The Crown Estate is a diverse portfolio of UK buildings, shoreline, seabed, forestry, agriculture and common land that generates valuable revenue for the government every year
The Crown Estate is run from New Burlington Place, London, along the lines of a money-making enterprise from what is essentially nationalised land. The income from the Crown Estate feeds into the UK treasury. Efforts to have income from the Crown Estate in Scotland be used within Scotland have been rejected by governments in London. The largest of the Crown Estate holdings in Scotland is the Glenlivet Estate. Formerly the Crown Estate was known as Crown land.
The following is an article written by the journalist Peter Chambers in the early 1950s when the Crown land commissioners decided the crofting lands of Glenlivet would be turned into an area for forestry. There was no prior consultation with the people whose families had settled on, broken the back of the land and farmed it for generations. This is their story.
Glenlivet – Battle for the land
One day last summer two strangers appeared in the remote Banffshire valley of Glenlivet. They came down over the hillside carrying a theodolite and a red and white ranging rod. They were quiet and unassuming men. They wore tweed suits.
In a quiet and unassuming manner they began pegging out the land.
Glenlivet folk are used to surveys – they live on a Crown estate. But the little white pegs made them nervous.
“What are they up to?” they murmured among themselves. “That is our grazing land.”
Then the secret came out – the secret that the Crown Commissioners had carefully kept from their Glenlivet tenants. The hill-sides were scheduled for afforestation. All the land beyond the surveyors’ peg was to be put under trees. Not five hundred thousand trees. Not five million trees. But forty million of them – a vast plantation of pine and fir and spruce, blanketing 20,000 acres of hill-grazing from Tomintoul to Ben Rinnes and from Glen Avon to the Ladder Hills.
The farmers in this area get the three-quarters of their income from sheep. For them, afforestation means the end.
In the centre of the area lies Glenlivet, a valley shaped like a Chianti bottle with the cork, the 1500 feet Bochel jammed at the base of the neck. A single narrow road skirts the Bochel and leads into the Braes of Glenlivet. The rolling, gentle country is like a little Shangri-La cradled among the mountains of Upper Banffshire. The valley floor is dotted with grey stone, single-storey farm houses.
Fat black cattle browse languidly in the sun. The oats are only just beginning to turn biscuit coloured (it is 800 feet above sea level). By using fertilisers and Swedish type seed the Braes farmers have advanced the harvesting time by nearly a month. They have not lost a crop to the frost in eight years. Before the war came, and Government subsidies, made fertilisers possible, they lost one crop in every two.
Sitting by the fireside in Charlie Grant’s farmhouse, Upper Clashmore (oil lamps, rural gas-cooker hot and cold running water in the bath) was eighty-one year old Elizabeth Macpherson. She tucked a strand of wispy white hair under her black bonnet and told me the history of the Macphersons of Glenlivet.
Her great-great-grandfather came to the Braes after the Forty-five, when many Catholic Highlanders took refuge in the glen from Cumberland’s vengeful armies. Macpherson cut his farm out of the virgin land at the head of the glen, damming up the burns to make the water spread and rot out the heather.
Wester Scalan the farm was called, and for over one hundred and fifty years Macphersons of four generations worked the land. To-day, the sheep are grazing where the Macphersons raised their corn, and the croft stands roofless a derelict in the foothills of Breac Leathad, like a monument to depopulation.
“I was one of eleven brothers and sisters,” said Elizabeth Macpherson. “Now I am the only Macpherson left on the Braes.”
You pass a parish hall, a shop, a school, a church – and suddenly the road ends. You are in Chapeltown. Father Philips, whose manse is built on the east end of the church, has the cure of 120 souls. That is the entire population of the Braes.
Around the inside walls of the church, decorated green and blue and purple, hang the Stations of the Cross. They are exquisitely painted in the Italian manner. On the altar screen the image of Our Lady has the narrow, pointed face, gracia plena,of an early Sienese Madonna. In the window of the school (sixteen Braes children, fourteen orphans from the towns) there is a statue of Christ. At the west end of the church, where the crofters file in to attend Mass, there is another; and this statue is inscribed, “Come to me all ye who labour…”
The bus calls at Chapeltown once a week to take the young people to the Picture House in Dufftown. The Glen itself offers more social pleasures however. A pink poster advertises a Grand Dance in Glenlivet Public Hall, Friday 28th September. At the Tomintoul cattle-mart everybody was talking about the afforestation scheme.
“I heard this – ‘We’re leaving you some grazin’.’ And I said to him, The grazin’ you’re leavin’ me isna enough to keep six sheep alive. And he went red in the face because he kent it was true.
“I’ll tell you one reason why the estate isna payin’. Twenty years ago there was only the factor and a clerk to manage it. To-day there’s a factor, an under-factor, a clerk o’ works, a clerk and a typist – five o’ them for the same bit o’ ground.”
One hundred and seventy head of cattle were sold a Tomintoul that day. One hundred and fifty of them came from Glenlivet.
Mr Sandy Yule, thirty years a cattle auctioneer in the Northeast, said: “They’re the finest cattle in Scotland – bar none.”
We drove down the neck of the glen to Glenlivet Distillery – the oldest licensed distillery in the North of Scotland. The distillery employs thirty-five men, and at peak working periods produces 8,000 gallons a week of as a fine malt whisky as was poured down a Highlander’s throat.
At Drummin I met Captain J. Gordon Smith, Area Executive Chairman of the N.F.U., who was born at Lettoch on the Braes. Looming above the hen-coops in the backyard of Drummin farm is the thirteenth-century ruin of the Wolf of Badenoch’s castle.
“200,000 sheep, 2000 cattle – that’s what we sold out of the Glenlivet area last year.” Captain Smith told me.
But how many will they sell next year? At Drummin 90 acres of grazing have been pegged off for the forest.
The Forestry Commission remain a poker-faced reserve on the Glenlivet question.
“The dispute is between the Crown Commissioners and their tenants – our part in the affair is purely technical. An acre of hill-grazing grows 7lbs of mutton a year.
“The same acre under trees will yield a yearly minimum average of forty cubic feet of timber. The choice is between 15/- worth of mutton and £6 worth of soft-wood, which Britain is having to buy abroad at inflated prices. From the economic point of view there is only one answer…”
The Glenlivet farmers will not accept that answer. They do not believe the Forestry Commission’s claim that the forest will employ ten men where one was employed before. They do not want to be foresters. They want to be farmers, because they have been farmers for generations for generations.
And they will fight for that right.
I think we know how that story ended for the crofters.Forestry does very well at Glenlivet. Woodland planting to compensate for the carbon emissions from London’s Regent Street’s Christmas lights was undertaken a few years ago. The Crown Estate’s website explains that the old township of Altnaglander, close to the woodland of the same name, consists of ‘ruins and field systems.’ As well it might.