On 15 October last year, I was preparing to leave home and travel to the Isle of Skye to visit my parents for the weekend. Shortly before I left, an email arrived from John Clegg & Co. advertising for sale 6,356 acres of land owned by Scottish Ministers in Strathnaver, Sutherland at offers over £1,850,000.
Aware that 2014 is the bicentenary of the infamous Strathnaver Clearances, I was surprised to see that the sales particulars not only included one of the best-preserved Clearance Villages at Rosal but described the land as “one of the last wilderness areas of Scotland”. (1) In further banal witterings, the sales brochure went on to opine that “ruined settlements of Rosal Village in the north of the forest and Truderscaig in the south, provide a fascinating insight into the struggle for ownership of this land”
So, before leaving the house, I wrote a quick blog to express my doubts about the wisdom of this sale and the vacuousness and offensiveness of the blurb. Within twenty-four hours, I was told that the land would be withdrawn from the market. The Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse had asked Forestry Commission Scotland to halt the sale and a FCS spokesperson said that “We are no reviewing options.” (see Herald report).
Today, Rosal Forest is back on the market (5.9Mb pdf brochure here and 3.7Mb plan here).
Rosal Village in 2013 sale
Rosal Village excluded from 2014 sale
Rosal Clearance village has been removed from the sale and the nonsense about “wilderness” and “fascinating insights” has also now thankfully been omitted. A total of 5,962 acres of land is offered for sale at offers over £1.750,000. The sale forms part of the Forestry Commission’s “re-positioning” programme whereby, “subject to the approval of Ministers” land is sold and the proceeds used to invest in projects that “increase the contribution of the national forest estate to the delivery of Forestry Commission Scotland and wider Government objectives.”
Whilst this development is welcome, wider questions remain about the elite interests that continue to dominate private forestry in Scotland (see e.g. here and here plus a research report from Feb 2012). For now at least, Scottish Ministers appear to have taken account of the historic significance of one of Scotland’s most important historical sites relating to the “ongoing struggle for ownership of this land.”
UPDATE 1 1512hrs 7 April 2014
Forestry Commission Scotland issued the following Media release today.
7 APRIL 2014 NEWS RELEASE No: 16241
Rosal clearance village secure for future
In recognition of the cultural and historic significance of Rosal clearance village, Forestry Commission Scotland is to continue managing the historically significant site as part of the National Forest Estate.
After consulting local community groups, the Commission will retain the historic village and 100 hectares surrounding it.
Working with local community groups, this will ensure the village is accessible and well interpreted as part of the wider Strathnaver Heritage Trail.
There had been plans previously to sell the whole of Rosal Forest but this was halted after concerns were raised over the future of the historic village.
The Rosal village is the remains of a once thriving Highland township, which was cleared of its inhabitants to make way for sheep back in the early 1800s.
Tim Cockerill, Forestry Commission Scotland’s manager in the North Highland’s said:
“We have fully consulted local groups again and have now taken positive action to ensure Rosal Village is protected as part of Scotland’s National Forest Estate.
“We are now exploring ways with the local community on how we can work closer together over the promotion and management of Rosal village in the future.”
The rest of the woodland area is due to be sold as part of Forestry Commission Scotland’s ‘re-positioning programme’. Under this programme, land delivering relatively low public benefits is sold to fund the purchase of new land which can bring about wider benefits.
In this case, some of the money raised will be invested in the creation of new woodland and recreation facilities at Sibster in Caithness and the recently announced starter-farm for new farmers at Achnamoine near Halkirk.
The sale of the rest of the woodland could also provide buyers with a secure supply of timber in the north of Scotland. This could be especially attractive to companies wishing to develop bio-energy projects in the area.
Lotting of the land for sale is not practical in this case, although it is the Commission’s preferred option as a way of offering more opportunities for woodland purchase to a wider range of people.
Communities can acquire land for sale through the National Forest Land Scheme, but there has been no interest in this case following ongoing discussions with local stakeholders.
Notes to news editors
1. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government’s Environment & Forestry Directorate www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland
2. For news, events and recreation information log on to www.facebook.com/enjoyscotlandsforests For Twitter: www.twitter.com/fcscotlandnews
3. Tha FCS ag obair mar bhuidheann-stiùiridh coilltearachd Riaghaltas na h-Alba agus a’ riaghladh nan 660,000 heactairean ann an Oighreachd na Coille Nàiseanta, a’ dìonadh, a’ cumail smachd air agus a’ leudachadh nan coilltean gus buannachdan a thoirt dha coimhearsnachdan, an eaconamaidh agus, ag obair an aghaidh atharrachadh gnàth-shìde. www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland
4. Media enquiries to Steve Williams, Forestry Commission Scotland press office 0131 314 6508.
(1) For further information on the historic sites in Strathnaver, see Strathnaver Museum page.
UPDATE 2 2100hrs 26 October 2015
Royal Forest was sold in June 2015 to Simon Brooke Mackay (Lord Tanlaw) and Rina Siew Yong, both of Queenstown Road, London, for £1,500,000
This should be leased out on long leases to local people in suitable parcels.
If the forestry commision get the cash they will just buy more good farms to ruin with trees.
The membership of the National Forest Land Scheme Evaluation Panel, Forest Policy Group, Community Woodlands Association and Reforesting Scotland, including myself in all cases, have consistently asked for the sales of parts of the national forest estate to be lotted up in smaller units to allow more people to become forest owners. There seems to be an insatiable demand for small woodlands for mainly recreational use & wood fuel judging by the success of Woodlands.co.uk. If at least part of Rosal forest was to be lotted up in this way and sold separately from the rest, it might actually raise more revenue for the state and allow more ground closer to where people live to be planted up as multi benefit woodland. And it would create a lot more forest owners which has got to be a good thing.
“Lotting of the land for sale is not practical in this case, although it is the Commission’s preferred option as a way of offering more opportunities for woodland purchase to a wider range of people.” My point exactly. Now all we need to know is why lotting is not practical in this case and why it never seems to be practical.
It would be interesting to understand better why this conclusion was reached.
As you know, under the NFLS, a community can apply to acquire all or any part of the land which is surplus, which leads to the possibility that they might themselves have bid for a de facto ‘lot’……
A helpful first step would be for FCS to publish their criteria for lotting which are being applied to sales – and ideally invite feedback from stakeholders to refine them further.
A friend runs a small, successful woodfuel business and for 5 years they have been searching for a forest in Scotland to base their business on which is within their modest budget. We are all utterly sick of seeing large parcels of land go for more money than they could ever afford to turnover without the land. The Forestry Commission would have sold the whole lot off back in 2010 if they’d been allowed they back-tracked then and are back-tracking again. You get the feeling that they still think that no-one is watching what they are doing.
This land after all was stolen from the people of strathnaver by the duke of sutherland.
Strathnaver was bought by the Earl of Sutherland from Lord Reay as far as I recall. It was a straightforward financial transaction.
Sutherland may have “bought” it from Reay, but the people who lived there by ancient custom were not consulted and brutally removed by patrick sellar.
Well done for highlighting this. Thank goodness there are folks like yourself watching out for this sort of thing. How do we demand they show how lotting is not practical?
I guess you could write to the Forestry Commission Scotland or to your MSP.
Let’s start by asking Tim Cockerill who is quoted in the press release. I invite you to join me by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org Pass it on.
OK, It’s worth a lucky dip in the Euro Lotto tomorrow night and if I win, I’ll buy it and I ‘d be glad to switch from Lotto to lotting. ( at cost only of course). However they might not sell it to a trouble maker like me. Perhaps I should take on an avatar such as ‘Lord Ronald of Caledon’ to be more acceptable to the land monopoly cabal.
Rosal Forest is many miles from just about anywhere and the local population is tiny. Selling smaller lots is a good idea but there are many more likely places than Rosal!
Aye, Rogaland or Hordaland maybe.
It could be a good place for a hutting clachan. A place for Scots to reconnect with nature and their history whilst keeping warm cutting and burning wood fuel in their cosy eco-huts. It would be good to have a few more lights on in this depopulated glen.
a fantastic opportunity to reverse the injustices of the past – people were cleared to the coast, and there are plenty folk in the crofts on the north coast who would love to be involved, as well as folk from Dounreay and Thurso.
I’ll follow Donald’s lead and email Tim Cockerill
Guys, Go there and have a look! Get real! Count how many lived in houses are within a million miles of it. Check the haulage options in the spec for 2700ha worth of timber! Think about how many people would really want to build eco-huts there and how much of their lives they would actually want to spend there. Hugh would you really drive 50 miles one way on single tracked roads to get your firewood? Its a bonkers forest planted in a bonkers place for all the wrong reasons but its not solvable by eco-huts and a lot to feed your wood burning stove. Now, forests in the Borders…. that’s another story….
Roland – you make an important observation: thousands of hectares of forestry locally but only supporting a tiny community. Whatever else this model of forestry is delivering, it isn’t delivering for local communities.
Rosal may have its own unique issues but serves as a useful catalyst for a wider discussion.
We seem to have turned our back more generally on the rural development forestry ideas particularly of the late 1990s (but of course much earlier too) and pursued a model which is increasingly large-scale, centralised and industrial. The industry itself recognises jobs are falling as a result (and arguably rural areas bearing the brunt) but justifies this as ‘improved efficiency’, and by its increasing economic returns.
This is skating on thin ice. A senior forestry official – clearly aware of the bigger picture -recently suggested at a workshop that commercial forestry needs to win public support by delivering more for people.
A good start would be to recognise the limitations of this model (there are some!) and proactively support alternatives. Sure, there will be failures, but we won’t know what works and what doesn’t until we try.
There is a real chance for all to gain. Anyone who has tried hands-on small scale woodland management knows just a few hectares is more than enough to keep one’s hands full. So we can afford thousands of new woodlots, woodland crofts and other small woodlands, without significant impact on the existing forest industry, especially when new planting targets are factored in.
Indeed, it is hard to see these planting targets being achieved unless forestry can reach out and appeal to more than its traditional constituency, as recent experience of the farming vs forestry debate demonstrates. Time for a return to Forestry for (more) People!
PS I’ll come with you!
It’s the very remoteness that would would appeal to some folk. It’s not without interest both naturally and archaeologically. And the timber hauling distance doesn’t matter if it’s going into your wood burning stove 100 yards away. Gradually the forest could be diversified to something more in keeping with its location.
On the other hand, it’s not a great forest commercially, miles from markets along roads ill-equipped for the lorries, so why is FCS selling off a public asset for a lower price per hectare than it might achieve if at least part of it was sold off in smaller lots.
Forests in the Borders are ripe for management in smaller units too.
The only way to test the theory is to try it.
Lot the thing up into managable blocks, and sell it on easy terms (25 annual payments) to interested local people.
If there are no takers, its no use, but i dont think that will happen.
It looks like Rosal is being sold for circa £300 per acre.
Woodlands.co.uk sell small woodlands of 2 to 20 acres, apparently very successfully, at £5,000-£10,000 per acre. And some of these are in relatively remote places like Kinloch Rannoch – though admittedly not quite as remote as Rosal.
I think there would be at least a possibility of hutting/woodlot/small private ‘hobby woodland’ use – particularly if there was a co-operative going to pool transport from the central belt at weekends.
Just received the following reply from Tim Cockerill re the question, why has it not been lotted?…
“Thank you for your enquiry of 7th April, about the sale of Rosal forest.
As with other forests on the National Forest Estate, Forestry Commission Scotland explored options for lotting, as well as wider community ownership. At Rosal, for a number of reasons lotting was found not to be practical. I have outlined some of the background and rationale below.
As you may be aware, Rosal forest is served by a single internal access road. This access provides not only the legal access, but is also the main route for forest management, such as with timber lorries. The reliance on a single access road would pose a legal challenge to multiple ownership, in that unrestricted access for harvesting, sporting rights, public liabilities and any associated maintenance would be very costly to establish during legal due diligence. Also an agreement with the local Council for a contribution to highway maintenance arising from timber haulage would also need to be reconciled with multiple ownership.
The infrastructure and nature of the forest means that significant investment will be required over the coming years in some parts of the forest to construct the necessary roads needed to harvest and extract the remaining timber, and undertake replanting operations, which are legally required. Had we broken the forest up into smaller lots we felt that those lots at the northern end of the forest, in which forest roads have already been constructed, would have generated interest. However large tracts in south which, still require significant roading investment and are currently suffering from endemic windblow and disease, would be far less attractive to buyers and ultimately would be unlikely to sell.
As with many large upland forests, Rosal when originally planted was largely even aged. Over time through our forest design plan process we have sought to diversify the forest’s age class structure. This has a number of benefits, such as improved landscape design, greater habitat diversity and smoothing timber production over time. As a result Rosal has been undergoing some restructuring, which would mean that some lots would contain a disproportionate amount of harvested areas and restocking liabilities and costs.
Plans for the sale of Rosal Forest have been progressively developed since the forest was first identified as part of the Forestry Commissions Scotland’s repositioning programme back in 2008. As with any FSC land disposal, under the National Forest Land Scheme (NFLS), local communities were given first notification of the proposed sale of Rosal. Under this scheme local community groups are given first right to either buy or lease part or all of the forest, at a value determined by the District Valuer. You may be interested to see the information and case studies on the NFLS scheme at:
At the time of the Rosal NFLS notification the local community interest was represented by the North Sutherland Community Forestry Trust who, for various reasons, opted not pursue a bid on Rosal and instead focused their attention on the Dyke and Forsinain Forests in Strathallade. As crofting landlords, FCS did however work with local crofters in the area, supporting a crofter forestry scheme on land immediately to the north of Rosal forest.
In addition to community ownership of land we are also offering communities the opportunity to develop renewable energy schemes on the National Forest Estate, for example hydro schemes. We now have several successful examples where communities are either developing these themselves or working in partnership with a developer to realise opportunities for community benefits.
I hope this information is useful.”
I find it hard to believe that the Forestry Commission have fully explored all the issues around the public benefit of this sale if they have only been involved in ‘local consultations’. While the interests of local communities are vital, there are also national issues at stake over ownership, public access and land use that require consultations with a diverse range of interested groups at a national level. The report of the Land Reform Review Group will be out soon and it seems crassly insensitive to try to sell off the forest before the review is published.
The Forestry Commission’s decision to relinquish ownership of the forest provides a perfect opportunity to publicly debate some of the wider issues around the pattern of land ownership and the responsibilities of government particularly in areas where economic returns are said to be marginal.
There needs to be far more discussion and open debate leading to a consensus about the future of the forest before the Forestry Commission is allowed to proceed. Paul Wheelhouse needs to put a halt to the sale (again!) and initiate a wide ranging public debate.
What a load of codswallop.
Where there is a WILL , there is a way.
Bidders will pay a market price, and factor in the costs of roads.
Its not rocket science, just the nanny state.
“Bidders will pay a market price, and factor in the costs of roads.”
Correct. Which is why FCS decided they could raise more cash to fund their re-positioning programme by selling it in a oner rather than lots.
Why will it realise more money in one lot?
I think the opposite would be the case.
The public interest in access to land should predominate, not the maximum sale price .
Lotting it will generate far more work locally, building houses, fences, roads etc.
Sheep can be grazed among the trees like they do in norway.
Whether one agrees with the Scottish Government’s land reform agenda or not – and Neil’s past posts on this site suggests he may not – it seems somewhat bizarre that one arm of government is pursuing reform (via the LRRG and other reviews), whilst another disposes of land in a way which inevitably reinforces the current pattern of land ownership.
Existing landowners are, perhaps understandably, nervous about land reform but the SG could ease these concerns considerably by making sure no opportunity is missed to use its own land sales to support reform.
Whether smaller parcels in remote locations are ‘viable’ units or not is not really the point – not least because the measure being applied is that of civil servants and existing forestry interests rather than the arguably much more creative measure of ‘citizen foresters’. If the latter choose to blow some money on a woodland dream, in a free country, why should we stop them? Or do they need protected from themselves?
In any event, I believe in general lotting maximises returns not minimises them, as I have been advised by land agent friends; and the evidence of the market (eg woodlands.co.uk) also bears this out. But consider this – even if it didn’t, what the taxpayer needs to achieve is best value (with all that that encompasses), not simply best price; and anyway, what is more economically suspect than building a land reform agenda on using public funds from one part of government to purchase public assets from another? (which is a central part of the existing land reform process for communities)
Well said alonquin, totally agree.
External land agents are the cause of much of the problems in the tenanted sector, and yet govt departments are now using the same firms to rack rents and evict.
Also, these starter farms are only a 10 yr LDT, when they should 30+.
I detect the possibility of confusion about different uses of the words “lot/lotting” here.
One refers to the practice of estate agents to divide a property offered for sale and which lends itself to this into lots. It’s a recognition that the sum of the parts is worth more than the whole. But that’s not true of all properties. There are many where, due to their particular characteristics, the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. It’s not possible to generalise along the lines of “You can always make more by a lotted sale.”
The other sense of the word “lot” is in the context of “wood lot” (or forest croft). Dividing a big forest into lots in this sense has nothing to do with maximising sale price, it’s a political decision to invest in the perceived public policy benefits which flow from “wood lots”. (Although that’s not to rule out the possibility – I suspect rare – that a particular forest could be divided into lots in both senses and thereby maximise the returns in both the purely financial and public good senses.)
In Tim Cockerill of FC’s reply to Andrew Donaldson quoted above, he (TC) was using “lot” in the first sense. (He was basically saying the roading implications of this particular forest are such that lots with good access would have been cherry picked leaving FC with the others unsold.) I’m not so sure what sense Andrew was using it when making his enquiry.
Neil – on the face of it, the roading issue seems like a cast-iron reason for not lotting.
Only problem is that FCS has in the past been happy to sell woodlands (and individual lots) with shared access roads, and of course this is not uncommon in the private sector either.
Worth having a look at a previous significant FCS sale, North Otter & Ormidale. Particulars at:
The particulars include such phrases as:
“Each forest owner is expected to maintain their own section of the haulage route and will be reimbursed for a share of the cost by the other users” (referring to a strategic haul route running through the area); and
“The sections…….are shared with the neighbouring forest owners, with maintenance according to user” (referring to internal forest roads).
So clearly not a deal-breaker in that case. The problem many of us have, is that what FCS say (and what their policy may be) is all too often not what they actually do, and this sort of inconsistency results in a certain amount of cynicism.
Algonquin, I don’t have the expertise to say whether the decision not to lot (in the first sense I was talking about) Rosal was the right judgement call or not. I was making two broader points: (1) the word “lot” has different meanings in a forestry context; and (2) it is not always the case that lotting (sense 1) a property produces a greater return (in any sense). I can quite imagine that the particular features of Ormidale & North Otter were such that, in their case, the shared roading implications were outweighed by other factors tending in favour of a lotted sale irrespective.
(In fact – although it’s difficult to interpret the particulars you linked to without seeing a plan – I note the bit you quoted refers to shared use with “neighbouring forest owners”. That suggests to me third parties, not purchasers of other lots in the same sale. In other words, the shared roading implications were pre-existing to the whole and therefore neutral to the decision as regards the parts.)
But this is a detail. The wider question is whether the likes of Rosal, Ormidale & North Otter et al should have been sold as wood lots (forest crofts). I doubt there’s the demand over such huge areas although I suppose you could argue FC should have reserved a small area out of these big plantations for a handful of wood lots (forest crofts) if there was proven local demand.
Interesting to note the North West Mull Community Woodland Company Ltd ex-FC plantations where there are now 9 forest crofts totalling 32 hectares out of a total of 675. Maybe this is a case study which would merit further study and discussion for lessons to be learnt elsewhere.
Your third para is the crux of the issue – no one in the above thread is arguing that entire forests should be broken into small parcels; but I suspect all believe there is almost always some opportunity to do something. Even if that ‘something’ is relatively modest, the Mull example demonstrates that it can be hugely locally significant.
Jamie above makes the point “we can afford thousands of new woodlots, woodland crofts and other small woodlands, without significant impact on the existing forest industry”. This is therefore a potential win-win but both the approach taken to date to past disposals, and the justifications given, seem completely unreasonable, generating the cynicism referred to earlier and expressed by Donald above: “what we need to know is why lotting is not practical…….and why it never seems to be practical”.
The FCS press release states that lotting is now their preferred option for disposals, which is welcome. It would be helpful to know when this policy was adopted because it is certainly new to most of us and not referred to in any print or web-based guidance.
Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that this discussion is based on offering opportunities to individuals. Communities can use the NFLS to purchase woodland – subject to meeting the criteria, community capacity, raising finance etc etc
When the Forestry Commission acquired many of their Highland woodland sites it was on the promise of local jobs and also the provision of dedicated new housing for forest workers. This was the promise which enabled many of these transactions to go ahead. Of course the jobs are now all carried out by remote contractors and the small housing developments in places such as Invershin have been sold off which makes a mockery of these earlier incentives.
The timber is now being harvested and heading down the A9 earning significant sums for the Forestry Commission often leading to huge damage to local road networks a double whammy for the residents of these areas. If the Scottish Government endorses the principal of local communities receiving Community Benefit payments for wind and water driven energy schemes sending electricity down the A9 why shouldn’t it be the same for wood following the same route.
I would suggest that it would be entirely reasonable for a community benefit payment to be made to reflect this or for an option to convert such payment into land or timber where suitable and where there is a local wish to go down this route.
This would go some way to redress the failure to deliver on the benefits promised at the time the industry was given a toe hold in areas like north Sutherland and elsewhere in the Highlands. After all the people who invest in private forestry are given significant tax breaks and incentives to plant and manage woodland, So perhaps we should encourage our politicians to spread this a little wider to the communities who have to live with the forest industry and it’s effect upon their environment and daily life.
My understanding is that this site was resumed from crofters’ common grazings explicitly on the understanding that they would get jobs in the forest.
Are you sure about that Andy? It would be ironic in the extreme if Rosal – a clearance village par excellence which is why we’re having this thread! – had been converted to a capitalist sheepfarm then re-settled by crofters (when?) only to be resumed for a second time on a false promise! If they were true, I suspect these facts would be better known. Which township do you reckon Rosal was resumed from?
I am trying to investigate further. There was certainly a promise of jobs for local crofters when it was acquired in 1956 – it was part of the deal as I recall.
I think I might be confusing the Rosal grazings with the Syre grazings nearby which were acquired by Congested Districts Board but I do remember a conversation with a FC official years ago when he mentioned the circumstances of the 1956 purchase of Rosal.
I’d forgotten about the CGB/BoAS settlements in Strathnaver. As well as Syre, there was a BoAS settlement of crofters on Rhifail Farm although these might have remained with a private landlord instead of the land being bought by the CGB/BoAS as I think was more usual (e.g. Raasay). There appears to be a tract of unplanted FC land between Rosal (as presently being sold) and Rhifail so I wonder if this could have been the bit resumed from the Rhifail common grazings (and, if so, why wasn’t it planted?)
Anyway, it’s a fascinating turn of events – evicted to the coast in the 1810s with the (failed) prospect of becoming crofter fishermen, re-established in the strath in the 1920s then re-evicted again in the 1950s with the (failed) prospect of becoming crofter foresters!
The story of the Syre settlement is also fascinating. Read about it here http://tinyurl.com/ocz542r (go to page 120) Big sheep farm sold off in small holdings to be paid for by annuities which the settlers found they couldn’t afford so they petitioned to be taken back into tenancy! A reminder that schemes which look so simple and obvious on the face of it can often in practice be fraught with difficulty.
So it should be returned to the crofters, as the deal has been broken.
What compensation did the crofters receive if any.?
Common land should be just that, and made impossible to sell to god knows who.
Cliven Bundy in nevada has the right idea.
How were they re established in the 1920,s?
If they bought when it was too dear, and then land fell in value, they would be stuffed.
Hector, crofters were re-established on Rhifail Farm in Strathnaver in the 1920s under statutory powers the Board of Agriculture for Scotland had to compel the landlord of a farm to re-let it as smallholdings rather than as a whole.
The Congested Districts Board bought Syre Farm in 1901 and sold it on as small-holdings. The purchasers had to pay the price by annual instalments like in Ireland. Except they couldn’t keep the payments up partly because, as owner-occupiers, they became liable for rates which tenants weren’t. So they petitioned to be allowed to give up their holdings and be taken back as tenants. Thus, they had no exposure to the value of their land at all – they got the government to take all the risk on that.
I’m grateful to Andy for drawing my attention back to this fascinating episode in history. It’s also an illustration of the perils of exposing small holders to rates and taxes on land which some are arguing for the reintroduction of.
Looks like we need that board of agriculture re instated.
Does anyone think Rosal could be a good investment for a Swedish forrester or is it impossible to get any money for the timber in that area? Maybe time for us norsemen to return! 🙂 //Martin