Image: Map of Applecross Estate

Proposal 6 in the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on land reform (see link here) is to introduce a statutory duty of community engagement on charitable bodies that own land. There are four main types of charitable bodies that own land and property.

1. Environmental charities such as the National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds;

2. Educational bodies such as universities, colleges and private schools;

3. Community bodies that own anything from a village hall to large estates such as South Uist, Assynt and Knoydart; and

4. Landed estates formerly owned by private individuals that have been transferred into charitable company and trusts. These include estates of Applecross, Isle of Bute, Drummond Estate, much of Atholl Estate and Conchra Estate.

Environmental and community bodies have reacted to the proposal with irritation, claiming that they already engage with communities. Likewise with community bodies which already have membership open to all who live in the community and are run by boards of directors elected by the community.

In a blog on the Scottish Community Woodlands Association website, Jon Hollingdale makes the case that imposing such a duty across the board is an over-reaction to a problem which is quite modest in scale.

If the issue is with the tiny cohort of private Scottish charities whose landholdings give them a local monopoly, then, rather than imposing general burdens on all, the smart answer is to take another look at the charitable status of these organisations.”

There are a number of charitable bodies that were set up by previous private owners (often for tax purposes) and which, today, own quite large landholdings. Typically, the membership is restricted to a fixed number and with special appointment rights in the hands of the former owner.

For example, the Mount Stuart Trust owns 23,800 acres of the Isle of Bute. It was set up by the 6th Marquess of Bute in 1985 as a charitable trust and incorporated as a company limited by guarantee with no share capital in May 1989.

Under Article 21.1.2 of the Articles of Association of the company, the Marquess of Bute has the power to appoint up to four Directors even though he himself is not a member, a tax-exile and non-resident in the UK.

The Applecross Estate extends to 61,600 acres in Wester Ross. It was bought by the Wills tobacco family in 1929 and is owned today by the Applecross Trust, a company limited by guarantee with no share capital. Back in 1978, the Wills family were worried about the impact of capital transfer tax and, to avoid exposure to it, decided to transfer the estate into a charitable body. As they noted in a letter to residents at the time,

It continues,

Copy of full letter here (2Mb pdf)

Today, the estate is still owned by the Trust and its membership is still associated with the Wills family, Richard Wills being the current Chair of the Board. None of the board members lives in Applecross.

In 2012, around 100 people applied as part of the Land Action Scotland campaign to become members of the two charities the, Mount Stuart Trust and Applecross Trust. All applications were refused. The Applecross Trust response is outlined here & a media report here.

Many local people in Applecross would like to become members of the Trust and play an active role in the management of the estate. The peninsular is very rural and has a fragile economy. Development to retain and create jobs is vital and yet the trust’s charitable objectives are restricted to preservation, environmental protection and amenity, public access and the advancement of education, arts, heritage, culture and science.

This makes it difficult, for example to develop housing since the charitable objectives do not include economic development and thus any sale of land has to be at open market value which is beyond the reach of most local people.

Meanwhile, the Chair, Mr Richard Wills, through a partnership of which he is a member (Deer Management Consultants), rents the deer stalking on the estate. The rent is negotiated on an independent basis with no involvement from Mr Wills. Similarly, Mr Wills rents Applecross House (pictured above) and fishings in the Applecross River for £10,200 per year from 2014-2029. When not at his country house in Applecross, Mr Wills lives in a large country house in Hampshire (pictured below)

Despite the independent arms length negotiation, it is open to question whether these rents represent the best that can be obtained on behalf of the charity in the market. Other similar country houses are available on estates in the region for between £2000 and £2800 per week. Applecross Estate rents the Applecross Manse (sleeps 7) for £1080 per week on the open holiday lets market.

The question raised by the consultation is whether these estates should continue to be owned and managed by charitable bodies that restrict membership to a few members of family and friends, provide exclusive nomination rights for tax-exiles such as the Marquess of Bute, but yet refuse to allow the beneficiaries of the charities – the local population – any right to become members or Directors of the respective company boards. The Applecross Trust even has a vacant on its Board following the resignation of Charles Peregrine Albermarle Bertie in December 2012. But it remains unfilled.

I think it is time to open up these closed shops, review their governance and allow the wider community to have the opportunity to have a stake in the future of their community.

In this article, entitled Hjorteviltforvaltning i Norge (Deer management in Norway), Dr. Duncan Halley and Dr. Erling Solberg of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research describe the framework for deer management and wildlife management in Norway.

Dr. Duncan Halley was born and educated in Scotland. He moved to Norway in 1993, where he works on wildlife management, restoration ecology, and Scotland/Norway landscape management comparisons. Dr. Erling Solberg is a leading researcher on deer management in Norway and an active hunter. They are research ecologists at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Norway’s leading applied ecology institute (www.nina.no). Contact: duncan.halley@nina.no 

The Scottish Government’s proposed land reform bill contains a very modest proposal for improving the democratic accountability in relation to the management of this public resource by private interests. To achieve a wildlife management system fit for the 21st century, however, more fundamental reform is needed. The Norwegian experience offers some insight into what might be involved.

Guest Blog by Duncan Halley & Erling Solberg, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

Land Reform legislation in 2015 will include strengthened powers to allow the authorities to regulate deer populations in Scotland. Further action is promised from 2016 if the current voluntary system “has not produced a step change in the delivery of effective deer management”.

It seems likely that action would follow the precedent set in the recent Wild Fisheries Review, where the remit was to:

“develop and promote a modern, evidence-based management system for wild fisheries fit for purpose in the 21st century, and capable of responding to the changing environment”;

and

“manage, conserve and develop our wild fisheries to maximise the sustainable benefit of Scotland’s wild fish resources to the country as a whole and particularly to rural areas”.

Here we present a brief look at what a modern system, functioning not far from Scotland, can look like. South West Norway is on the same latitude as Northern Scotland and is similar in landforms and climate – hilly to mountainous and highly oceanic. The deer resource in the region is mainly red and roe deer, though there are also some moose and reindeer. (1) Here we discuss the system as it applies to red and roe deer.

Landowners in Norway, as in Scotland, do not own the wildlife on their land but do own the hunting rights to game animals such as red and roe deer, and the carcasses that legal hunting produces. These rights can be, and in many cases are, sold.

Modern deer management in Norway is the result of development and refinement over many decades. The core of the system is a partnership of government, landowners, and hunters, each with a defined role. This is backed by professional wildlife management skills, monitoring of harvests and populations to provide high quality data for future management, and binding harvest management plans which regulate and maintain population levels of the national game resource in accordance with democratically accountable national, regional and local goals. This has included in some regions managed reductions in populations to ensure natural forest regeneration (which local and regional authorities are required to plan for, and landowners to achieve, see below).

The system has been effective in managing the resource at sustainable levels, which take into account wider environmental, social and economic interests. It enjoys broad public support.

The government has been keen to encourage a market for wild game meat. Food Safety Authority regulations for sale of meat on the open market by hunting rights owners, hunting teams, and/or individual hunters are simple and the system efficient. This has considerably expanded the market, to the benefit of hunting rights owners, hunters, and consumers.

Image: Hunting in Norway (Erling Solberg)

Who does what?

The Norwegian Environment Agency oversees the regulation of the system. It determines and finances research and monitoring requirements and determines the normal hunting seasons.

The Regional authorities (fylkeskommuner) are responsible for building management competence at local level among Municipalities (kommuner) and landowners, for guidance on population management at a regional level in accordance with wider societal goals such as biodiversity, prevention of overgrazing, and road safety; and for overseeing coordination among hunting rights owners and local councils to attain regional management goals. (2)

Municipalities (kommuner) have the authority and responsibility for managing local harvest levels in accordance with overall regional goals and with directing harvest levels at a local level with regard to minimizing conflicts with e.g. traffic safety, biodiversity, woodland regeneration, agriculture, and public enjoyment of nature. They issue the final harvest permits, can extend the usual hunting season, and must report permit levels and actual harvests to the National Deer Register. They may also report results of local monitoring. Section 9 of the Forest Law of 2005 mandates that Municipalities (kommuner) investigate deer damage to woodland regeneration and incorporate this in harvest management planning.

The owners of hunting rights are responsible for population regulation through a binding harvest plan for the hunting beat (vald), a defined area of land for which a named individual is responsible for relations with the authorities; and for coordination with neighbouring beats. They must also comply with Section 6 of the Forest Law of 2005, which requires satisfactory levels of woodland regeneration following any harvest of wood.

The police and National Nature Inspectorate have a legal right to inspect hunters in the field (to check licences, etc.), which may be delegated to Municipality (kommune) hunting monitors. Municipalities (kommuner) can require that harvested deer are brought to designated points for inspection.

Setting Harvest levels

Data on deer populations is collected centrally and maintained by the National Deer Register (www.hjortevilt.no) on a public internet database. This data, and the population plan submitted by the hunting rights owner, is the basis for determining harvest permit levels for each beat. Deer may not be hunted without a harvest permit.

Permits are issued by the Municipalities (kommuner) to the hunting rights owner, based on the tools available at the National Deer Register website, local consultations, and the population management plan for the beat submitted by the owner.

A population management plan for up to 5 years ahead (may be for a shorter period) is obligatory and can be for one or more (contiguous) beats. It must specify annual harvests (stags and hinds by age group), often in the form of a minimum % of younger animals and a maximum of older ones. The authorities must approve these plans, and in particular must ensure harvest levels are in accordance with local, regional and national population management goals. Approval can be withheld for not being compatible with, or withdrawn for failure to achieve in practice, these goals.

In the absence of an approved plan the Municipality (kommune) sets a harvest quota in accordance with local and regional and national population management goals.

Image: Hunting in Norway. Taking a meal break (Erling Solberg)

Using harvest permits

The owner of the hunting rights may use him/herself, give away, or sell any part or all of the permitted offtake in a free market. Typically, the sale of hunting rights is financially structured by the owner in a way that gives a strong incentive to achieve the required offtake, as the owner remains legally responsible for achieving offtake levels.

Reporting requirements

Each hunting beat must report annually offtake levels broken down by age and sex, within 14 days of the end of the hunting season. These are publically available in the National Deer Register.

The hunter individually must also, when required by the authorities, report the number, age, and sex of harvested deer; report total numbers of deer seen; and provide specified animal parts (typically one side of the lower jaw) for verification of harvest levels, population monitoring, and research purposes.

Training requirements

All hunters resident in Norway must pass a written exam on hunting law and regulation, reporting requirements, species identification, and firearms safety to obtain a hunter’s licence. They must also pass a test of shooting accuracy every year at an approved firing range.

Non-resident hunters may hunt if they can produce equivalent qualifications from their home country.

Image: Grouse shooting and fishing for char and trout (Erling Solberg)

Financing the system

To hunt in Norway a hunter must purchase an annual Hunter’s Fee Card from the central government. This is separate from any fees paid to the owner of hunting rights. Hunters also pay tag fees for each red deer harvested to the Municipality (kommune). There is no tag fee for roe deer. The revenue generated is dedicated to running the management system and to support local game promotional projects.

Norway is of course socially different to Scotland, and has had a different institutional history. Introducing a modern system of deer management would have to take this into account. However, the principle of managing a public resource for the common good through a democratically accountable system, on the basis of solid information on actual populations and on the population levels which will maximize that common good, and where landowners have the right to the offtake determined and the responsibility for achieving it, is fully transferable. A system attaining these goals and enjoying broad public support is achievable, and can be achieved.

A working example can be seen an hour’s flight from Scotland.

NOTES

(1) Moose were native to Scotland. It is probable that reindeer became extinct naturally, as suitable habitat is restricted for climatic reasons.

(2) There is a two tier system of local government in Norway in some ways analogous to the former Scottish Regional/District system. The powers at each level are more extensive than was the case in Scotland. Municipalities have an average population of 11,800 compared to 163,000 per local authority in Scotland.

SInce 2010, I have been ( like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

2013 INCOME

I ear my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. For 2013, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 32,485

LESS COSTS (2)           £ 8,228

TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 24,257

My total taxable income was £25,021 on which I am due to pay tax of £2,963.40 and Class 4 NI contributions of £1,485,18 = total of £4448.58 (see tax HMRC calculation here)

During 2013 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, renewable energy companies, civic bodies, one political party (the Scottish Green Party), print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2015

I own no land or property.

I have 483 shares in Standard Life.

I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).

I am currently advising the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.

I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.

I currently provide ad-hoc unpaid advice to four political parties – the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party.

I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

NOTES

(1) Gross Income is the total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.

(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.

(3) Taxable income is Gross Income minus expenses and is the profit figure on which tax is calculated.