Posts tagged ‘Land Reform’

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/

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.

shot hares

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.

bbc hare

 

“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.

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“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/

October 4, 2015

Glenlivet – Battle for the Land

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 farmland

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.”

glenlivet old woman

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.

map glenlivet

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.

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.