’s the virtue in having no trees?

          • some of the cost can be estimated by the bills for the landslide clearance on the A85/83. Note no debris below the forested areas. Note any erosion on those steep forested slopes in wet windy coastal Hordaland.

    • There is a very healthy looking young broadleaved woodland in the curtilage of the blue-roofed cottage at the foot of Ben More Coigach in the first photo on this website.
      http:/www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ullapool/ben-more-coigcah.shtml

      This is probably a couple of decades or so old, perhaps younger. If you know the owner, I’d be quite happy to plant up the slope on the left of the photo with species and origins of my choice, that would put on at least a foot per year when established. Most on the ground in the foreslopes beyond the essential fence looks reasonable mineralagic soil with only a shallow organic horizon and could carry woodland of sufficient stature to provide fuelwood, shelter, improved micro climate, erosion protection, soil improvement, etc and the prime, preferred habitat for Red Deer, that could attain at least a 50% increase in bodyweight over a few decades decades if kept under strict population control.

      • I couldn’t open the link but I suspect you are talking of the very old birchwood below the blue roofed cottage. It is in a sheltered little glen and has withstood heavy grazing of sheep for as long as anyone can remember.

        • Looks like a typo on my behalf so trying again http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ullapool/ben-more-coigach.shtml

          hope it works this time

          • I did work this time, thanks. That’s a garden, it belongs to a very dear old lady who is now over a hundred and stays in a home. During the war, she worked in Bletchley Park. Anyway, in a garden, you can do all kind of things, of course. But even in gardens… there was a craze here in the 1970s to plant spruces and logpole pine. They grew fairly well, though the bigger they grew, the uglier they looked. By now, the majority has been blown over. Some gardens look just like they did before the tree planting fashion started.

          • It doesn’t matter whether it is a garden or not, the fact is that the soil and climate were capable of tree growth. Windblow is a natural feature of forests and woodland, the resulting gaps and soils site disturbance create conditions for regeneration. There is a difference between a forest and a ‘cellulose factory’

        • the link works now and in the first photo with the blue roofed cottage this looks like a range of tree species protected by a fairly good stock fence. The trees are not strugglng and they do not look wind damaged. Can’t see the full strategic position, but it looks as if it’s on the open slope of a hill. I thought you said there were no sheep to be seen now, but the ground vegetation outside the fence looks grazed to me. There would be no trouble getting an even wider range of soecies to grow here.

          • The glen with birch wood I was talking about is about two or three hundred metres below the garden. If you want to put your money into growing trees on the open hillside – go ahead! I’m sure you wouldn’t do it. Nobody does it, unless the taxpayer is being milked for no good reason. Yes, there are sheep, but very few. There is one crofter keeping them around there. It’s no good trying to catch me out, Ron. I know this area like the back of my hand. I know every guy who is keeping sheep. I know how many they’ve got. Where you will not find sheep is inland where there used to be the big sheep farms.

  14. It looks like the answer to the question “What alternatives are there to the hunting (grouse and deer) reserves and hill farms which are causing such environmental degradation?” is “Reafforestation with native species”

    What sort of employment opportunities does native forestry bring? As I understand it (only very imperfectly!), forestry may not provide much “steady” employment in the sense that it’s labour intensive during the planting/establishment and harvesting phases but nothing much happens during the intervening 40 years.

    An interesting case study is Balavil Estate currently being offered for sale by Strutt & Parker – see http://tinyurl.com/nyabfyv It currently provides two FTE jobs – a farmer and a gamekeeper. If the farm and grouse moor were converted to native forest, would it provide enough work for two FT foresters (after the initial establishment phase)?

    I know re-establishing native woodlands is rather in vogue. Has there ever been any academic study into its merits and demerits compared with “traditional” land uses (hunting, farming and commercial forestry with exotic species) from the economic (employment) perspective as opposed to the purely environmental (bio-diversity etc.)?

    • Neil,

      Between years 5 and 100 there would be no employment required apart from controlling deer. In other words the loss of 1 FTE, possibly 1.5. Most culling contractors are looking after 15,000 – 20,000 acres on a part basis ie it is seasonal work.

      • I could add of course that with native woodland on the scale being advocated here that there may be significant labour required in firefighting between years 0 and 40 but I am not certain how this may be quantified economically. Undergrazing in establishing woodlands adds significantly to the fuel loads and increases the incidents of wildfires as seen last spring and the previous spring in Torridon and Assynt.

    • Neil asks a good question about the benefits, other than biodiversity, of native reafforestation. Do we need any other benefits? Could we not do it because it’s the right thing to do, even if we don’t make money from it? As Leopold said, the last word in ignorance is the man who says of a plant or animal: ‘what good is it?’ (This is not referring to Neil, who asks a good question to inform and focus the debate).

      I believe the biodiversity benefits are sufficient cause in itself. Wooded habitats are about 13 times richer in nationally important species than heather moorland.

      The sorry state of our native woodlands today is largely anthropogenic. I am well aware of Prof Smout’s work regarding the reasons for the decline of the Caledonian forest, but this seems to be often misquoted by sporting interests who claim the forest entirely disappeared 4000 years ago purely due to climatic factors. I understand Prof Smout suggests that we still had 25% forest cover by Roman times. The decline 4000-ish years ago also coincided with the advent of agriculture which in other areas was associated with deforestation. So the decline 4000 years ago may well have been mostly climatic, but with an anthropogenic component. The decline over the past two thousand years was caused by man.

      This continues today, with the FC’s recent native woodland survey pointing the finger squarely at overgrazing, for which we are responsible. Sheep farming is relevant to this, but I think today the main problem is the unnaturally high deer densities, due to the lack of large predators and the policies of some estates.

      But native woodland restoration may have other benefits:

      - a wilder, more natural experience for the sporting shooter
      - greater range of quarry for the sporting shooter if reintroductions occur (Eurasian lynx, wolf and elk, by which I mean Alces alces) with subsequent financial benefits
      - tourism benefits and employment
      - grouse moors (rare internationally and provide income) could remain and flourish if managed responsibly. No-one is proposing the whole of Scotland becomes a forest.
      - Reduced erosion and landslips
      - Carbon reduction (though the question of peat carbon needs to be considered)
      - Flood risk reduction
      - Larger deer for the sporting shooter
      - Less management costs, as with predator reintroduction the expensive hind cull becomes less of a problem.
      - Human benefits: forest schools, timber, recreation and the medical literature has many articles regarding the benefits of spending time in the woods (curiously referred to as ‘forest bathing’ in the research from Japan.)
      - Native woodland lends itself well to a more diverse and equitable ownership pattern

      • Do you count large community owned estates to be part of a “more diverse and equitable ownership pattern”?

        • Well, compared to one non-resident owning the estate through a series of offshore shell companies, I would have to say yes.

          • Though having said that, I would like to see us moving to a Norwegian model of local people owning smaller areas, but working together where necessary.

          • The theme of this thread is “land degradation”, not tax arrangements or the residency of owners.

          • er no, the residency of the owners and the pattern of land use they carry out can have profound effects on soil stability and fertility.

  15. In norway, trees can be established easier because they are surrounded by mature trees in the small scale way they operate. No clearfelled moonscapes over there.
    Thats the way to go, subsidising farm scale trees and livestock together for local people, not the sultan of dubai or terry wogan.

    • that’s a very important point Hector. The idea of building a fence and walking away for 30 years or more as forest management is no longer acceptable. We need an intimate tenurial/management relationship between local permanent residents and new woodland, but right now we are in a chicken and the egg Catch22 scenario facing entrenched sectional interests.

      • Ron, what’s the virtue in having trees? What’s wrong with heather?

      • If we are considering the 40% owned by 441 owners (Andys 1995 figures) or their successors it is predominantly over 400m asl so agroforestry will probably not apply.

        The productive capacity of this ground as defined by MLURI and others following detailed surveying shows it is marginal to say the least so the species it will support are very limited.

        Ron, what species are you expecting to see growing? What is their rotation? What is their YC? What is their end use? If you answer these we can provide Neil with some idea of the economics.

  16. Downy birch, rowan and willow do not make good timber. Ron, what yield classes are you expecting above 400m?

    • I have tried over 40 species above 400 metres. In the end what the Icelanders told me would grow in southern Iceland at sea level proved very worthwhile information. You are fixated on YC and cellulose factory mentality. There ‘ain’t no such thing as worthless scrub’. If you want more information you, or more likely the estate office, you probably work for can hire my services as a consultant.

      • Ron,

        Still intrigued by the 40 species above 400m claim. Name 15 and I will be happy. And surely YC is a factor of economics? I know

        Thanks for the offer of consultancy but I will I am afraid rely on my own observations from the sites I am lucky enough to see in my travels. I will remain intrigued though as to how you derive value from scrub! Currently dealing with some birch (c. 300 ha.) which has become moribund at c.150 years old and it is yet to produce anything of value over the odd load of firewood from wind blow. Yes, there is an interesting and fertile understory and I suppose it looks good but most people walk past it without ever registering it’s there……..and nobody has ever offered to pay to come and see it because they don’t need to!

        • you can see some of them in the final part of the sequence of the truncated moraine photos in Andy’s blog site with Derek and myself’s article. I am ( at 1.77m tall) standing near it for scale. The oldest trees here are 20 years old. The site has a full south westerly exposure at 410 metres alt about 5km west of Drumochter Pass( hardly a sub tropical paradise kissed by the Gulf Stream). No fertilisers or mechanical planting techiniques were used. Please open your eyes and your mind and have a smell of the coffee.

        • if you have 300 ha of moribund birch available and don’t know what to do with it, please just send me the title deeds in the post. If you like, I ‘ll send a SAE.

  17. Rural Rascal, I was told Assynt Foundation was invoiced by Highlands and Islands Fire Brigade for helicopter time etc. Whether they did pay, I do not know. The Foundation is totally skinned.

  18. Whether we have trees or not is bye the bye
    What we need is local control, and get these lairds dispossessed.
    They have spent centuries dispossessing tenants, and now its our turn.

    • hector, it’s not “bye the bye” at all. Once the lairds have been dispossessed, what are the new local controllers going to do with the land? Trees are the only suggestion anyone (Ron G) has come up with in response to the degradation deplored in the Bunchew Declaration.

      You mentioned above “subsidising farm scale trees and livestock together for local people”. How would that work in practice? Are you talking about the low ground or the moor? Use the example of Balavil Estate I linked to above to explain it by example to a townie like me. Paint a picture.

      Because, otherwise, to be honest, just saying things like “We need these lairds dispossessed … now it’s our turn” sounds awfully like the “envy driven attack” land reformers keep telling us that land reform is NOT about.

      And it also reminds me of the stand out comment I ever read on this blog which was that an awful lot of land reform talk is like deciding to get rid of Saddam Hussein (the easy bit) with nobody having a clue what to do afterwards (the difficult bit).

      • Not quite Neil, woodlands managed and owned outright by a larger number of permanently resident local people are just part of the alternative package. I once more advise a look at the BBC Horizon’s ‘Farm for the Future’ documentary ( it might still be on youtube) for a hint of prospect.

    • yes, Hector, I agree. The real point of the comparison with the oceanic mountain areas of Norway was that the large number of local outright landowners had possession of and/or access to all aspects of the basic soil vegetation resource in a way that they don’t have here. When the sheep farmer is also a forester, then there’s a different appreciation of both the productive and protective role of forest in his working life, than often pertains here.

  19. As a result of a conversation with a highland forester about about 12 years ago it is interesting to see forestry being promoted as being more rewarding than agriculture when up to a couple of years ago mainly due to currency movements it was cheaper transport to import wood from Eastern Europe/Russia to Montrose and then transport to Inverness than to cut and use Highland area trees. As a result a lot of thinning was never done as it would have cost more than the value of the wood extracted. Nothing to say this won”t happen again in the future.

  20. PETER EWING:
    I am replying here as it saves readers back checking to an earlier post. I thoroughly endorse the vast majority of what you put forward. The project I initiated at Loch Garry is probably the riparian habitat project with the longest pedigree in Scotland and it was so intitiated because tree leaf litter can at times provide 90% of the food material for the aquatic invertebrates that in turn feed fish. I wonder how much wild salmon production( trout and charr too) we have lost since deforestation occurred( I agree with the anthropogenic impact on this as Iceland suffered the same climatic fluctuations and still had 40% forest cover by the time of settlement in the 10th Century) So did Norway and we can see the extent of forest cover today from the URLs I recommended.

    The Loch Garry Project led directly to both Derek Pretswell and myself becoming involved with the formation and running of The Loch Garry Tree Group ,Scottish Native Woods( which set up a nationwide riparian woodland management initiative) and us setting up Natural Resources Scotland with its ‘New Caledonia Concept’ based on rehabilitating the upland environment with an integrated holistic process of re-afforestation, reintroduction of exterminated mammalian and avian species in phase with socio-economic rehabilitation with new tenure arrangements and diversified land use activities based on the agrading and more productive soil-vegetation complex.
    We were of course, like you very much aware, of how large Scottish Red Deer became in the forested environment in New Zealand( good principle to be aware of, but of course the NZ forest had not evolved with a Cervid herbivore)

    The article Derek and I wrote referred not only to the example of Loch Garry and Norway/Iceland( so deliberately underrated by some of the facile, ill -informed commentators on this blog), but what had happened on the A83/85 corridor in large part caused by the missing protective function of forest on the upslopes above the road. You have correctly pointed out the multiple benefits of a diverse upland woodland, now sadly missing. From soil fertility, erosion protection, general biodiverity, mammalian production, fuel production, carbon sequestration,visual amenity and the potential for a stimulus to new economic activities linked to land tenure reform we are losing out from having lost our forest cover. We cannot go back, we can only go forward and the status quo is no longer acceptable.

  21. Ron, I suppose you count me as one of those “facile, ill-informed commentators on this blog”. Never mind, people who loose arguments always tend to revert to peronal attacks. Anyway, yesterday I walked Drumrunie estate for the umptieth time, but this time taking photos of the damage to existing native woodlands. Three things came out very clearly. There is severe damage to birchwoods, almost exclusively caused by the severe easterly gales of the last three years. There is very little damage to Scots pine. The damage that there is is also caused by wind. Thirdly, there is hardly any regeneration. I am sure this has to do with grazing deer, but it has even more to do with the present owner (Assynt Foundation) having done nothing, I repeat: nothing to promote regeneration since they bought the estate from the Vestey family with over a million pounds of public money in 2005. A sad state of affairs. The sadder, if you go up Ben Mor Assynt estate that is still owned by the Vesteys. There, you can see a well managed estate, including woodlands in sheltered parts.
    I know that you mentioned before that you have reservations about community buy-outs. But look at the economics of small private landholdings. They just don’t pay. Either you subsidize them to an extend that is not acceptable to people living in deprived city areas – rightly so. Or you have them owned by guys who work off-shore, two weeks on, four weeks off, on a salary of 80.000 quid upwards, and who are prepared to plow some of that money into their hobby. We are talking about hobby farming. Landreform is not a way to achieve this.

  22. Why should I resort to personal abuse, when I have not lost the argument? We are already subsidising ‘hobby estates’ through CAP, forestry grants, tax relief, wind farm subsidies etc and through provision of public infrastructure, most of which goes into a relatively few hands. Most north European countries subsidise or support their rural areas, the difference is it goes into supporting a living working environment and not into a Victorian-Edwardian atavistic indulgence for a few. Are the Vestey’s making a profit from their estate or is it subsidised as above and from the profits they have made from land value speculation in London and The Home Counties?

    • oh and maybe the £million they got of public money via the sale you mention has helped too.

      • They weren’t looking for public money, they were looking for a private sale but were compelled to sell to the Assynt foundation.

  23. Thanks Ron.
    Your name came up when I was talking to Simon Pepper about this sort of thing last week. I was hoping to have a chat with you at the SWT talk you are doing but I won’t be able to make it. But if you are going to either the John Muir conference or the JMT AGM perhaps we could talk there?

    Reiner, I believe small private holdings work in Norway. Why should it not be feasible in Scotland?

  24. Peter, Norway is not in the EU, therefore they can subsidise their farmers outside the framework of the CAP. Also, I referred to the Norwegian off-shore working conditions. As to Ron’s question, to the best of my knowledge, the Vesteys subsidise their estates from profits made alsewhere. They run some commercial activities such as letting the smaller lodge house and stalking, but that’s not nearly enough for the upkeep.

    • Aye—hobby estates for the few or hobby farming-for the many.—which one supports more people.

      • You mean, hobbies for more people? Well, count in all the people who come to the Highlands for stalking, fishing, hill walking… Small farmers are generally not so amenable to others using their land, though there are, of course, exceptions on both sides.

  25. Ron,

    Why haven’t you mentioned crofting? Has this led to improvement or degradation of the land since 1900? It does of course cover 800,000 hectares of some of the better coastal low ground and in the NW Highlands.

    By the way, I’m intrigued that you find me facile and ill-informed but I think I can rise above that one.

    • I have frequently posted that Crofting as the legal entity it currently is, is not the future. It was an elastoplast to the traumas of disposession.

  26. Would you also repeal the Crofting Reform Act, if you could?

    • Can’t say that Crofting is in my mind all that often, but I certainly would not want it foisted on the rest of Scotland.

  27. Ref. Ron’s comment above (March 31, 2014 at 12:49 pm, “Why should I resort to personal abuse …”) the Vesteys’ fortune came from cattle ranching in South America (I believe) but the main point is that, while they’ve no doubt received some public money, the bulk of the massive losses made on running a sporting estate is made up from their own pockets.

    I spent a long time yesterday reading all the board minutes of the Assynt Foundation back to 2006 and it’s very hard to avoid the conclusion that Glencanisp & Drumrunie Estates are still being run as “a Victorian-Edwardian atavistic indulgence for a few” with the *only* difference being that the losses are being bankrolled instead by lottery grants and public funding not accessible to private owners.

    That would be an unfair observation if we were only a couple of years into community ownership of these estates but it’s actually approaching nine years and, while the lodge has been refurbished, not a single affordable house site has been released (possibly because there’s no demand for them) or croft created. In that last context, I was gob-smacked to see the directors note (May 2013 board minute) that the creation of common grazings could be an issue for their (more lucrative) deer stalking and deer farming proposals!

    And as you mentioned the CAP, I see also that AF received a five figure sum in 2012 for renting “naked acres”. Another thing I thought was pretty sad was a listed 18th century farmhouse lying empty and deteriorating for the last 8 years for want of funding to renovate it with the observation “it will probably never make back in rent what would need to be spent on it”. Why not sell it then?

    In fairness to AF, you get the very strong impression that their well meaning efforts are so devoted to chasing their tales scrabbling after “funding” to protect the status quo in the short term that they don’t really have the luxury to take the longer term view about how to re-populate the place (assuming that were considered to be a desirable aim vis a vis biodiversity considerations).

    • The birds actually twitter it from the trees that the Assynt Foundation offered for sale the farmhouse that you mention to the Vesteys from whom they bought it in the first place (of course not with their own but with public money).

  28. It is a long time since I was a locum GP in Lochinver and Scourie, so I am not up to date with events in Assynt. But community ownership has worked well in highland Perthshire. The 1100 acres owned by a community land trust at Dun Coillich is undergoing considerable ecological restoration and they have been very active in re-engaging local school children with nature. But they have the relative advantages of a bigger population, regular income from a discrete hydroelectric generator and a fairly modest holding.

    I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with community ownership in itself – community owned credit unions have a lower failure rate than, say, high street banks, and provide better value.

  29. If you want to see are really beautiful Highland estate you have take the Inverpolly road from Lochinver to Achiltibuie. It crosses a large estate which is owned by the Davies family. They keep sheep, they keep cattle, the do stalking and fishing, The landscape is alive with wild animals, wild flowers and wonderful plants. And, yes, there are more trees then anywhere else around, beautiful old birch forests with hazel, rowan etc. – but only in sheltered places with relatively good soil where they grow naturally. The Davies’s work hard at keeping it up, just two of them, David and Nicky. They manage admirably. Contrast that with the Assynt Foundation!

    • how many permanent residents?

      • How many permanent residents on Glencanisp & Drumrunie, Ron? Just one household in 44,000 acres is my understanding (anyone welcome to correct me if I’m wrong on that).

        Incidentally, I wasn’t suggesting G&D are not well managed. But what I am suggesting is they’re being managed (for all I know, impeccably) as sporting estates. And it’s not immediately obvious why the Lottery Fund should be paying to run sporting estates when private owners are queuing up to do it.

        • That’s three households less than on Inverpolly Estate.

        • Neil,
          I was a co-organiser and participant in the first Land and Community Conference at Drumossie, just a few years after my early study trips to Norway. At this and at seminars before and ever since that conference, Derek Pretswell and I always stressed the importance of the need for extensive outright tenure rather than the path that was followed above. We are not surprised at the outcome.

          In the chicken and egg Catch 22 world of the Victorian-Edwardian atavistic indulgence for the few ( sic much of Highland Scotland) outwith of the land monopoly cabal that runs it to suit itself, we have a rural population divorced from its own resource base, especially ownership, in a way that does not occur in our Fennoscandian neighbours, much of Western Europe or North America. In the negative feedback loop, that follows, this engenders a lack of strategic land management skills and awareness in the general population.
          In my 40 years of visiting Norway, I never stayed with any of the itinerant oil workers bogeymen( 66% temporal occupancy BTW beats nondom owners here) that Reiner raises as a strawman argument, nor did any of the permanently resident owners I did stay with ( on their stock farms) raise any concerns about them.
          I found the various artisans and professionals ( schoolteachers, vets, local politicians, bulldozer drivers etc) well versed in the issues of forestry, conservation, tourism and wild herbivore management as well as their specific farm and off-farm jobs. In contrast, at a meeting here, prior to our area becoming part of the privately owned national park( how’s that for an oxymoron?) in one of the workshops, a combined group of stalkers/gamekeepers raised concerns about the expansion of native woodland depriving Red Deer of ‘natural habitat’ on the moors. This is only one small measure of how far we have to travel.

          • If you’d overcome your obsession with Norway and stayed with crofters and / or hill sheep farmers (the few that are left) in the Highlands, Ron, you’d realize that they are very well versed in land management as well. It is not easy to run, let’s say, 700 ewes on very poor grazing on a coast exposed to the most severe winds in Europe! The same can be said for keepers on the estates. They do know what they are doing.
            And if you really believe that the rural population in our Fennoscandian neighbours, much of Western Europe or North America were not divorced from the land’s resource base, especially ownership, you must be believing in Father Christmas. I grew up, and spent the first 28 years of my life (before moving to the most rural part of Scotland), in rural Bavaria. I can vouch for that your statement doesn’t hold true there – even though the land was owned by your beloved small owner occupiers.

          • Our ‘national parks’ do not meet the international definition for national parks (IUCN Class II protected area) by a very long way. I am not even convinced they really meet the lowest level of protected area (Class VI- Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources)

            Although some stalkers/landowners are ecologically aware, I have also come across breathtaking levels of ignorance, on a par with the riparian owner who opposed beaver reintroduction on the grounds they would eat his fish.

            I know what you mean about Fennoscandia. It’s instructive to wander in a Finnish bookshop. The section of nature books is four or five times larger than you would find in the UK, and I think this reflects the national attitude.

          • So Reiner, would you recommend to Bavarian and Fennoscandian farmers that they give up their current folly of their land tenure and instead become tenants of a non resident, non citizen billionaire plutocrat landowner who has all the forest, hunting, shooting and mineral rights etc. Are they all out of step except us Jokes?

          • Reiner,
            I was a member of the Scottish Crofters Union and my study trip to Norway in 1984 was with a crofter from Skye looking at small holding function in our nearest neighbouring European country. He also visited Iceland and I was able give him some advice on contacts there. Later he fell in love with a Swedish lady and he now divides his time between his croft and her Swedish farm. Among many other lessons, he put in a sheep inwintering and lambing unit, taking pressure of hill grazing during the winter and increasing his lambing %. This made life easier and gave him more time for other on and off -croft activities including planting tree species I recommended. He was initially sceptical but much less so after seeing the shelterbelts in windy oceanic SW Iceland and some of the deciduous trees putting on 50cm and more per annum, just 20 metres from the sea on a north facing aspect on Skye.

  30. Scotland is in a shambles, these large estates are an ananchronism which are not easy to unscramble. They should be broken up into workable farms, which neither the private owners or foundations are able or willing to do.
    Russia is having similiar problems unscrambling their collective farms.
    The notion of keeping the highlands just for blood sports for the rich is abhorrent.

  31. Watch out Hector, some of the “432″ are working farms.

    Why not use say Glencanisp as a 10 pilot property 50 year project. Split part into say 100 x 100 hectare plots for willing members of the community to be allocated on a ballot system, allow a house site regardless of planning, undertake a baseline survey using MLURI/JHI, have a compulsory published annual habitat and economic monitoring programme for all? The plan can then be reviewed at the end of 10 years and be extended further and so on if needed.

    It would be interesting to see how many of the original settlers are still there at the end and how the habitat looks.

    We can then see whether Rons dream and everything else currently being proposed really works.

    • Do you know who the 432 are? Is there a link to a list of them anywhere?

      • Can’t find a list but Page 159 of “Who Owns Scotland” shows that in 1995 there were 441 interests (not owners) owning 52.9% of the land in the 12 largest counties in Scotland.

        This includes all holdings over 5,000 acres in size and appears to include those owned by the RSPB, the John Muir Trust and Assynt Crofters Trust as well as those now owned by community groups.

        It would be good to see an accurate published list.

        • what is the difference betweening an ‘interest’ owning the land and an owner?

          • Many of the interests appear to be made up of multiple owners. Also interesting to see the wide diversity within the 441.

          • Rural Rascal: Why don’t we meet up at Dalnaspidal in June and I ‘ll take you round the experimental plots?

        • you mean a kind of syndicate?

          • Is that how you would like to describe Atholl Estates or the Assynt Crofters Trust?

            Just relaying what I am reading in the book.

            By the way, when are you going to name the 15 tree species, all thriving beside Loch Garry? I am almost tempted, if I had the time, to go and have a look.

          • or perhaps a TAE —tax avoidance euphemism ?

  32. Hector, it’s perfectly easy to unscramble a big estate like Glencanisp & Drumrunie. In fact there’s a nice template of old maps of the farms in 1774 available to view online (free) at the National Libraries of Scotland website showing you how – http://tinyurl.com/krgnu26 I hope that link works.

    The problem is that the planners – ably assisted by massed ranks of NIMBYs, QUANGOs, NGOs, 3rd Sectors and sundry hoo-hahs, funders and do-gooders – wouldn’t let you build a house on the south side of Loch Assynt if their lives depended on it.

    • Neil,
      You are correct in identifying the NGOs and Quangos as being part of the problem. They are just as frightened of losing power as the land monopoly cabal are and would rather support that cabal, than see anything like the extensive participatory private tenure system to be found in Fennoscandia or parts of New England, with more people living in rural Scotland with more power over their own lives.

  33. Reiner Luyken

    Don’t you think RR was having you on with his suggestion? What’s the date today?

  34. Ron, you ask whether I would recommend to Bavarian farmers that they give up their current folly of land tenure. Well, most of them have given up farming anyway because it didn’t pay, despite subsidies. Some lease land to farmers who stayed in business, mostly by concentrating on profitable niche markets like organic foods that they sell to weekend commuters and city dwellers who moved into the counrtyside. Quite a few sold their farm houses to city dwellers who have the money to do them up. Most sold at least some land for building plots. Some make money out of keeping horses. So you can see, they all try to make a penny, and you can’t blame them for that, but your ideal of land management is in rather short supply. The famed forests belong either to the government or to some large landowners, certainly in the area where I was brought up.

    • I just remembered one farmer – not a small one, the largest in his village – who declined to take on his inheritance after his father’s death and went to work in a factory, so his younger brother got the farm. That’s quite some time ago, but in the 1960s, before property prices rose disproportionally, it was not unusual. Which tells you: the value of the land is more important than some perceived bond to the land that could be created by ownership patterns, and that worked wonders for land improvement. By the way, my Norwegian oil worker / farmer is not a bogeyman, I’ve met a couple of them off-shore. There is nothing wrong with it. Lastly, I find it odd that the winter gales blow the meagre summer growth of my trees but they don’t seem to do it in Skye, though I can see the northern tip of Skye from my window!

      • I think you are already aware of my appreciation of the importance of Land Rental Value from other blogs, posts and threads. I said ‘north facing aspect( it’s actually more NW) not the north of Skye, but now that I know you are not a native English speaker, I can see why the confusion may have occurred. What tree species have you got?

      • Reiner, what country are you describing in the 60,s?
        The small farmers may lease their land to a neighbour, but they still benefit from it, and have a house they own which cannot be taken from them.
        Tenant farmers in our feudal nightmare have none of these advantages, and live a semi nomadic existence as a result, even though they may have built that house , barns and fields from scratch.

    • PETER EWING: Yes in visiting and now living in a ‘national park’ I walk up Strathchicanery, then into the steepening terrain of Glen Gerrymander and finally on to the slopes of Beinn Oxymoron.
      On visiting and working in real National Parks in Fennoscandia, North America and Ireland, I often discussed the system of tenure and management in our ersatz- fakeroo ones with the people running them. Their unofficial position was a mixture of pity and hoots of laughter. I am not per se an advocate of national parks, preferring the concept of National Widlife Refugia and outwith them, a sustainable (sensu Brundtland Report/Mangel Principles) cultural-working landscape, but if we do go down this route, then they should at least be real ones with a National Parks SERVICE managing them to meet the criteria of a national state agenda.

      My horror story regarding Beaver is along similar lines—-only it was a senior fisheries biologist who thought they ate fish!

  35. RURAL RASCAL:
    I hope you will take up my offer of taking you round the Loch Garry experimental plots this coming June ( or at a mutually convenient time during the main growth period)