Local lairds’ fears about land reform

Floors Castle, Kelso.
Floors Castle, Kelso.

Large estate owners in the Borders have damned a new review of land ownership in Scotland.

In submissions to the Scottish Government earlier this year but only published this month, the landowners – who include the Duke of Roxburghe and Laird of Torwoodlee, James Pringle, as well as Buccleuch Estates and Douglas & Angus Estates which owns the Hirsel at Coldstream – criticise the review for assuming that a greater diversity of land ownership would benefit rural communities, but without, they claim, giving any supporting evidence on how or why.

If landowners like these were forced to sell some of their property as a result of community or tenant farmer right-to-buy legislation, it would they said, hit “at the essence of ownership rights” and suggested a “collectivist political view”.

The body carrying out an independent review of land reform laws received hundreds more submissions from the public and organisations than it had expected.

The Scottish Government set up the Land Reform Review Group last year following criticism that the legislation was too complex and bureaucratic.

Its remit was to examine how it can simplify the process for more people in rural and urban areas to be involved in the management of land.

In his submission to the group, James Pringle, Laird of Torwoodlee, who runs Torwoodlee & Buckholm Estates, said for many people, owning or managing the land around them was more a product of their “hearts rather than their minds” and that, should they ever find themselves owning a piece of rural Scotland, they would be astonished at how complex a business it really is.

“Using public money – whether from general taxation or from lottery funds – to change the ownership structure of Scotland’s land for political ideals smacks of the sort of regime we have spent generations fighting to overthrow,” stated Mr Pringle.

In his submission, the Kelso-based Duke of Roxburghe argued that responsible use of land, whether private, public or community, should have been the determining factor and he said he was disappointed that the remit of the review group concentrated so heavily on the expansion of community ownership.

“Private ownership can, and does, deliver, as we demonstrate in evidence, significant social, economic and environmental benefits and we hope the review group will recognise the contribution that well-managed private estates make to Scotland’s rural communities and its economy.”

The review group should be in a position to publish a draft final report by April next year.