Archive for ‘Land Reform’

November 14, 2016

Hugh Miller stepped off the Betsey to find lands visited by terror and evil (Rum and Eigg)

 

Were the people willing to go?

Some of them
Others were not very willing, they did not like to leave the land of their ancestors

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Isle of Eigg

A recent discovery of an anchor believed to have belonged to a floating kirk that sailed around Ardnamurchan from the time of the Disruption  coincided with me reading about a floating manse from the same era.

When the Church of Scotland split in 1843 its breakaway congregations set themselves up as the Free Kirk.  When they tried to build their own churches they were often denied permission by lairds still attached to the Church of Scotland, men who governed the lives of those who lived on their land, and so worship was frequently carried out in the open air in all weathers in places they could not be chased off by landlords. However, Free Kirkers at Loch Sunart found money to have a ship built to sail the Western Isles so providing a watery kirk for the folk in the islands out of reach of controlling lairds. The anchor found is thought to have come from it.

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Towing the iron church into Loch Sunart

I don’t know how many such vessels were used in this way but loathe to let a coincidence pass by I was pressed to retell a little of what struck my ancestor, Hugh Miller, when he voyaged around the Inner Hebrides on a floating manse in 1858 – a journey recorded in his book, The Cruise of the Betsey.

Miller was a journalist, a newspaper editor, an evangelical Christian, a folklorist and an archaeologist. From Cromarty in the Black Isle he travelled around the Sound of Mull – to Rum and Eigg looking for fossils, the bloodstones of Rum included, and discovered more than a pile of old stones.

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Hugh Miller

The evangelical Christian was immensely moved by seeing the impact of the Clearances on these isles. He was, as a Highlander, familiar with the Clearances and, indeed, his own family had been cleared from their glens so he was sensitive to the evidence revealed by the land from some eighteen years earlier when nearly 400 men, women and children, virtually the entire population of Rum, were dragged out of their homes and shipped off to a foreign country leaving behind all they knew and loved.

Ethnic cleansing by Bosnian Serbs of Bosnian Croats and Muslims rightly aroused outrage at the end of the 20th century when people were thrown off their homeland because they were despised for having a different religion and culture from their oppressors. In Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries people were thrown out of their communities, off the land they worked, to make room for sheep and later deer in acts of economic cleansing that involved a wholesale disregard for them as human beings. Both these despicable acts involved the imposition of cruelty by one group upon another and enforced deportation.

As he stepped ashore on Rum (pron. room from the Gaelic now anglicised to sound like the spirit) from the floating manse, the Betsey, Miller noticed patches of green on the island’s hillsides – places once home to people for generations who had been summarily cleared out as if that was of no significance – “cleared off to the backwoods of America” as Miller phrased it. Several homes were razed to the ground in 1826  so the men, women and children dragged from them would not be able to live there anymore while others were left to fall down over time. Miller was struck,too, by the little patches of corn still growing where once farming had followed the seasons and provided food for islanders. He stared at abandoned cottages; homes that once rang out to the sounds of christenings, weddings and New Year celebrations – and the land about them where the peoples’ loved ones were buried.

“…it seems a bad policy,” Miller remarked, despite the chilling argument from economists at the time “that there are more than people enough in Scotland still.”

On population size being a determinant for clearances Miller commented –

“There are, I believe, more than enough in our workhouses, – more than enough on our pauper-rolls, – more than enough huddled up, disreputable , useless, and unhappy, in the miasmatic alleys and typhoid courts of our large towns, but I have yet to learn how arguments for local depopulation are to be drawn from facts such as these.”

Miller mentioned a solitary shepherd’s house standing at one end of the island where the shepherd and his wife lived-

“the sole representatives in the valley of a numerous population, long since expatriated to make way for a few flocks of sheep, but whose ranges of little fields may still be seen green”.

As the party that disembarked from The Betsey searched the hills for Rum’s renowned bloodstones they were spotted by island’s shepherd and soon he and his wife had clambered up, she carrying a “a vast bowl of milk, and he a basket of bread and cheese” out of kindness and hospitality.

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Isle of Rum

It struck Miller that the more remote places were the greater the hospitality – that is certainly true of friendliness among people in Scotland’s small villages where few would walk by another without a nod, smile or a hello.

Miller put it more eloquently –

“[that]…hospitality dwindles and disappears, like fruits in the thick of a wood; but where man is planted sparsely, it blossoms, and matures, like apples on a standard or espalier. It flourishes where the inn and the lodging-house cannot exist, and dies out where they thrive and multiply.”

The 400 souls of Rum were crammed on board ships, Highland Lad and, oh the irony, the Dove of Harmony  to Nova Scotia in Canada to begin their lives from scratch. They left behind their island, one sheep farmer and 8,000 sheep.

“All the aborigines of Rum crossed the Atlantic; and at the close of 1828, the entire population consisted of but the sheep-farmer, and a few shepherds, his servants.”

Those who survived the shocking conditions and overcrowding on-board during often rough passages across the Atlantic had to find whatever way they could to house, feed and clothe themselves and families in unfamiliar territory while back in their homeland the sheep experiment to make money for the laird failed when the price of mutton plummeted. Rum was sold off – another piece of property, like the people who once lived there. At his time of writing Miller believed the new owner was an Englishman looking for an opportunity to make money by turning the island into a deer forest – a sporting estate to amuse wealthy gunmen from the mainland.

map-rum
Rum had been populated by human beings since the 8th millennium BC. It is surely understandable that succeeding generations of the island’s inhabitants regarded the island as theirs but others held a different perspective so the folk of Rum lost out to speculators investing in “wool and mutton” and then deer. Islanders were pawns in a bigger game that turned a once thriving island into a desert. Rum would be sold several times over in the search for  profit.

The island’s streams that once provided food for its people were found by Miller to be full of fish with no-one to take them. Rum’s former fishers not possessing fishing nets used to bunch heath roots together which they arranged in mounds across burns, securing them in place with boulders then one or two involved would walk downstream beating the water  and driving trout towards the dam where they would get caught up in the heather roots. The bigger fish were scooped out for food while the immature ones were returned to the burns.

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Isle of Eigg

The Betsey called in at the island of Eigg whose people were also evicted and shipped abroad and here Miller and his associates came upon the site of notorious mass murder that took place from an earlier time – remnants of civilisation: straw beds, human bones, household objects, the handle of a child’s wooden porringer (a bowl with a handle) with a hole through it to hang it to a wall, strands of grey hair.

One winter, possibly during the 16th century, members of the clan Macleod from Skye sailed to Eigg and having offended the native people, the Macdonalds,  the raiders were strapped to boats and pushed out into the sea. Following their rescue they plotted vengeance on the people of Eigg and returned to the island, well-armed, and so terrified the people they ran away and hid in a large narrow cave. The Macleods searched the island but not finding anyone they contented themselves with ransacking the islanders’ houses and were about to leave with their booty when one of them spotted a figure on the beach. They renewed their hunt and as this was in the winter-time a light fall of snow exposed the lookout’s footprints. The footsteps led to the mouth of the cave. Because the cave’s entrance was very narrow the Skye men were unable to enter it safely so they gathered heather and ferns and packed them into and around the entrance and set fire to them so that in time those hiding – the entire population of Eigg – elderly to babies were smothered to death by the smoke.

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Narrow-entranced cave where the population of Eigg took shelter and died

Sir Walter Scott raised money to provide Christian burials for these sad remains when he found out about the massacre.

Miller did discover samples of the bloodstones he was after on Rum – the hard stone once used to shape into tools and weapons by the island’s early settlers. The populations of Rum and Eigg survived centuries of hardship, Viking invasion, occupation by Scots but coarse, selfish, inhuman lairds finally destroyed civilisation on the islands.

Evidence to a government select committee on enforced emigration in 1827 recorded this question:

Were the people willing to go?
Answer:
Some of them
Others were not very willing, they did not like to leave the land of their ancestors

A witness to the deportation of the people of Rum recalled hearing plaintive echoing cries from aboard Atlantic-bound ships as their human cargo watched their homeland disappear from view forever.

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Preaching to a breakaway Free Kirk congregation at the seaside

Rum was sold to Nature Conservancy in 1957 as a nature reserve, now under the control of Scottish Natural Heritage.

August 13, 2016

Reindeer are not just for Christmas

reindeer sled

Reindeer are not just for Christmas although they are intrinsically associated with Christmas celebrations. This relatively recent tradition appears to have come from a poem written in 1822 by an American, Clement Moore, called A Visit from St Nicholas in which he appears to draw on Scandinavian and German legends to create the now iconic image of Santa Claus riding across the sky on a sledge drawn by reindeer.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds

… 

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer

 Most deer sightings in Scotland are of roe, red or sika deer. The reindeer that once roamed our mountain sides disappeared a long time ago – estimates run between 800 and 8000 years. We do have small numbers of them now; semi-domesticated and the results of reintroduction programmes.

reindeer and dogs

According to some sources it was in the tenth century when the threat to our reindeer population materialised and within a couple of hundred years they had disappeared entirely from our forests and mountains. The reasons for this are uncertain but there were attacks on their habitats – pine, birch and oak forests which once grew up to levels of 2,500 feet – were being burned or cut down to create land for crops and grazing animals as well as harvesting of timber for building and boats. Deer were also predated by bears and wolves in addition to the most ruthless killer of all, man driven to kill every one of them until none remained – wiping out the last of Scotland’s native reindeer population.  

In intervening centuries some attempts were made to reintroduce them – in the late 18th century by the Duke of Atholl and in early 19th century a handful of animals were released into Orkney and Aberdeenshire but none of these survived. In 1916 Robert Traill collected three reindeer from the Russian area around Archangel and released them in Orkney but he was no more successful.

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Mikel Utsi and his reindeer

A more scientific approach was taken when in the 1950s reindeer were reintroduced into Scotland following a suggestion by a Saami herdsman from Sweden, Mikel Utsi, and his wife Ethel John Lindgren Utsi, who also supervised the project. They thought conditions in Scotland were similar to parts of Scandinavia, Russia and Canada in that they could provide reindeer with the foods they grazed – lichens and reindeer-moss, a kind of boggy carpet.

An area of forest in the Cairngorms at Rothiemurchus estate was fenced-off for a small number of beasts, no more than 25 plus a herder, for it was understood that rather than releasing the animals to roam wild they would benefit from being semi-domesticated.

Eight deer were shipped in from Sweden and quarantined for six weeks at Edinburgh Zoo then shipped out by train and lorry to their Highland home. One of the eight, a calf died immediately but the rest were then transferred to Rothiemurchus. Soon there were two more deaths, then another. A bull deer then disappeared and it was assumed had been shot by a poacher. By the end of the first winter only three animals remained alive. A major problem was their vulnerability to insect infestation in a climate that was warmer and damper than they were used to.

group reindeer

The small herd of Scandinavian reindeer was given freer rein over tracts of the Cairngorms to try to prevent the problem with insect pests but the weather the following summer was wet and warm, not at all suitable for reindeer and led to an increase in the numbers of black flies, midgies, cleggs and mosquitoes attacking the herd and leading to yet more deaths.

The Forestry Commission offered higher land that was drier and freer of insect pests and when more reindeer arrived in Scotland and were put to this new habitat and sure enough it was more suitable with fewer beasts dying.

last reindeer

Post-mortem examinations of stomach contents of deceased animals indicated that Scottish reindeer had been living on less varied diets than their counterparts in sub-Arctic Russia which had access to birds eggs, voles and bones of carrion (providing them with phosphorus) while Scottish reindeer fed mainly on grasses, sedges, pine needles, dead heather tops and very little lichen and moss. Despite setbacks and early failures the Utsi reindeer did survive in the Cairngorms, albeit in small numbers. Reindeer are built for extreme cold; their coats are very dense and well-insulated and their hooves act like snowshoes so one wonders what the future holds for this Arctic species of deer with global warming heating up the environment.

Whenever plans emerge to reintroduce lost species into Scotland there are voices raised in opposition. In the 1950s opponents to the reintroduction of reindeer described them as ‘vicious beasts’ which had no place in modern Scotland and I suppose if you are a clump of lichen they are but humans have nothing to fear from them. There are also those who deny reindeer were ever native to Scotland or if they were it was too long ago to matter and claim what was thought to be evidence of reindeer was, in fact, red deer – for example bones discovered in Pictish middens. It’s a fair debate for a thesis.

coloured reindeer

Our landscapes, rural and urban, are products of actions taken in the past – the Highlands emptied of people and communities for sheep, then red deer with the rise of the myth of good land management by sporting estates whose gamekeepers act like demi-gods deciding what can live on the land and what must be controlled destroyed. It is all about economics not biodiversity. Scotland would not have the landscape it does today were it not for them they claim. No, it would not. We would lose much of the barren muirs that have wrecked the Highland economy and limited its prospects. We would have a greater variety of wild species living naturally and not persecuted for being rubbish or vermin because they are seen as a threat to artificially introduced species, or product in the lingo of the estates, that can be offered up for slaughter on a Saturday afternoon.

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Slaughter of mountain hares

The Scottish wildcat and several of our owls have suffered from this attitude and recently we’ve seen thousands of discarded carcasses of mountain – heaps of rubbish in the view of gamekeepers. Almost daily we learn of protected species, our golden eagles and other raptors that have mysteriously disappeared – poisoned, shot or trapped on the sly in hunting estates. Of all the many species of birds and animals hunted to extinction in this country a few have been reintroduced and others are in the pipeline: beavers, lynx, wolves, wild boar, red squirrel, polecats, goshawks, sea eagles, ospreys, red kites and pine martins.

Keep your eyes open when you are out and about and report illegal activity you come across that threatens our wildlife. You are unlikely to see a reindeer – or indeed any in the above list – and you may well wonder why though I suspect we all know the answer.

 

May 11, 2016

Old Glenbucket’s land need reforming

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Glenbuchat is stunning. More rolling countryside than majestic mountains it sweeps and dips and is a tonic to the eye. But behind the magnificence lurks a darker tale.

Raptor Persecution UK mentioned in a blog in 2014 that the Convenor of the Cairngorm National Park Authority (CPNA), Duncan Bryden, wrote to the Environment Minister about incidents of raptor persecution and “disappeared birds” – notably the first fledged sea-eagle for 200 years in Scotland had disappeared over the eastern area of the Park and such incidents he said, “threatens to undermine the reputation of the National Park as a high quality wildlife tourism destination.” Perhaps this is the point it should be pointed out North Glenbuchat Estate operates a grouse moor within the National Park.

The “disappeared” young sea eagle, hatched miles away on the northeast coast, is not the only victim to fall prey to Strathdon’s equivalent of the Bermuda triangle. Other satellite-tagged eagles have also perished here, in a National Park of all places, just vanished – well, not just vanished. The remains of one eagle was discovered, poisoned, in 2011.

http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/police-raid-estate-in-sea-eagle-enquiry/0010759/

Eagles are not its only victims. Various species have suffered a similar fate including the protected short-eared owl whose numbers are at risk – one was found shot dead here, its corpse hidden beneath a boulder. Another way of disappearing. Courts are still unwilling to curb the behaviour of rural criminals who wilfully destroy the nation’s wildlife.

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Bellcote at Old Glenbuchat Church with unusual draped urn

Land reformer and now Green MSP, Andy Wightman, investigated the North Glenbuchat Estate, also in 2014, “one of a number of notorious hotspots of wildlife crime”. Andy has worked tirelessly to throw light on the shady world of land ownership in Scotland and delving into the murky world of who owns Scotland – precious few it seems – he found that in 2008 the Estate was purchased by the 4th Marquess of Milford Haven, George Ivar Louis Mountbatten. Take a few minutes to read Andy’s work on this area: From Glenbuchat to the Turks & Caico Islands.

It is odd to think, perhaps not odd in post-Panama Paper times, that Scottish glens can be owned by companies registered in far-away places with exotic names – such as the case with North Glen Estate Ltd. There is a deceptively similarly named company North Glen Estates Ltd which is registered in the UK.

flat gravestone Glenbuchat

Tracking down who owns what in Scotland would put a le Carré novel to shame.  It is high time land ownership in this country was simplified and out in the open. Andy’s  well-researched informative articles are illuminating which is more than can be said for our current land registration. Also please read the comments that follow his blog on Glenbuchat.

http://www.andywightman.com/?s=glenbuchat

http://www.glenbuchatheritage.com/picture/number404.asp

The North Glenbuchat Estate takes up part of the glen. In the 1960s death duties forced the break-up of Glenbuchat Estate and this is when the North Glenbuchat Estate was created and bought by a Major Michael Smiley of Castle Fraser who was connected by marriage to the Cowdrays of Dunecht, also into buying up properties in the area. Part of the original estate was retained by the Sole family, whose most prominent member is possibly David Sole, former Scottish rugby captain. In 2015 the Soles sold off their holding and so, too, did the Dunecht estate. 

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Z-plan Glenbuchat Castle rubble-built with beautiful stone

Glenbuchat lies between the River Don and the Ladder Hills, 6 miles west of Kildrummy and just over 30 miles west of Aberdeen and was once a Gaelic-speaking area. At the end of the 16th century the estate incorporated Glen Nochty in Strathdon and at the end of that century John Gordon of Cairnborrow had a Z-plan tower house or castle built on a magnificent site over the Don whose crumbling remains are now in the hands of Historic Scotland, Alba Aosmhor.

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The Bonny Earl o’ Moray died from horrific wounds

Gordon was implicated in the murder of the Bonny Earl o’ Moray (Murray as in Andy not as in the eel) that gave rise to the popular ballad.

Ye Hielands and ye Lawlands
Oh whar hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray
An’ layd him on the green

He took part in the Battle o’ Glenlivet at which Catholic clans resisted attempts to curb Catholicism during the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Huntly Gordons, Hays, Comyns, Camerons and Cummings though greatly outnumbered by troops led by Protestant forces under the Campbells of Argyll along with Murrays, Stewarts, Forbes, Macgillivrays, Macleans, Grants and Chattans appear to have been the victors. 

The last Gordon to own the castle was the famous Jacobite general, “Old Glenbucket” the mispronunciation coming from the German prince who became King George II of Great Britain and the monarch Jacobites hoped to throw out in favour of the Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart. Apparently “Old Glenbucket” gave the Elector of Hanover nightmares from which he woke up screaming “De great Glenbucket be coming” although I have to say that sounds like German via a Holywood interpretation of a house maid from Alabama.

turret Glenbuchat

Glenbuchat Castle remains hint at its once grand turrets and towers

Glenbuchat then became Glenbucket. It has since recovered its softer pronunciation with a “ch” as in loch not as in lock. Take your time to pronounce it and keep the throat open, don’t close it and you too can say it as it without sounding like some cranky old monarch. 

William Duff aka Lord Braco aka Earl Fife bought the estate in 1737. Duff was on the opposite side from Old Glenbucket, and an enthusiastic supporter of George II’s son the notorious Butcher Cumberland  whose troops tirelessly hunted down and savagely killed men, women and bairns following the Battle of Culloden – for decades. The flowers known as Sweet Williams were named after him, a name hugely offensive to many Scots, but here in Scotland, they are still sometimes referred to as Stinking Willies.

Corner Glenbuchat castle

Glenbuchat Castle

Angle turrets contained turnpike stairs and turrets were supported by flying arches

The Duffs built up a fortune through acquiring land across Scotland; a quarter of a million acres in and around Aberdeen, Banff and Moray. They were not alone. By the end of the 18th century land ownership was concentrated in the hands of a few families. Though the Duffs acquired Glenbuchat Castle their seat of power was Duff House at Banff, to the east, not in Glenbuchat.

The isolated glen was opened up when a military road was pushed through early in the 19th century. Previous to this there were only tracks and drove roads used to walk cattle over the hills to markets, across to Speyside and farther down country to the south. Agriculture was, of course, the main occupation of glen folk. Their isolation from markets forced them into self-sufficiency which restricted the population the glen could support and delayed its adoption of modern agricultural practices when most other areas were responding to innovations of the Agricultural Revolution. In the glen animals continued to roam freely and improved crops were slow to replace traditional bear and oats.

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Glenbuchat Castle   remains of one of the two square towers

While cattle were raised in the glen they were rarely eaten by its tenant farmers whose diet was mainly restricted to cereals and vegetables. Animals were reared to sell to those who had the money to afford meat and went to markets in the south for their flesh as well as for their leather hides and the sheep’s wool. Limestone quarrying was also carried out in the glen and remains of old lime kilns still exist.  

It was possible to earn money while living in the glen but as incomes improved so their lairds realised an opportunity to squeeze more from their tenants and rents were increased. Of course during economic depressions rents did not go down but inflicted greater hardship on the poorest of communities scraping a living in Glenbuchat. 

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Glenbuchat Castle

Glenbuchat Castle was protected by a heavy wooden door and a yett and set at an angle in the building to secure the house from enemies. Over the door was inscribed  Nocht on Earth Remain Bot Fame. Its ground floor housed the kitchen and cellars while the laird’s accommodation was on the upper floors.

The nature of their existence forced people to co-operate with one another and farming in the glen was organised as self-sustaining communities – sharing tasks, equipment and animals in their ferm touns or clachans.

Late in the 17th century the glen had one shoemaker, a miller, one walking mill (a process in cloth-making – here it was woollen cloth from their sheep and linen from locally grown flax or lint), and three weavers. There were four weavers working in the 1840s as well as three wrights, three masons, three blacksmiths, two shoemakers, tailors and two wood manufacturers (perhaps carpenters?). Three meal mills operated early in that century and two waulk mills. The last of the mills finally closed in 1927.

http://www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk/details/893497

It was into the 1960s before mains electricity made it into the glen. Up till then heating and cooking was by open fire – peat, timber and presumably later coal once roads permitted the transportation of imported supplies from Aberdeen harbour.

landscape at Glenbuchart castle

Lighting at one time when no wax candles were available was by burning roots, sliced into strips and dried. As with every impoverished and isolated community the people of the glen were dependent on their immediate environment for all their needs, certainly in the days before roads. Apart from the castle and homes of wealthier individuals, buildings were constructed from dug-up turf, divots,  piled on top of each other and so too were roofs covered with divots over a timber framework. Tiny homes of two rooms, the but and ben with earth floors and an open fire where smoke eventually found its own way out through the opening in the roof, the lum. No luxury and certainly no privacy and horribly smoky.

When wine became taxed beyond the pockets of all but the wealthy in towns and cities so a taste for whisky grew and here lay opportunities for glen-dwellers to enhance their paltry incomes. Or would have done but then the potential of taxing whisky meant the government went to great lengths to ensure no ordinary spirit producer in the glen made anything from it. In 1821 a raiding party searching for illicit stills charged and took away 39 Glenbuchat men – some to jail. Imagine the impact this would have had not just on individual families but on the work of the glen. Not everyone was prosecuted for producing whisky locally, only the poor and vulnerable folk – ’twas ever thus.

Of the 138 people who lived in the glen in the 1960s only 91 remained ten years later. Making a living was more difficult than ever in a world of changed consumer habits. 

But one person’s problem is another’s opportunity. What was big in the glen? -apart from its hills and they aren’t that big. Wildlife. Which brings us back to where we started.

Some people value our wildlife and others say they do but what they really mean is they value it for the buzz they get from destroying it. Hunting stirs the blood of some. They lust after the brutal pastime. Birds and animals in their gun sights are not, well birds and animals, but game. Game was not/is not for ordinary people to take and eat, no matter how destitute they may be, game is property – of the laird and for entertainment or sport.

By 1820 Glenbuchat had become a shooting and hunting paradise – and co-incidentally a good earner for the laird – better than impoverished tenant farmer rents.

gamekeeper

With property comes laws and regulations to limit who can get access to wildlife – and to preserve these laws and regulations gamekeepers were hired to look after the interests of the laird’s nice little earner.

Go into Glenbuchat and admire the scenery, the little old kirk and churchyard and the remains of Gordon’s castle but leave the wildlife alone, please.

Glenbuchat churchyard

Finally, let us push for major land reform that is in keeping with the 21st century and stop tugging the forelock as though we still exist in the 19thC.

The local Rev. Robert Scott was a collector of local ballads – see The Glenbuchat Ballads – https://folkloreforum.net/2008/11/05/david-buchan-and-james-moreira-eds-the-glenbuchat-ballads/

May 2, 2016

O Albin! O my country! John Stuart Blackie

J S Blackie

John Stuart Blackie

Guest blog from Textor

As with all nineteenth century national cultures Scotland’s was an area of contestation. Scotland had lost its identity as a sovereign political state having been subsumed within in the larger formation of Great Britain and the United Kingdom; but at the same time the country retained its distinctive spin on law, education and religion. Added to these characteristics was the legacy of destruction of clan systems, some of which had challenged the rule of the Hanoverian settlement. Into the nineteenth century the question of what it meant to be Scottish had become one with numerous possible answers.

Before the half-century had gone, for example it stretched from the view of Walter Scott who recognised that something of value had been lost in the integration of Scottish life to the larger world of Britain but believed that the benefits of a more peaceable, stable and wealthy society outweighed the losses. In this way he was able to paint pictures of aspects of Scotland’s past as distinct, noble and worthy of praise but now anachronism. Scots could mourn their loss but history had moved on. Get over it.

Grampian storm

However, with the rapid and radical changes in social and economic life strainsof political thought developed which challenged what we might call the Tory radicalism of Scott. By far the most contestationist were those Chartists who used Scottish history to promote their cause of political and economic rights, who called up the ghosts of the past, in particular William Wallace, to rally opposition to all the corruption and injustice of pre-1850 Britain. Chartists challenged basic political power across Britain and gave voice to ways forward which would have appalled the historical novelist.

On the other hand there were those who came from the enfranchised middle class, those who had gained from extension of political power in 1832. They had found a place in the sun and at the same time, through education and religious attachment, were well aware of Scotland’s unique cultural history. Whilst these elements did not challenge the basic political and economic fabric of Britain it would be a mistake to see them as wholly complacent in the post 1832 settlement. One of the challenges they faced was the inherited rights and privileges of landed interests, not that they wanted to overturn the right to private property just that sometimes land use was called into question often manifesting itself as urban and rural rights of way entanglements.

Lion's Face Drive near Invercauld scene of Rights of Way battle in 1891

Lion’s Face Drive near Invercauld – the scene of a rights of way battle in 1891

Which, at last, takes us to John Stuart Blackie. JSB was born in 1809 into a middle class family, his father was a banker. He was educated at Peter Merson’s school in Aberdeen’s Netherkirkgate where, so the story goes, he would daily gaze on the sculptured figure of a knight mounted high on the town house known variously as Benholm’s Lodge and the Wallace Tower. What matters here is that JSB claimed this became the basis of his fascination and enthusiasm for Scottish culture and history. He like so many others mistakenly believed the figure to represented William Wallace.

Leaving the Netherkirkgate school in 1821 he began attending classes at Marischal College. In the same year his mother died. The poor women in her fourteen years of married bliss had given birth to ten children, six outlived her.

Lochnagar

Wildly compressing his years as a young man: JSB dropped out of university in 1824, tried his luck in a lawyer’s office but gave this up following spiritual turmoil akin it seems to the protagonist in Confessions of a Justified Sinner or the angst of Kirkegaard. Death became a fixation and religion the answer. He had been raised in a relaxed Presbyterian home, religion was there but as a guide rather than a dictator. But now he had religion and entering the ministry was to be his salvation, or so he thought. Hence it was in 1825, with his father’s permission and money he travelled to Edinburgh to find certainty and salvation. Interestingly he not only prayed deeply and frequently with his cousin Archy Gibson but also believed that good works were important which led him to the poorest parts of Edinburgh.

Restlessness once again overtook him and he was back in Aberdeen in 1826, still studying theology. This lasted until 1829 when his intellectual curiosity, and his father’s money, took him to Germany the most important event in his life; and before the year was out had given up all thoughts of becoming a minister and worse, at least for those who had hopes of him becoming a leading Scottish Divine, he rejected the Westminster Confession of Faith and turned instead towards a more liberal, historical and humanist doctrine which he was finding in Germany; he also discovered beer and Greek. From being a young man configured with thoughts of death, atonement and redemption he travelled across the liberal divide to arrive at the opinion that Scottish Presbyterianism was silly and pernicious, threatening to stunt the spirit and intellectual lives of children. This was balanced, if balance is the correct term, by his Scottishness, by his continuing sense of pride in the distinct contribution that Scotland had made in religion and despite his criticisms would have none of the bigotry of English High Churchism.

For a moment he toyed with Roman Catholicism but soon gave this up preferring Scottish Sabbatarianism to racket and rattle, fiddling and frivolity . . . and tasteless mummery. His antipathy to aspects of English culture was heightened by his experiences in Germany where he found that John Bull . . .speaks no German . . . is not a great favourite . . . proud selfish and has a mercantile spirit.

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Illustrating his secular turn of mind, on a walking tour to Florence he took the opportunity of studying peasant farming and landholding using this to ask questions of Irish land law; and he expressed his support for parliamentary reform and read Shelley’s “Queen Mab” with enthusiasm. However, he was given little time to speculate on possible social injustices as his father had grown weary of the Continental Jaunt.

JSB was summoned home in 1831 where he was told to return to Edinburgh University to study law, which he did. A hateful experience which resulted in his admission in 1834 to the Society of Advocates. At the same time his father stopped JSB’s allowance. It was now sink or swim by his own abilities.

Resenting spending time on the minutiae of Scots Law Blackie resolved to earn a living from writing aiming at the burgeoning market for learned reviews but his central goal was find a university post in Scotland. Aberdeen at the time was a city being run by middle class, liberal Whig men. Blackie’s father Alexander was of this ilk and had the ear of these men. One of the ways of extending influence across the city and beyond was to have a university Chair filled by a sympathetic academic or even, as happened in Aberdeen, canvas for creation of a new Chair and connive to have a suitable candidate win the post. A Chair in Latin was created at Marischal College of which Blackie said a Whig job it unquestionably was, not that this made him unhappy, far from it. With strong political friends he had every chance of winning the Chair. There was one fly in the ointment: his rejection of the Westminster Confession of Faith. He was horror-struck, for to accept the post meant signing up to Calvinism, a condition of teaching at universities.

JSB was no fool. He had the wit and the legal training to get round issue, a little deceit and fancy footwork was the answer. He signed the Confession which was accepted and ratified by the Presbytery. To the Church of Scotland’s horror the new Professor then admitted that signing of the document was not a statement of his own beliefs simply a statement that his teaching would be within the bounds imposed by the Confession. A storm blew-up but in the end the blast of a trumpet for secular education was heard and Blackie began his university career in 1841.

Deer stalking

JSB found teaching at Marischal too constrained and hidebound. He wanted a bigger and more stimulating environment for his pedagogic skills. With Greek being his first intellectual love he set up the Hellenic Society, took to lecturing to working men and women outside the university bounds where he found a more receptive audience; in contrast the university had a low standard of attainment and ambition. With this opinion it is hardly surprising that he was on the lookout for a post away from Aberdeen. But it took years for him to find a job which he eventually did in 1852 when he was appointed to the Chair of Greek at Edinburgh University, this after again undergoing questions as to his religious affiliation which he had said was the gospel of the heart as found in the New Testament. Unlike the youth of the 1830s he now had no interest in going into a corner to look at the point [of my nose] and solve the mystery of the Trinity. Nonetheless, he might not be interested in biblical nasal gazing but some men who influenced university appointments were concerned and it took hard canvassing by Blackie to win the post but win it he did. He remained at Edinburgh University until retirement in 1882 and died in 1895.

Within the sixty odd years of active intellectual life JSB displayed an amazing ability to at one and the same moment be the odd man at the table, the one who looked and sounded wrong to men and women of conventional wisdom yet always seemed to be welcome at the table. Perhaps it’s a bit like fellow Scotsman Thomas Carlyle (Blackie described him as a notable monster) who cried misery to Progress and so much of what Victorian Britain stood for yet was keenly read and listened to by both a middle class and working class audiences.

Blackie differed in many ways from Carlyle, he had a joy of good living of company and the pleasures life, including female company (he had married in 1841 with a most unconventional romance). Unlike the London based “Sage” he was not miserable. But he did, like Carlyle, betray that willingness to express affection for working men and women, for their capacity to deal with adversity, their willingness to labour and to grasp at learning. But again like Carlyle grasping could only go so far. Under the tutelage of enlightened men such as himself industrious classes could find a better world, unease only emerges when working men and women begin to formulate alternatives generated by themselves. As with so many of the middle class reformers of the 1830s JSB could not get his head around the notion that Chartists might be proposing alternatives which needed to be taken intellectually seriously. Attending a Chartist meeting in 1843 he heard a meagre scarecrow of a man extolling Carlyle’s critique of industrialisation, pouring out floods of real natural eloquence on the triumphs of democracy. Much impressed by the physical looks of the orator and the voice the Professor of Latin pulled back from full endorsement, perhaps not wishing to be deceived as he had deceived the Presbytery of Aberdeen. Appearance and sound was all very well but what of the Chartist substance? And this was found wanting.

Glen Callater

Glen Callater

Democracy, there was truth there too, but more than half-a lie. I believe the majority are good-but are they wise can a multitude of passion-moved men be wise? His answer was no. Critical thought and wisdom of any value could not come from mass movements rather it was to be found with a solitary sage in a chamber. Having said this when in 1843 the Scottish Church split Blackie sided with the dissenters, which in Aberdeen was all the ministers in the city, describing the men who walked out of the Church as noble but these men were of course from a respectable class.

But to return to his Scottishness, apart from wearing a plaid as everyday dress he asserted his national if not his class identity by questioning land usage in the Highlands. Addressing the problem first broached in the 1830s he turned to the medium of poetry to show his distaste for families being cleared from land. Like his one-time colleague at Marischal College, William MacGillivray, Blackie walked Scotland. This gave him ample opportunity to see the cleared land and with him learning Gaelic in the 1860s was able to speak directly to men and women forcibly driven from crofts.

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The poems he published in 1857 under the title “Braemar Ballads” gives vent to his anger and sadness at viewing deserted and ruined clachans across the landscape: Where the stump of a stricken ash tree/ Shows the spot, where the home of the cottar should be. Villain of the piece is the destruction of social unity which, he said, had underpinned Highland clan society being replaced first by sheep farming then deer forest. It’s not great poetry but the message is clear, the chieftains are gone, the kind lords of the glen have left the heather muirs, they bartered the rights of the brave Highlandman putting what should be a Scottish heritage into the hands of stalkers of deer . . . lordlings that live for the pleasure to kill. Make no mistake the man hostile to organised Chartism makes a searing indictment of clearances: O heartless lords, O loveless law, with calculation cold / Ye sold the mighty force, that glows in faithful hearts, for gold . . . Woe unto you, the grasping crew . . . By Heaven, it is a lawless land! We boast that we are free. And he asks how and why this has happened. Having pretty well jettisoned the ideology of Providential acts with his turn to the morality of love he squarely puts the blame on the drive for wealth and money and the absolute right of an owner to dispose of property as he or she saw fit.

Clearances, he said were a man-made phenomena, one that his beloved Scotland needs hang its head in shame: O Albin! O my country! O my dear Highland home/ The lust of gold hath ruined thee, the lust that ruined Rome. Absentee proprietors he wrote These be the masters, Scotland! Commerce was the problem. A society which centred its activity in manufacturing for profit rather than expanding the moral worth of individuals was bound to slip towards treating men and woman as numbers in an accounting ledger. This was a theme he had touched on in the 1840s when he encouraged Aberdeen male shop assistants to treat with both customers and employers for the restriction on what we would now call unsocial working hours. Long working days Blackie said gave little time for education and appreciation of the better things of life. Interestingly the shop men found a great deal of support for their request amongst Aberdeen’s great and good but there was little similar enthusiasm for improving the working conditions of men and women employed in more industrial enterprises. With this moral stance it should come as no surprise that JSB was hostile to utilitarian philosophy.

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Land use and tenure had to change, one remedy was to find men in Parliament to represent the needs of small farmers and find some way of restricting the spread of large farms; to bring back the form of close relationship which had at one time, he believed, typified clan society. Absentee landlords could have no feeling for the men and women of the land and being a Gaelic speaker he excoriated those who lived in the Highlands but would not learn the native tongue. We should remember that the university professor had got his first step up the academic ladder with the assistance of Aberdeen’s Whigs, men who favoured (without being absolutists) the free play of the market and the right of capital to make capital. Clearly any whiggism retained by Blackie was held within his moral critique. His liberal view of religion and pedagogic humanism melded with the large ethical stance to make him a man well-able to sit with academics across Britain and beyond, to flirt (literally) with women of the highest social standing, be invited to the houses of great landowners and give talks on politics, literature to working men. Looking at JSB it is easy to conclude that for all that he made the call to action a central issue of his philosophy he was sufficiently distant from it to actually upset the social circles he inhabited. But this would be unfair. For all his deviousness in rising to his first professorship he did raise publicly the issue of the right to teach without affirming membership of or agreement with the Church of Scotland; this was a conscience issue which he resolved by being cleverer than his opponents. Similarly his outspoken attack on clearances could have threatened to close many doors in his face. Indeed following the publication of the poems he was encouraged to write a letter The Times setting out his views; this was no shrinking sentimentalist, my whole breakfast table was deluged with papers about the desolation in the Highlands. In 1883 Blackie demonstrated his continued commitment to reforming Scotland’s land laws; he gave evidence to the Napier Commission where he called for fair rents with fixity of tenure for small tenants; called on restrictions on both large sheep farms and deer forests and for a Royal Commission to look into some way of redistributing land to the benefit crofters. These and other points made by him showed that the example of Ireland with soul-destroying poverty and rapacious landlords and Gladstonian liberalism’s attempt to relieve the conditions of the poor farmer was not lost on JSB. Unlike some of his contemporaries he did not blame Popery for the sad state of Ireland it was, he said, down to the English . . . [who] sucked the blood systematically out of the people; the English were filled with measureless greed. Scots it seems had nothing to do with the state of Ireland which sounds a bit like his plea that it was English landlords who brought the Highlands down, move along no Scots here. Paradoxically for all the denunciation of clearances he had a very good relationship with the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, one of the most kind-hearted easy-going . . . creatures that I have ever met . . . a sweet blooded race these Sutherlands. There is surely a question mark over this view of the family notorious for its clearances. Probably the solution to the tensions and dissonances in Blackie’s social policies is that on the one hand he wanted to avoid materialism (philosophical and otherwise) of liberalism and the closed reactionary bulwarks of the Tories. Thus he would swing between them, looking for spiritual values, liberal education and decent treatment of the poor. Liberals gave so much as did Tory paternalism, at one point he wrote that Tories are the best landlords and true friends of the crofters; and the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland would have fallen into being the best of the lot as they were drawn from the old heads of houses and clans. Flying between the two poles of liberalism and Toryism of course left him adrift from the one philosophy of action emerging from outside his class, namely socialism. For all the progressive things he stood for he was constrained within the limits of his class vision forced to search for solutions and salvation in the world of commerce.

March 21, 2016

Hares to the Slaughter

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Once upon a time in a land of snowy peaks and heather muirs there lived a hare whose pelt could change with the seasons. This hare was called Blue or Mountain for it had a tint of blue when the weather was fine and it turned as white as swan down when ice and snow were brought to the land of Scotland on the tail of a wind from the north.

Blue or Mountain was sometimes known as Lupus Timidus for Lupus meant hare and Timidus told what a gentle and timid creature this was.

One day evil spirits, known as the agents of darkness, claimed Blue’s land belonged to them and from that time Blue and all the other creatures of the muir lived in fear that the evil ones would hunt them down for the evil ones liked nothing better than destroying the animals of the muir for it made them feel heroic. But none of the evil ones were as fleet of foot as the creatures they stalked so they chased them on motor vehicles and fired at them with guns that could blast them to smithereens at long range or else they set metal traps that sprang shut trapping the foot of a grazing animal that might starve to death unless clubbed over the head as an alternative.

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One day a bird sat at an open window and overheard the evil forces talk of what they would do to Blue if they caught him for they blamed the hare for spreading tics which brought disease to their grouse and, they said, no other creature had the right to kill grouse who wasn’t prepared to pay to ‘bag’ them. The bird learnt that grouse were what was called property and not free birds of the sky and muirs like her.

When the bird told Blue what she had overheard Blue at first planned to escape but where could he go? The muirs were his, he thought, for generations of hares had lived in the mountains of his native Scotland for thousands of years which Blue knew was a very long time and longer than the evil spirits who claimed to own the land and the sky above into which grouse were released before being promptly shot back out of it.

The animals of the muir living in a place called the Cairngorms National Park gathered together to discuss what could be done to put an end to the persecution of Blue by the mob of evil ones. First to speak was a rook, who was a very intelligent bird,  and told of something called the BBC which told stories it wanted people to believe and one of them was how landowners, who the rook explained was another name for the evil forces, sought to reassure the public that mountain hares must be culled. The rook told how the BBC had UNDERLINED words which meant they must be believed and it accused Blue of endangering plants, though it never provided any evidence for this claim.

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“An organisation representing landowners has sought to reassure the public on the culling of mountain hares.

The Scottish Moorland Group has responded to concerns raised earlier this month about the shooting of the animals in the Cairngorms.”

All the assembled animals gasped for Blue’s future sounded bleak as it was widely known that when the evil forces spoke of culls it was for the animals own good though none at the meeting had ever spoken to a culled creature who had returned to tell the good it had done them.

A red deer that had been nibbling at grass during the discussion spoke up – “I lost my brother to an evil one who admired his antlers so much he said they would look better hanging on a wall in his castle,” she reported sadly. “When I asked questioned him the evil one and his friends laughed and waved their rifles at me and told me it was legal and when things are said to be legal for people it often spells bad news for us animals.” The deer then lay down and listened to the others.

“I’ve had to flee persecution,” whispered a fox recently arrived in Scotland from England.

The fox’s words were met with a growl that was traced to a sleek black dog whose mouth hung open revealing a jaw full of sharp teeth. “Too many like you makes a need for culls,” he snarled.

The other animals studied the dog who some suspected lived with the evil ones. “Culls are only necessary when too many of one kind of animal lives in these parts,” it barked underlining its message that responsibility for culls lay with the animals and not those who did the culling. 

“Who decides there are too many?” enquired an owl.

“Those who manage the land,” snarled the dog, “it is a responsibility they take very seriously. Land doesn’t just look after itself it has to be managed and that means everything on it. Only insiders know what’s best for the land not external commentators.”

“It used to manage itself very nicely,” said a Golden eagle, “back at a time there were many like me, now I fly for miles without seeing another of my kind.

“I don’t want anyone deciding if I live or die, I’d prefer to do that myself,” remarked the owl but by now the black dog had slunk away.

The rest of the animals sighed for they could see no escape from the evil forces, specially now they learnt what they did was LEGAL. They suspected for all of them there was a season when they might be killed LEGALLY even though they believed the land belonged to them as much as it did to the evil forces.

What will happen once Blue is killed? asked a voice from the back. Surely a Scottish muir without Blue would be less beautiful for us all? They turned to the rook for an answer.

“If Blue was property his death might be delayed but he is what is known as vermin and the evil forces are sworn to remove vermin whenever they choose, LEGALLY,” explained the rook sagely. He looked over at the deer who was paying no attention.

“My family were hunted to near extinction in a time called feudal,” purred a wild cat, “are we still living in feudal times?” it asked.

hare

“Oh I think we are,” chirped a grouse, looking over its shoulder in the direction the black dog was last seen.

As jagged-tooth traps snapped and guns blasted both day and night the creatures of the muirs ran for their lives in all directions. The last they saw of their friend Blue was him running uphill as fast as his legs could carry him with the forces of evil on his heels.

The Raptor blog https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/tag/mountain-hare/

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14340402.Outrage_of_landowners_mass_killing_of_mountain_hares/

February 18, 2016

Reflections on the Highland Clearances: Croick Church at Strathcarron

 

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When Sir John Lockhart Ross of Balnagowan joined the frenzy for making money from introducing sheep and deer to Highland estates he gave no thought to evicting people who lived and worked his vast acres from their homes in the straths and glens their families had occupied for generations. The land was his and he would do what he liked with it and he had a lackey eager to do his bidding. 

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On the afternoon of 24th May 1845 among the several hundred evicted from their homes that day from in Glen Calvie in Sutherland, that is ordered out of their homes, unroofed behind them and herded away like so many cattle, 90 sought refuge in Croick graveyard. These were law abiding, God-fearing people who resisted the attacks on them and their way of life but were beaten by the ruthlessness of those with wealth and power and their toadies.

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A few of the evicted did find alternative areas to farm and live but the numbers were so great that many did not. The 90 who crowded into the graveyard did not attempt to go into the church out of fear of causing offence. What does that tell you?

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A few scratched messages on the church’s windows during this clearance, and a later one from Greenyards in Strathcarron in 1854, known as the Massacre of the Rosses, and their words remind us the Clearances were tragic and despicable and happened to real people like you and me.

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Croick Church is at the end of a long single-track road up lovely Strathcarron. It was one of 43 churches funded by the British government at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, as a thank you for the contribution of strathfolk to the French Wars – the contribution being a rich supply of men and boys prepared to fight and die for a cause a long, long way from their homes and cares.

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Strathcarron’s menfolk in common with every other glen and strath in Scotland were much sought after by the British state, and their clan chiefs before then, for their bravery in battle; plentiful supplies of young and strong men who fitted the role of cannon fodder perfectly.

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So these churches, built with money made available by the government were called Parliamentary churches for that reason and were provided with an annual minister stipend of £120. Croick was built in 1827 and Thomas Telford was involved in selecting the designs of these Parliamentary churches and their manses but I don’t believe he designed them.

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While young strapping men might have been appreciated as a fighting resource (perhaps not quite the right term) by the authorities as long as they wore the uniform of the state, and fought for its interests and not against, they were designated insignificant when not required for military service. And neither they nor their families were respected when it came to evicting them at short notice when the land was wanted as hunting muirs – then those communities were disposed of as any other property only with less value to the lairds and their lackeys than grazing beasts.

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The Clearances were shocking and a disgrace although there are some today who would excuse them or try to diminish their significance in the history of this country as part of their rightwing political narrative. But there are always reactionaries blind to truth.
The shameful events of the clearing of Glen Calvie was reported at the time in the Times of London in a piece which recognised the reprehensible nature of the action – turning people out by force and making them into beggars.

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“Behind the church, a long kind of booth was erected, the roof formed of tarpaulin stretched over poles… horsecloths, rugs, blankets and plaids … their bedding and their children they all removed on Saturday afternoon to this place… they had been round to every heritor and factor in the neighbourhood, and 12 of the 18 families had been unable to find places of shelter…”.

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The man who physically carried out this act was the estate’s factor James Gillanders of Tain. His first attempts at serving eviction notices on the people were actively rebuffed by the womenfolk of the glen who burned the papers. This was in 1843.

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Gillanders succeeded the following year, avoiding the women he tricked the men into receiving the summonses. Observant of the law the people did not resort to violence in the face of such an outrage. They lost homes, means of living and feeding their families, communities and their entitlement (as it was) to land that stretched back generations and centuries.

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Among the 90 people who grouped together like animals outside the church that May were 23 children under ten years of age, including tiny babies, 10 over the age of 60 years and several in poor health.

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Some of the scratched messages showing that even from the most isolated glens the people were literate.

Among the scratched comments are:
GLENCALVIE IS A WILDERS …. BELOW SHEEP THAT …. TO THE …. CROICK
GLENCAL PEOPL WAS IN THE CHURCHYARD HERE MAY 24 1845
THE GLEN…. PEOPLES WERE HERE 1845 THE GLENCALVIE ROSS
JOHN ROSS 1854 …. GLEN….. 24
THE GLENCALVIE TENANTS RESIDED HERE MAY 24 1845
GLENCALVIE …. MAY
GLENCALVIE PEOPLE THE WICKED GENERATION GLENCALVIE
GLENCALVIE TENANTS RESIDING HERE
GLENCALVIE GREENYARD MURDER WAS IN THE YEAR 1854 MARCH 31
THE GLEN…. PEOPLES WERE HERE 1845 THE GLENCALVIE ROSS
JOHN ROSS SHEPHERD CROICK THE GLENCALVIE …. HERE MAY 24TH 184
THIS HOUSE IS NEDING REPAIR

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The instrument of this evil, or rather the one who physically carried out the act for it was greater than this appalling man, Gillanders, was buried in Croick graveyard and it should come as no surprise his grave was frequently strewn with rubbish as an indication of how he was regarded by locals.

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Glen Calvie is now a sporting estate, wouldn’t you know it? In presumably unwitting irony the holders of the estate explain how the strath has “been continuously inhabited since the end of the last ice age.” With what is not explained. Neither does the estate website care to linger on the story of the Clearances from the glen but it does provide a link to http://croickchurch.com and it does acknowledge “This history is only partial and incomplete.” Aye to that.

 

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January 17, 2016

Belhaven, a Toady and King Billy the Orange: a saunter through the agricultural revolution

Some Early Scottish Agricultural writers 

Lord Belhaven’s pamphlet, The Country Man’s Rudiments, or An Advice to the Farmers of East Lothian how to labour and manure their grounds (1699) must be in with a shout for longest title ever. This so embarrassed Belhaven he published it anonymously.

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But let us start with another famous name.

Sir Archibald Napier is mostly known for his associations: his father was the illustrious mathematician, physicist and astronomer, John Napier, who invented logarithms and an early calculator known as Napier’s bones; his wife, Margaret Graham, was a sister of James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose – the Covenanter leader who turned. Archibald himself was a judge and politician at the time of the Union of Crowns and he was among the coterie who accompanied James VI to England to be crowned king of England and Ireland.  

The Napiers’ estate was Merchiston at Edinburgh and Archibald thought he understood enough about agriculture to offer advice to others in the shape of an early publication on husbandry. Essentially his message was to dose cultivated land with common salt. It is not clear why he came to this view and it is doubtful anyone who worked the land would be persuaded to try this out but it did impress King James VI. Now I know little about James other than he was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and went on to become king in England and Ireland as well as Scotland at which point he was demoted from VI to I, oh, and that he was too lazy to get off his horse to take a pee. But so impressed was he with Archie he awarded him a 21-year patent to liberally sprinkle salt from one end of Scotland to the other.   

Scottish agriculture is not what it used to be, and if Napier’s practice is anything to go by then it’s just as well. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries life was mostly lived locally, apart from men called away to fight to defend someone’s else’s argument, and food was what you produced within your communities. Nowadays much less importance is placed upon agriculture within Britain – far less than elsewhere in Europe. That said there are parts of Scotland where agriculture still dominates the landscape and is vital to local and national economies: Aberdeenshire, Galloway and Orkney for example.

Back in Napier’s time there were the beginnings of agricultural ‘improvements’. Improvements is a loaded term I know which benefit some and are detrimental to others. Scotland adapted more slowly to new methods of farming than England and parts of the Continent but once she caught up Scottish improvers transformed how land was worked, how it looked and the relationship of rural dwellers with it; some of the best agricultural innovators in Britain coming from this part of the country.

Scotland, as we know, is hugely varied when it comes to how land is owned and worked with major differences between the Lowlands and the Highlands; partly as a consequence of the terrain and partly from the inheritance of the organisation of land where Highland estates were changed irrevocably following the Jacobite Risings of the 18th century when land confiscation was rife and and clan relationships destroyed.  

Times were transforming in other ways with the industrialisation of Britain establishing new ways of living; becoming dependent of earning a wage to buy food instead of growing it being one obvious change.

And for those who didn’t move to town to find work in one of the new manufactories how they engaged with the land altered, how they were housed, how they were paid as well as what was grown on the land.    

The number of printed works promoting new methods of farming increased from the 16th century, at first often written by owners of land, such as Napier, but in successive centuries others developed the confidence to air their opinions.   

An early writer was Thomas Tusser who gave us Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie in 1599. I would have thought one hundred ideas might have sufficed to get farming off to quite a good start and, well, five hundred seems a little excessive. Given there are only 365 days in the average year it would take a farmer one whole year to get through a mere 73%  of his suggestions, assuming he or she was adopting one per day, by which time it would be time to start back at number 1.  

Few Scottish farmers fell for his multiplicity of advice but Tusser proved a bit of a hit in England’s shires and his book went on to become a best-seller in South Britain. Tusser is also remembered (or Googleable) for coining the adage: A fool and his money are soon parted – whether that was a comment on those who bought his book or not we can only imagine.

Proving far more popular back in Bonnie Scotland was advice from John Reid, a gardener to Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, by Avoch (for all you non-Gaelic types Avoch is pronounced Och). Reid’s book admittedly was on gardening but he included observations and suggestions on growing crops so its inclusion it justified. Reid’s book became so popular it was reprinted in many editions following the initial 1683 print-run.

Just squeezing into my list is a guide by anonymous from Aberdeen who in 1684 published a directory of annual fairs and weekly markets (faires and weekly mercats) across Scotland – and I wish I had a copy of it.  

A trickle of advice grew into a veritable torrent of publications, each offering instructions on everything from the best way to feed the infield -as much manure as can be fitted onto a muckle graip seems to sum that up – to using the outfield to grow flax and hemp which was essential for homespun fabrics and later for commercial textile production  (I have an ancient mortcloth spun from home-grown Black Isle flax and home woven by my greeeeeaaaatttt-something Granny -obviously surplus to requirements).  Of developing importance in this world where eating flesh was a rarity for the majority was the rearing and raising of cattle and sheep, for food, leather and wool and much else besides.

Back to manure for a moment. James Donaldson, another laird’s son, published his Husbandry Anatomised, or, an Enquiry into the present manner of Toiling and Manuring the Ground in Scotland in 1697. It was possibly written as a money-spinner for, despite being a laird’s son (or perhaps because he was the scion of a laird) James was no horny-handed toiler of the soil and his instructions were of very little use to those who were. When that sunk in and the book failed to establish his reputation, one that would do him any good, Donaldson thought he would become a merchant only to discover that trade was not what he’d imagined either so he offered himself up to the army of a King always referred to as William III – although in Scotland he was William II, running a poor second to William the Lion of the 12th/13th centuries – and he never gets demoted, unlike James the pee-er. Anyway, William was king of just about everywhere as well as oranges and lemons and he was evidently tight because he didn’t pay Donaldson who eventually said sod this and made off, followed by his considerable debts and his creditors.

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Just think about this for a moment. King Billy II and III was forgetful about paying his soldiers, certainly Donaldson who ended up owing money to folk who provided him with food and other stuff and was therefore in debt. Donaldson’s debt came about, partly because he wrote a bad book on agriculture but also because King Billy didn’t pay him. Yet no-one hounded King Billy the Freeloader for not paying his debts, they were only interested in pursuing Donaldson (and other Donaldsons). Debts, you see, become less of a crime the greater your status.

Don’t feel too much pity for Donaldson just yet. When he returned from abroad he penned another book on farming based on what he observed on his travels across the Continent and nauseatingly dedicated this publication to the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, Patrick, Earl of Marchmont and ‘the whole Remnant Lords of His Majesties most Honourable Privy Council.’

His gross toadying made no difference. The book, as they say, bombed … as did his poetry… but that’s another story. However it would be wrong to dismiss his work entirely for Donaldson did strongly advise manuring the infield – the one-third of land nearest the house that was best cultivated – and rotating its crops of oats, barley or bere and peas. As for the farther off ground, the outfield, he recommended resting fifty percent of it for two consecutive years to recover from cultivating oats on its less enriched soil.  

Other helpful ideas Donaldson discovered abroad included providing shelter for beasts (now often lacking in Scotland with wire fences replacing stone dykes) during bad weather and enriching the land with marl, seaweed (sea-ware) and lime as well as promoting the planting of the new vegetable called potatoes and specialist grasses and clover for grazing and replenishing exhausted soil.

And good lad that he was, he criticised the Scottish habit of weaning lambs at around four week so farmers could get more milk from ewes for cheese-making, and which he claimed led to high numbers of deaths among lambs. Donaldson was spot-on too in criticising short leases for tenant farmers who then had no incentive to improve their fields as any improvements they made would be enjoyed by the next tenant in line.

I haven’t forgotten about Belhaven, it’s a name that lives on, if for different reasons.

Belhaven had, as a member of the Scottish Privy Council (this is before all that Union malarkey) had been one of a group of prominent men who asked King William the Orange to run Scotland and he joined the Orange King’s army but it appears any time was too long in the company of the old fruit and Belhaven became ‘a passionate opponent of the Union’ who could see where that small clique of prominent Scotsmen, the Squadrone Volante, who forced through the Union against popular opinion were leading their country – to obscurity and foreign taxation. Such was his passion, they (the new Great British state) arrested him for expressing his opposition to the Union and hauled him off to London where he was treated so abominably, it’s said under pressure from members of the Privy Council, that he died in July 1708 aged 51.

His legacy was a powerful, if futile stand, in defence of Scotland’s continuing independence and a successful book on husbandry which went into several editions. He reiterated the need for land to be fed to support annual crops and advocated cultivating turnips, as animal fodder, and the potato. Belhaven was also concerned over tenant farmer poverty and debt – suggesting rents should be paid partly in kind, with grain as they were traditionally, but partly with money for as he explained a laird might take all or nearly all the crop during a bad growing season leaving the tenant and his family to starve.  

bere

William Mackintosh was 10 years old in 1672 when he travelled from Borlum in Inverness-shire to study at King’s College, Aberdeen’s first university. He would go on to tour the Continent and England, eventually returning to Scotland, to Alvie near Aviemore, where he took over a farm and incensed his neighbours by experimenting with enclosures – closing off pieces of land into separate fields as opposed to the traditional open areas of infield and outfield through which animals could roam and graze on growing crops. The hedges he planted to divide up his fields were ripped out and the banks he built for the same purpose were broken down by angry locals who wanted to retain old and familiar ways of farming.

At the Jacobite rising of 1715 Mackintosh, as their Brigadier-General,  raised a company of  Mackintosh clansmen  which occupied Inverness for a time before heading south by foot and sail to take Leith. From there they continued into England, rendezvousing with English Jacobites at the Border and onward to Preston. Captured, Mackintosh was taken to London and imprisoned in Newgate goal from where six-months later he and some fellow-prisoners overpowered their jailers and escaped. A £1000 bounty, something around quarter of a million pounds today, was put on his head but Mackintosh made it to France, along with his son. Within a few years he was desperate to return to Scotland but still outlawed he was forced to keep on the move for government forces were ruthless in tracking down and silencing opposition. Mackintosh was captured in Caithness and locked up in Edinburgh Castle where he remained until his death, many years later, at the age of eighty in 1743.

But what about his book you are asking .  An Essay on the Ways and Means of Inclosing, Fallowing, Plant, &c, Scotland, and that in sixteen years at Farthest, by a Lover of His Country was published in 1729 while Mackintosh was a prisoner in Edinburgh. In it he encouraged farmers to leave some land fallow before re-sowing it and he favoured growing wheat instead of the bere which was commonly grown in Scotland for its quick growth that required only a short season to mature. He too supported cultivating flax and hemp.

 Mackintosh also supported extending tenancy leases, to 19 years in his view, to encourage better use of land and appealed for an end to tenant farmers being forced to work their laird’s fields which took them away from tending their own land. And, of course, Mackintosh promoted enclosing fields, separating stock from arable farming.

Adam Dickson, kirk minister at Whittingham, East Lothian thought he would add his penny’s worth to the farming debate and published a series of essays on the subject. His Treatise of Husbandry specified differences between farming in Scotland and elsewhere, with reference to the country’s climate and soil conditions. Dickson’s works took a more modern approach to land improvements,  more scientific than anecdotal.

Land-holding and social relationships on the land affected the development of agriculture in Scotland. The early 18th century was a period when the British state confiscated estates owned by Jacobite supporters of the ’15 and ’45. Following the 1715 Rising a commission of Scots and English was set-up to manage these properties and very quickly most of them were flogged off to a dodgy bunch of land speculators who went by the name of York Buildings Company for £411,000 and thereafter to the highest bidder. 

Mistakes were learned from that episode and following the ’45, land grabbed by the government and crown was managed entirely by Scots who were more sensitive to the complex relationships of tenants and their exiled lairds. As a result affordable rents were set, schools were built and local industries were introduced.

When, in 1784, estates were restored to some of their owners the terms were not ungenerous although the estates commissioners continued to take revenue out of these estates to fund expensive projects such as the Forth and Clyde Canal, the building of Register House in Edinburgh and a payment of £3000 to the Highland Society.

The agricultural revolution transformed food production in Scotland and as a consequence our relationship with land. Land-holding in Scotland is as relevant today as it was in the 18th century and what Scotland needs is another revolution – over the ownership of Scotland’s land.  As for professional advice to Scotland’s farmers it still comes in printed form and over the past three hundred years a myriad of farming societies, some local others national. Over the past century guidance has come through the Rowett and Macaulay Institutes in Aberdeen and the Scottish College of Agriculture, now called something else and regrettably not the institution it was once but indicative of the reduced importance of agriculture in Scotland.

October 22, 2014

They’re Not Making Land Anymore – so what can the SRUC sell off now?

lindsay

Scotland’s countryside is an important contributor to the nation’s economy: cereals, potatoes, soft fruit, beef and dairy, sheep and forestry. These industries are vulnerable however – to fluctuating markets and weather certainly but what else?

Where do young people go to train for careers in rural occupations? The time was when there were facilities fairly close to home for our rural youngsters to get the basics while still working on family farms, certainly at weekends. Unfortunately these facilities are contracting and the danger is some may disappear altogether. Whole experimental farms have been sold off for house building or golf courses at the same time our rural college offers its majority of courses not in any of Scotland’s mainstays of farming but in Scotland’s second biggest city, Edinburgh.

The food produced in Scotland is renowned for its high quality and you might think it essential to reinforce this state-of-affairs through the provision of educational courses provided in just those areas where demand is greatest to learn rural skills and where back-up services are most needed. Edinburgh does not spring to mind for either of those.

The body providing training for a life in farming and forestry is the Scottish Rural College (SRUC) which a couple of years ago morphed out of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) – an umbrella organisation for agri colleges across the country that had been established in the early years of the 20th century and were instrumental in the expansion of Scotland’s agricultural sector, based largely on pasture-reared stock.

“Sheep and beef production from extensive systems is broadly speaking, environmentally friendly. Animal welfare is perceived to be of a high order and, coupled with images of fresh air, open hills and clean water, Scottish meat is seen as a high quality product”.
House of Commons, Scottish Affairs Committee (1996).

But not all is perfect with the SRUC which returned a loss for the last financial year – blamed on a number of one-off and merger costs, but contrived a 43% increase in pay for the principal and chief executive to £309,000, from £216,000 previously. The SRUC Chairman is Lord Jamie Lindsay.

Hard times have not dampened the ambitions of the SRUC Board to achieve university status for its courses and it is undergoing discussions with Edinburgh University with that in mind because the SRUC is seeking,

“a new alignment with the potential to create an influential force in the agricultural world”.

And you and I thought good farming practice came down to a farmer being able to tell one end of a cow from another.

The SRUC operates six campuses across Scotland – at Aberdeen, Ayr, Barony, Edinburgh, Elmwood and Oatridge plus a network of veterinary, advisory, consultancy offices and research farms, essential to the farming community. The provision is similar to what has long existed if somewhat curtailed in extent after years of pruning staff, courses, property and land – in a bid to balance the books.

The model sought was smaller and sleeker and not so messily rural which is why the SRUC ended up as an urban institution, in one of the most expensive parts of Scotland.

Scotland’s richest farming areas are found in Orkney, the northeast and southwest and rural communities in these parts were desperate to retain a close working relationship with the then SAC. What emerged was an extended internecine war over which campus would be the best headquarters and which would suffer greatest losses of land, buildings and staff in the drive for economic viability.

Back in 2003 the Scottish Parliament’s Environment and Rural Development Committee issued this statement:
‘The current review of SAC did not itself consider the wider economic impact of SAC’s decisions. That was not an oversight. SAC’s Directors are responsible for the viability of the organisation. Though SAC wishes to be as helpful to local economies as it can be, that must not compromise its own survival.’

This is curious. The SAC’s survival was surely inextricably linked to the success of its decisions and the attractiveness of a rural college is surely its usefulness to the people most likely to use it. Given the particular and differing strengths of agricultural industries across Scotland their needs will vary by area. The notion that the SAC had to survive at all costs is a peculiar one. If the SAC was not effective in responding to the needs of its industry then preserving it as an entity was never going to create a facility relevant to the future of rural life and industry.

Deloitte and Touche (D&T) were employed to draw up a report to establish the situation within the SAC and its future options.

D &T’s report threw up a list of justifications for situating Scotland’s rural college in its capital city as the best way forward rather than at one of its two main purpose-built campuses – Auchincruive, Ayrshire and Craibstone, Aberdeen.

At the time student numbers were:
Edinburgh – 146 students
Craibstone – 200 students
Auchincruive – 360 students

Brian Pack, former CE of the giant Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM) group argued for the retention of the Scottish system of integrating practice at the SAC – preserving a link between research and development and consultancy with teaching while the SAC sought to separate them out. He was a strong advocate for making Craibstone the lead campus for the SAC Scotland operation, not least because of its proximity to the rich farming lands of Aberdeenshire.

Edinburgh, it was pointed out had no student accommodation on site and it would be difficult and expensive for students to find their own in the city. Craibstone was well-served with student accommodation, and its many students were able to combine studies with practical work at home, not possible for the majority from Edinburgh. Craibstone was also popular with students from the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney because of the good transport links with these areas. Craibstone included several experimental farms distributed over a wide area as well as woodland in a prime location at the edge of Aberdeen.

Another view in support of Craibstone is quoted –

‘It is recognised that there are other further education establishments closer to
home e.g. Edinburgh SAC is closer to the Borders than Craibstone is,
however the students still chose to come to Aberdeen. This shows a better
quality experience gained at a rural campus, especially for rural-based
courses. You only need to look at the successful recruitment of students at
other land-based colleges in rural locations to see this is true e.g. Harper
Adams, Writtle, Royal Agricultural College.’

But the D&T report worked hard at persuading the case for establishing the rural college’s base in Edinburgh where it said there was –

‘better access to physical resources in libraries, bookshops and other support services were seen as great advantages’

…which annoyed supporters of Craibstone –

‘This has obviously been produced by people with little knowledge of how the campus at Craibstone Operates: all students are matriculated to Aberdeen University, so have a free access to the University library, sports and other student facilities which are only 5 miles away from Craibstone and on a main bus route. It is therefore obvious that the weightings are unrealistic and inaccurate.’

Was the D&T report projecting the outcome desired by the SAC Board? That was certainly the suspicion among many in the industry whereas it appeared the then Scottish Executive supported retaining the College as a cross-country facility. Given that the SAC was receiving 41% of its funding from Holyrood you might think that view should have carried weight.
However Labour’s Rhona Brankin MSP appears to have supported the move to Edinburgh.

brankin

It is not obvious how setting up in an urban environment was going to stop the loss of students and cash. Quite the reverse.

At Ayr it was felt that decisions were being taken without consultation with ‘local stakeholders’ and that the detrimental impact on the Ayrshire economy was not given consideration. Auchincruive offered consultancy services, vet labs along with an experimental farm and brought in nearly 29% the SAC’s education income.

Both Craibstone and Auchincruive provide courses from SVQs to BSc Hons level although more limited in university degree options than at Edinburgh.

Arguing in favour of Edinburgh was Dr Mark Hocart from the SAC there –

‘Education is about personal growth and development as well as academic success. SAC has a responsibility to provide the most appropriate environment for students to develop as fully rounded personalities. For many students the contacts and network of friends made at college or university will be important to them throughout their subsequent careers so it is important that that experience is as rich and diverse as possible. A National Centre of Excellence The proposed ‘Hub and Spoke’ model is the right way to move.’

So there you have it – learning skills is so old fashioned – it’s all about personal growth blah, blah, blah.

As for ‘Hub and Spoke’ – this is Edinburgh the hub and Auchincruive and Craibstone etc are the spokes. Which is fine except shouldn’t it have been the other way around with the concentration on rural rather than urban?

He went on

‘Bringing the full-time education provision together for the first time will allow SAC
to build an integrated range of course programmes, maximising opportunities for
sharing of teaching modules across programmes. The hub focus will improve the
diversity of course programmes students can pursue while still delivering
education in a financially viable manner. The ‘Spokes’ are effectively satellite
teaching centres, and outreach centres based principally on SAC’s advisory
offices that will allow a greater participation in education for students in rural
Scotland. Developments in e-learning, distance learning and ‘electronic
classrooms’, will enable SAC to deliver education and training over a wider
geographical range than is currently the case. The hub and spoke model will
give SAC a truly national reach for education provision.’

You might be forgiven for wondering how this matches up with effective training for our young farmers … e-learning? really?

Here’s a novel approach – do away with the need for e-learning and get students out into the field (literally). Or is that too radical?

He continued

‘King’s Buildings (Edinburgh) have strong and productive research links with the Moredun Research Institute, the Roslin Institute, the SABRIs, SASA and BioSS. This
amalgamation of research activities adds significantly to the critical mass for
effective world class research. ‘

Forgive me but isn’t this exactly the setup for e-communication rather than practical skills? And while Edinburgh campus was close to those research bodies Craibstone was equally close to the Macaulay Institute(John Hutton), the Rowett and the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon’s University.

And continued

‘SAC Edinburgh has a local tradition of agriculture and land-based education and
has been supporting land-based industries for as long as any other centre. At
present we provide 25% of the courses at SAC, less than our Auchincruive
campus, however this is to change in the future.’

And we know why.

Dr Graham E Dalton FIAgrM commenting on the D&T report –

‘This report is a classic consultancy report where the wrong question has been asked. The financial accounts show that SAC is not working. Why? High overheads for facilities are only one possible reason for this situation.’

He questioned whether staffing levels were right rather than D&T’s concentration on WHERE to put staff. And he questioned D&T’s favouring centralising the SAC in Edinburgh – arguing this WOULD have a negative impact on revenue so that the report’s assumption of their best option was unlikely to succeed.

He suggested the report was coming on the problem from the wrong end. Instead of concentrating on the organisation of the institution it should have looked to the needs of ‘its customers’.
Indeed.

Brian Pack pointed out the danger of being fixated by costs rather than value. A yes to that.

Think about it if you were setting up an agricultural – let’s widen it – rural college would you opt to put it in the middle of a city?

If there’s one thing people need it is food. There is surely great scope for further development of Scotland’s rural industries so how is it the institution on which so much of this future depends is in dire straits? Could it be the fault lies with the Board and decisions taken by it?

Isobel Gibson thought so. Back at the same Holyrood enquiry in 2003 she was critical of the management of the SAC and D&T report for failing to understand the needs of students and their ‘potential as generators of income.’

Auchincruive and Craibstone were once major centres for learning for young men and women, many of them from farming backgrounds, in search of rural skills. Both colleges provided their localities with professional advice from experts in crop management, pest control, veterinary advice and so on as well as undertaking research programmes. But their farmland, woodland and many buildings were sold and with them so vital provision and links with the land.

auchincruive

There’s an echo of the consequence of slicing away at our agricultural base in an academic paper on ‘Agriculture’s contribution to Scottish society, economy and environment’ (2001) from the University of Aberdeen which found that when Scots were asked to visualise ‘rural’ they conjured up images of a highland idyll – of mountainscapes – whereas in other parts of Europe the same question brought descriptions of things agricultural.

While I might not be able to lay the blame for this diminution in awareness of our agricultural sector at the door of the SAC or SRUC or whatever they are likely to call themselves next week there were signals back in 2003 that not all was right.

“The Scottish Agricultural College is a practical example of what happens when Colleges merge without a well thought out strategy. The Committee should regard it as a template of all that can go wrong. There has been a preponderance of “bankers and business types” on the SAC Board. Practical farmers were ignored.”

Both Craibstone and Auchincruive suffered draconian cuts in the SAC/SRUC drive to stop leaking cash. Slash and sell – the SAC saw a future in selling off farms and land and anything that stood still. Indeed could that be the reason Edinburgh won out as the SAC HQ – that campus had nothing to flog off whereas Craibstone was resource-rich and by selling its assets and those at Auchincruive the SAC was able to use the capital raised to reduce its losses. Had the decision been taken to abandon Edinburgh in favour of, say, Craibstone, there would be no such financial gain as the SAC there had virtually nothing to sell.

However it was come to the decision was taken in favour of Edinburgh and the SAC now existed as a private company with charitable status. Its Principal and Chief Executives were appointees – by fellow Board members. There was also a tie in with the Anglian Water Group (AWG) hired to carry out some of the campus pruning operations. The SAC sat back and waited for the cash to drop into their laps. In 2007 merchant baker Lord Lindsay was appointed its chairman. Integration was the way forward.

Then in 2013 this emerged:

“If ever a monument to “joined up” academic planning stupidity was to be erected, the Craigie Campus, Ayr should be its home. No one but an academic would train nurses and farmers at the same facility. Squeaky clean meets E Coli heaven. This week (7 Janueary 2013) the annual health warning to pregnant women was issued by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns. This warns women not to come into contact with lambing ewes or even the clothes of anyone doing the work for fear of risks to their own unborn child.”

P1000766

While the SAC was selling off property with one hand it was swallowing up various rural colleges, to mix metaphors, to mixed fortunes. Integration at any cost. Doesn’t responsibility for this absurdity rest with the Board?

Critics of the way the SAC was run and now presumably the SRUC have made no impact on it.

‘What lessons can be learned from the conduct of the SAC. The SAC Board has long been considered a self perpetuating oligarchy.’

“On 19 January 2011, the then SAC chief executive told all 30 South Ayrshire Council Planning Committee members at a public planning meeting they were to disregard the testimony of the person nominated by the Ayrshire National Farmers Union to speak in opposition to SAC plans to ruin Auchicruive.
On the day, the Ayrshire NFU farmer representative was not allowed to rebut the unwarranted attack on his integrity. The SAC Chairman later did admit the SAC Chief Executive was in error and apologised to the Ayrshire farmer in the press.”

Extraordinary behaviour.

There is no disguising discontent among the farming community over the role played by the organisation.

‘Finally the Committee should invite the NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller to tell why it was necessary for him to write to the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead in August 2011. “It is a sad fact that our Scottish system, which was once world leading, is probably no longer the best.” He also calls for a need to examine how we make the most of our existing sites.’

The SRUC annual report 2013 shows the SRUC still selling off land at Aberdeen and Ayr to improve its net balance. The jargon seems to indicate we haven’t seen the end of mergers – or ‘merger synergies’ as stated in the report.

The move to Edinburgh doesn’t appear to have been the answer to the SRUC’s problems. It appears caught in a cycle of cost cutting – to what end?

Who and what are losing out to this crazy setup and how damaging is it for the future of Scotland’s rural industries?

In its drive to attain university status has the SRUC lost sight of its basic function?

Why was it able to become a private company answerable to none over its selling off once publicly owned resources?

It bothers me that its Board members, apart from staff and student representatives are appointed.

That it is private but is still supported by public funds – currently the SRUC gets
financial assistance from the Scottish Funding Council.

That it is a registered charity therefore does not pay corporation tax.

The SAC, and now the SRUC, was set up as a limited liability company under guarantee (without share capital). Many such conversions from public colleges to private have gone down a similar route but with Boards of Governors plus a CEO and Principal. The SAC chose to form a standard limited company with a Board of Directors.

Confused?

A board of governors allows greater opportunity for scrutiny of senior management. And it is cheaper than the SAC/SRUC setup as governors are paid a small stipend and expenses. An executive Board gets salary plus benefits – what they are is anyone’s guess. Board executive liability in the event of the SRUC becoming insolvent stands at £1 each.

As there are no shareholders the Board can remunerate themselves to any amount they wish. There are stakeholders of course, who can attend the annual AGM and grand dinner, but they don’t get any vote on the issue of executive remuneration.

There we have it. A rural skills college run from a city as a private business dependent on public money, paying no corporation tax and flogging off what were publicly owned assets.

Nothing illegal about it but for the life of me I can’t see this model as being in the best interests of Scotland’s rural industries.

ENVIRONMENT AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
AGENDA
2ND Meeting, 2003 (Session 2)
Wednesday 25 June 2003
[PDF]SRUC Board and Committe Structure and Remits – working …
www.sruc.ac.uk/…/sruc_boards_and_committees_remits_and_structures

[PDF]Agriculture’s contribution to Scottish society, economy and …
www.scotland.gov.uk/resource/doc/158216/0042826.pdf

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/craibstone-estate-on-greenbelt-gets-1000-houses/

Herald Scotland : Few signs of peace as SAC’s battle for survival reaches the Executive Thursday 26 June 2003

May 2, 2014

Game shooting is a gun with a dumb animal at both ends

red kiteRed Kites are a magnificent sight around Conon Bridge near Dingwall. Or rather they were. It’s unusual now to spot one of these birds, flying I mean not crumpled up in a wood, despite the area being chosen for breeding them as part of the reintroduction programme of the late eighties. The recent crop of some 20 raptors found deliberately poisoned in the vicinity has turned attention to the owners of gaming estates and the gamekeepers employed on them. Only a few short months ago David Hendry, a former chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, complained that Buzzards were ‘out of control’ and should be culled to protect other wildlife. What’s concerning gamies and their employers is the decline in the numbers of grouse bagged by punters paying for a day’s sport.

Definition of sport with a tweed cap

Google sport and Scotland and you’ll bring up sporting estates. Scotland has lots of them. We’re not talking sport as in running, jumping or swimming but more of a gentle stroll over a heather muir pausing occasionally to take pot shots at birds released through a handy range of means for ease of killing; driven, semi-driven and walked up. No point in frustrating the paying punter or influential house guest.

If you are something in the City with buckshee cash in your back pocket to the value of £7m+ you might consider buying a piece of Scotland. You’d expect something pretty fancy for that outlay and that’s just what you would get.

Estates (of houses) in England are equivalent to schemes in Scotland. Here an estate is something altogether different

Newtonmore is a pretty attractive area as the description in Country Life makes out in a piece selling the virtues of an opportunity to buy A Superb Highland Estate: stunning and accessible location within an hour of an international airport. There’s a 7-bedroom castle included – albeit a touch on the modern side but the pièce de résistance is surely its

“renowned deer forest and grouse moor. Excellent low ground pheasant shooting and duck flighting. Exciting wild goat shooting. Salmon fishing rights on the River Spey and the River Calder and wild brown trout in the hill lochs.”

http://www.countrylife.co.uk/property/uk/properties/6831035/sales

Have I missed out any living breathing creature that’s not, well fair game for annihilation while whiling away  a pleasant afternoon outdoors? – our rude natives possibly might have been available for a chase at one time but hey, we’re in the 21st century now so there are laws against native abuse. There are laws to protect birds of prey as well but …

Sporting estates -for the hunting of game – a concept synonymous with Scotland. The term game = a sport or activity engaged in for amusement.

Game therefore is a wild animal that can be eaten but is first chased and harried by a human using a powerful instrument against which the animal has little to no chance of escape.

I might not be so hostile to taking wild animals for food if the person tracking down the creature relied on matching their wit and initiative with that of the beast. Of course that would give the animal too much of an advantage. Sporting estates like to make it very easy for punters in tweeds to feel that thrill of success in having overcome a ‘wild animal’ or tweety birdy bred for the purpose and so tailor the exercise according to the punter hunter’s experience. It’s not that these blood lusting types are looking to bag something for the pot – that is incidental. After all there is Waitrose for that. No, game is well, what it says on the hide or tail, a bit of fun albeit involving death inflicted by a person armed to the teeth against a creature that is not.

 

 

Hunting as sport

Making money from hiring out sporting rights became popular in the 19th century. Why in Scotland this anachronism still exists is something more people are questioning.

It is as if Scotland occupies parallel universes: a nation with highly sought-after engineering skills from our oil and gas industries and a throwback tradition straight out of Brigadoon down to the hairy tweed knickerbockers and daft hats.

Game Laws

Restrictions over who could take wild animals from the land changed over centuries. It was once established that you had the right to kill game when you owned a ploughgate of land in heritage – the amount of land able to be tilled by one plough. The owner of such a piece of land could give permission for others to hunt on it, if suitably licensed. Where land was leased to a tenant, the owner could permit other people to hunt on it as long as the tenant was compensated for damage to crops or stock. The tenant could kill rabbits on the land he worked but not game.

In the 1830s poaching of game such as muirfowl, ptarmigan, heath-fowl, partridge and pheasant was liable to a fine of £5 for every bird taken, killed or found in person’s possession etc. That is equivalent to around £3,500 today. The fine had to be paid within 10 days on penalty of two months imprisonment for each £5 fine. In other words courts/lairds had no sympathy with any hungry person hoping to feed his family with a stewed partridge, not when there was sport to be indulged in.

Unlawful possession of hares, partridges, pheasants, muirfowl, ptarmigans, heathfowl, snipes, quails merited a fine of 20 shillings (£2) – over £1,000 today for the first offence – 40 shillings for every other- so someone caught with a bagful of birds was liable to being fined an enormous amount. Failure to pay fines called for imprisonment of 6 weeks for a first charge and three months for each subsequent charge.

Night poaching of hares, pheasants, partridges, muir game, black game or bustards was punishable by 3 months hard labour with release only on a promise not to repeat the offence within a year. If poaching was resumed within that time the person was jailed for 6 months hard labour – and with each subsequent offence the term of imprisonment would be doubled with transportation overseas for seven years for repeated offences.

Anyone found carrying an offensive weapon for hunting faced seven years imprisonment with hard labour or 14 years transportation.

The thrill of the kill- the more exotic the greater the joy

The Prince shoots an owl at the fourth attempt

Aberdeen Journal Wednesday 15 September 1847

“Prince Albert had then bagged seven and a-half brace of grouse, a hare and an owl. Minerva’s bird was caught napping. The first shot missed, but the owl slept on; the second shot, also, was thrown away, but the sleepy-headed bird wakened, and gazed round with a stupid, bewildered look. The Prince was equally unlucky with the third shot, and the poor bird, fancying the repeated noises were only harmless pops, dropped its head and dozed on. At the fourth shot the bird fell from its perch.

His Royal Highness and the gentlemen who were with him, on meeting her Majesty and Lady Jocelyn, at once gave up their sport, and mounting their ponies, returned over the hill to the lake, where the royal barge was in waiting, with the crew at their cars.”

Supported by the law any individual could blast birds to smithereens to their heart’s content, the rarer or more magnificent the species the greater the thrill of destroying it, just because one could.

In 1802 two ‘gentlemen’ were happily engaged on a shooting spree around Moffat when a ‘large beautiful young eagle sprang from one of the rocks.’ One of the men ‘happened to have a ball in one of his barrels’- he was slaughtering deer at the time – and grasped the opportunity to fire at the eagle, killing it. Fair chuffed he was. I expect that man lived off the tale of his thrilling encounter with the king of the skies for many a year.

Glossy Ibis (2)

A Glossy Ibis shot at Banchory raised a mention in the Aberdeen Journal in November 1842 as it was the first recorded shooting dead of a Glossy Ibis in Scotland and coincidentally the first recorded sighting of a Glossy Ibis in Scotland. The unfortunate bird had flown onto the Loch of Leys near Banchory where a nasty piece of work in the guise of the Rev. Anderson of Banchory was loitering gun in hand ready to take pot shots at any bird straying into his sights.

Sound familiar? The first white-tailed eagle to fledge in Scotland in 200 years flew from Fife to the Glenbuchat Estate in Strathdon earlier this year at which point some bastard stopped it dead.

It is the habit of young Eagles when fledged to be sent away from the nest to a hunting ground of their own and the reason they aren’t found in flocks. Young eagle chicks are fed on freshly killed food while mature birds mainly exist on carrion so feed when they can and fast when there’s nothing lying around. The assumption by some gamekeepers and farmers is that birds of prey are eating significant numbers of their young stock. This is not true but do dinosaurs have ears?

The case of the Banchory Glossy Ibis was set in context by the newspaper report along the lines of – unusual visiting bird spotted, remarked upon then summarily executed. Around the same time it was noted that Ospreys were particular favourites with sportsmen with several shot on the Don and Ythan rivers and a Honey Buzzard was taken out near Braemar. Peregrine Falcons nesting in the cliffs at Cove by Aberdeen, Dotterels at Strathdon and Towie, Little Terns at Belhelvie sands and a flock of Velvet Ducks were all regarded as fair game.

The magnificence and unusual nature of such birds did not escape the Aberdeen Journal writer who was at pains to stress how more such birds ought to be killed, treasures he described them, which might then be displayed in museums so that others might ‘foster a taste for such pursuits among the inhabitants of our city,‘ and so doubtless encourage them to travel into the country where they too might shoot several rare birds out of the sky. Hurrah I say.

In April 1914 Seton Gordon’s book on The Mountain Birds of Scotland was published. Gordon knew his birds. He wrote about the Erne or White-tailed Eagle that lived in the cliffs along the west coast of Scotland and how until the middle of the 19th century every headland of Skye could boast a pair of these ‘fine birds’ nesting.

He commented on the terrible harrying of Eagles by egg collectors and ‘the keeper’s gun’ which helped wipe out or endangered so many species along with nests raided and eggs smashed. Early last century £2 exchanged hands for anyone handing over an Eagle’s egg.

By 1912 Eagles were scarce in Perthshire. When in early December of that year a huge Eagle, estimated at 4-5 feet long and showing a lot of white was spotted ‘an organised effort’ was made to ‘effect its capture.’

By 1925 there were warnings over the danger of extinction of the Golden Eagle – destined to go the same way as the White-tailed and Osprey already wiped out in Scotland.

Aside from egg collectors and the rifle, trapping was also a cause of dramatic losses of their number. Whether through intent or not many magnificent birds were caught in traps usually set for foxes. Eagles being relatively strong were sometimes reported flying off with a trap attached. The outcome was predictable. Traps would become entangled in tree branches and the bird would starve to death.

A White-tailed or Sea Eagle was spotted in the island of Yell in Shetland in March 1937 but it was an unusual sight.

In 1933 landowners and farmers were encouraged to recognise that lamb losses were the exception rather than the rule for raptors. An eyrie under observation noted the food being fed to the Eaglet – Eagles normally lay one or two eggs a season – consisted of mountain hares, a few grouse, a water rat.

The Scottish Society for the Protection of Wild Birds was so concerned about Eagle numbers that in 1947 it offered £10 reward to the owners of land for every Golden Eagle that left the eyrie safely at the end of the breeding season. It also tried to encourage gamekeepers to help re-establish White-tailed Eagles, Ospreys, Kites, Honey Buzzards and other species.

The following year, a very young Adam Watson, the naturalist still on the go in these parts, talked about how egg hunters of mountain species had been successfully tackled through the £10 reward offered for each occupied eyrie.

‘No longer is the Eagle regarded as a menace,’ he said. ‘Gamekeepers have no longer biased opinions about the destruction wrought by these birds. They have been brought to appreciate that the Eagle does not do much harm at all.’

Maybe ayes and maybe nos.

Eagles are reputed to live well over one hundred years – when given the chance. In 1872 a ‘fine specimen of the Golden Eagle’ was captured at Castle Grant, Grantown-on-Spey. It was kept in captivity and died in 1907. 30 years is considered a long time for such a large bird in captivity but I expect it felt like a hundred years to that unfortunate Eagle.

Eagles of course are not game. Precisely what is meant by game cropped up in a court case involving Lady Forbes-Leith of Fyvie Castle in which a farmer was charged with trespass and poaching on her land after being caught shooting rabbits. He claimed his crops were being destroyed by them and as rabbits were not described as game under the Agricultural Holdings Acts he was at liberty to control them. You can imagine on whose side the court’s judgement fell.

Game Laws have been criticised for making property of wild animals. These laws differed in Scotland and England, emerging from different systems of law in each of the separate nations. In England all game was assumed to belong to the monarch and only those granted forest rights were permitted to kill wild animals or birds with hounds and hawks. In Scotland game laws were not tied to the crown but to acts of law; natural rights, as embodied in Roman law. The old Forest Law of Scotland referred only to royal forests but outwith these wild animals could be hunted for food or pelt, with seasonal restrictions. Throughout the early modern period birds of prey were persecuted in Scotland; their nests and eggs destroyed to preserve wild mammals in the forests and muirs. In England, by contrast, the destruction of a hawk’s egg could result in imprisonment for a year and a day, irrespective of who the culprit was.

Trespass – an offence under Roman law was, until the 15th century, in Scotland the only offence in pursuit of wild animals, except in the case of deer.

Over time Game Laws evolved from protection of food supplies to quite the opposite, with wild animals designated as sport rather than food – the principle of property having been applied to them.  During the reign of James III game was regarded as property – game then being mainly deer and rabbits or connings as they were known in Scotland (think Coney Island), birds and fish – all could only be taken by licence of the owners of the land on which they roamed, over which they flew and through which they swam. Mind you irrespective of law what happened on a laird’s land, as now in some cases, came down to what could be got away with.

Such was the persecution of some species of birds and wild animals that laws were introduced in an effort to protect them. Under James VI anyone shooting with bow or firearm without the king’s licence, except on official duty, risked the loss of all the offender’s goods – half of which went to the informer, in addition to his usual payment.

We should remember that it is only very recently poor people in this country ate much meat. The average diet, except for the wealthy, was composed of vegetables and grains with occasional meat or fish. But desperate hungry people are potentially dangerous and from the time of James IV the Scottish parliament ordered every landowner to erect a doocot (then dowcat) to provide stocks of pigeons (non-Scots note a doo is a pigeon). Doos were therefore offered some kind of protection and the result was a large increase in their numbers with the inevitable impact on farm crops therefore causing different food shortages and so doocots went out of favour.

Scotland’s roe deer population was severely reduced when James VI ordered that the animal be taken south into England to repopulate the forests there after it had been virtually hunted to extinction. One of his final acts in Scotland was the Game Laws which introduced the ploughgate qualification for killing rights. At the same time the sale of game was prohibited – with a penalty of £100 imposed on both buyer and seller for its contravention. Thereafter game laws grew similar between the two countries, Scotland’s falling in line with England’s.

Red Kites

The old Scottish name for Red Kite is Geld. The late 19th century saw the last breeding Kites before the 1980s programme to reintroduce the species to Scotland.

Red Kites are mainly scavengers, meaning they live off dead animals. They also eat live earthworms, small mammals, amphibians and other birds. They were, and possibly still are, in some quarters regarded as vermin. Their persecution was widespread and still is as witnessed in the killing fields of Conon Bridge and Muir of Ord.

For many of us they became a common sight, magnificently soaring high above Conon Bridge but no more. They’ve been missed from the skies there and the recent shocking discovery of so many deliberately killed Kites exposes that dark underbelly of ignorant mischief associated with some who like to hold themselves up as conservators of the countryside. They are not of course. They are despicable criminals and the law should treat them as such.

In 2012, according to the Scottish raptor study group, only 52 pairs of Kites laid eggs in the Black Isle compared with around 1000 breeding pairs in the south of England from almost equivalent numbers of birds released into these areas.

‘Between 1999 – 2006, an estimated 166 red kites from the Black Isle population were illegally poisoned’.

http://www.scottishraptorstudygroup.org/redkite.html

Clearly what’s been happening with Red Kites and other raptors is not game hunting as the birds are not being killed for sport and certainly not for food but from a misconceived belief they pose a threat to young farm animals, lambs, or birds specially bred on sporting estates destined to be blasted out of the skies for fun.

The Sport of Game is vital to the Scottish Economy

Defenders of this loathsome activity justify it in terms of its tradition but mainly its benefit to the economy. To that end various figures are bandied about which frankly I don’t swallow.

Sporting estates are run by wealthy business types who rarely stay in them year-round but fly in for ‘the season.’ And while headlines warn that the threat of Scotland becoming independent (shouldn’t that be re-introducing independence?) is making businesses prepare to pack up and leave in a veritable flood of biblical proportions it seems nothing will put off canny and loaded potential buyers wanting an acreage or thousands thereof of shooting and fishing rights here.

eagle

‘Every self-respecting billionaire should own their own country estate – it’s the ultimate prestige purchase’ according to a piece in The Telegraph in 2011.

While everyone else is scrabbling down the back of the sofa for the last of the loose change in these economically straightened times it’s good to know our billionaires are still shelling out to own large tracts of our country. Grouse moors are particularly attractive or so I’ve read and they often sell privately in deals arranged between friends and acquaintances.

A Fraser of Allander Report on game estates in Scotland in 2010 found they created 705 jobs amounting to £9.7 million in wages and contributed £15.6m to the Scottish economy.

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Scotland – if ever there was an organisation named ironically it is surely that one – claims for every 1 direct job in grouse shooting a further 12 jobs are supported realising £15 million in wages and a contribution of £23.3million to the country’s GDP. A case of think of a number , then another number and multiply the two. The Allander Report concluded that for every 1 job on an estate an additional 0.5 of a job was created elsewhere. Which one do you believe?

Permanent employees on estates in 2009 were recorded as 260 , averaging under 3 per estate. A large estate might have twice as many employees. Not high numbers you’ll agree.

Fraser of Allander Institute – An Economic Study of Grouse Moors 2010

The sporting estate lobby likes inflate the figures it bandies around as their contribution to the economy and the national press are usually happy to repeat them without challenge.

So how does the economic importance of gaming estates figure in the Scottish economy?

Gaming Estates £15.6 million and providing 705 jobs

The Scotch whisky industry contributes £4 billion – that’s billion not million – gross value to the economy with £1.1 billion invested locally annually, supporting 35 000 Scottish jobs, with £10 billion exports.

Scotland’s oil and gas industry contributes £22 billion to the Scottish economy and £300 billion in tax receipts 2012/13.

Tourism in Scotland brings in £1.9 billion.

Food and drink £5.4 billion.

Exaggerated claims by sporting estates of their contribution to Scotland’s economy cannot disguise it is negligible and trails a whole raft of other industries besides those listed above.

 

Mismanagement and criminality

There are far too many incidents of mismanagement and downright criminality occurring on sporting estates. Again and again we are told gamekeepers are not to blame for illegal poisonings and the like. What we do know for sure is whenever someone is convicted of wildlife crime the slap on the wrist they receive from the courts is no deterrent.

Snaring, poisoning, shooting of protected species is an offence to the whole of Scotland. These things don’t happen by accident. A few years back I spotted a trap hidden in a dyke in a relatively lonely spot near Balmoral. I filled up the space with stones. No doubt whoever set the trap would have gone straight back to uncover it.

If you think this is all a fuss over nothing with only a very few offences occurring take a moment to check out the list of estates where alleged wildlife incidents have been reported.

https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/category/named-estates/

Who owns Scotland?

http://www.whoownsscotland.org.uk/

Run your eyes over a list of some individuals, families, investment companies who own the land under our feet

Unknown Malaysian 1,600,000 acres

Mohammed bin Raschid al Maktoum 270,000 acres

The Duke of Buccleuch with 270,000 acres valued at around £800m to £1bn.

Kjeld Kirk-Christiansen 260,000 acres

Joseph and Lisbet Koerner 175,000 acres

Stanton Avery 135,000 acres

Alcan, Rio Tinto – an Australian company – global leader in the aluminium industry 135, 000 acres

Blair Charitable Trust ie land of the Duke of Atholl 130, 000 acres

Mohammed al Fayed 130,000 acres

Captain Alwyn Farquharson 125.000 acres

Urs Schwarzenburg 125,000 acres

Count Knuth 120,000 acres

Duke of Westminster 120,000 acres

Earl of Seafield 105,000 acres

Mahdi Mohammed al Tajir 105,000 acres

Professor Ian Macneil 100,000 acres

Edmund Vestey 100,000 acres

Lucan Ardenberg 100,000 acres

Eric Delwart 92,000 acres

Sir Donald Cameron 90,000 acres

Countess of Sutherland 90,000 acres

Paul van Vissengen 87,000 acres

Robin Fleming 80,000 acres

Hon Charles Pearson 77,000 acres

Lord Margadale 73,000 acres

P1010413

The Land Reform Act of 2003

A veritable wailing wall of protests from landed interests and their supporters greeted this legislation. Their warnings were stark:

A red tide is about to sweep Scotland

The socialist hordes are at the gatehouse

The masses are crawling forth from their urban slums and massing on the hillsides

Socialist-style collectivisation of the land

Och if only.

What the Act did was established the right of access to land and provide some rights for crofters and communities to buy the land on which they lived and worked. It is this latter provision that has those who own great chunks of our glens and their obsequious defenders frothing at the mouth. But Lord Folderol has nothing much to worry about. Post-2003 is not so very different from pre-2003.

It does beg the question whose land it is, or rather whose land it should be. Why is it that a few people own so much of it yet so many others live on it, work on it yet don’t own it? Down to luck? ‘My ancestors fought for this land,’ is an oft-repeated remark from a concerned laird to which the obvious reply is, well how about you and me fighting for it now? And I suspect his ancestors were helped by a few other men who weren’t rewarded with the odd thousand acres of glen.

Sometimes a man who owned a stable full of fine steeds didn’t even have to leave his bed to accumulate property far less lug a great sword around. Sometimes it just fell into his lap. I’m sure all estate office have their original deeds proving their right to the land safely stored – oh don’t tell me, they didn’t require these with squatters’ rights.

We don’t have land collectivisation to benefit communities but we do have land accumulation which benefits individuals or investment companies, to our shame. According to Buccleuch Estates, collectivism of the land ‘is not representative of the body-politic of Scotland.’

I think you might find it is.

The SNP have said it plans to double the amount of land under community ownership by 2020. At present some 432 people own half the land in Scotland. I think they have a job on their hands. Scotland needs a fundamental shake up of land holding in the 21st century. Paradoxically criticism of any meaningful alteration to the system of land ownership is labelled as starry-eyed romanticism .

If any side is pushing the romance of Scotland it is surely those clinging determinedly to their heathery acres against the tide of opinion from Scots with their feet planted firmly in the here and now.

As for the argument that protected species and habitats are best protected by these large sporting estates, surely the evidence points the other way? As in previous centuries irrespective of the law, estate owners and their lackeys will do whatever they want or think they can get away with.

Red Kites, Eagles and Buzzards flying over Scotland are part of our heritage. I marvel at the Kites and Buzzards I see soaring over my house and have no wish to kill them. But then I don’t hold the title deeds to a vast estate where wild animals are regarded as a marketing product and raptors a threat (however misconceived) to its income. What if a few (or many) illegally shot or poisoned Kites, Eagles and Buzzards – and any other creature that happens upon the poison bait have to be sacrificed? People will forget and life will carry on as normal – Game Laws, Land Reform Acts won’t fundamentally impact on the division and purpose of our land. Toothless courts will not deter these people.

Not yet.

We, the hoi polloi, are constantly being reminded by the gaming estates mafia that land ownership is in fact often a ‘burden and a liability’ so let us , sir or madam, relieve you of that burden.