The future of Scotland’s rural land

Heather burning on the Lammermuirs

By Lorne Anton
Members of YES Berwickshire attended the REVIVE Conference in Perth last week. Given the importance of this conference to the future of land use across the Scottish Borders, rural areas beyond the Central Belt and the Highlands. the day was a timely event! REVIVE campaigns against the use of Scotland`s land for single purpose grouse shooting and for more effective and productive economic use, and community control, of that land. The event was chaired for the second time by the well known media presenter and environmental activist, Chris Packham.

A wide range of speakers were present representing the RSPB, Broomhill Ecology, One Kind, Nature Scotland, League Against Cruel Sports, Raptor Persecution, Common Weal and the John Muir Trust. Individual speakers also included Leslie Riddoch and Lorna Slater who outlined the Scottish Governments recent work around the Land Issue.

The 700 people who attended the event heard successive speakers tell what a waste of land an area half the size of Wales which is given over to grouse shooting is in economic and social terms. As Borderers know, across the Borders this land is largely in the hands of the big estates of Buccleuch, Roxburgh, Sutherland and Northumberland.

Issues such as raptor and mammal persecution, muirburn, (Scots spelling) land ownership, distribution and sale, and alternative uses for the land were discussed over the day. Some of the research presented was disturbing. In some areas up to 30% of tagged raptors have disappeared. Another interesting fact presented by Raptor Persecution shows that following electronic tagging raptors actually avoid Wind Farm sites, at odds with the anti-wind farm statements made by some. It was also noted that the new Wildlife and Muirburn Bill is being enacted simply because some land owners completely ignore the current legislation, making further legislation necessary.

Strong arguments were made in favour of a Land Tax. Scotland has the most inequitable land ownership in the developed world. One of the largest land owners in Scotland pays tax in Denmark! Just 4 of Scotland’s biggest land owners own more land than all the community buyouts put together. Just 440 people own half of Scotland‘s land! 100,000 people in Finland own half, yes half, of the countries timber. That`s a lot of match sticks!

All is not lost though, 70% of Scots say land should be managed for community benefit, 60% of Scots oppose grouse shooting and the land wasted in its pursuit, 75% oppose predator killing (raptors, foxes, stoats, etc), 75% oppose traps for “grouse protection” and there is strong opposition to muirburn. We just need Scotland‘s Parliament to enact legislation to reflect those opinions and it is starting to do so.

Burnt Moor patchwork

If you were starting a business today one area you would not go into is grouse shooting – the economics simply do not stack up! There are alternative uses for all this land and Common Weal has done research – the alternatives include proper land management teams, wildlife management, commercial forestry and re-wilding, wood processing, deer stalking, horticulture, crofting, energy production (wind, solar, bio mass, micro hydro), bio crops, rural crafts, eco-tourism and the associated affordable housing and infrastructure requirements.

Robin Mac Alpine summed up the day for those attending the event from the Borders when he said “its land stupid! Scotland’s stupidly and totally miss-uses its land. Scotland’s future is Scotland’s land, who controls it, who uses it and for what purpose. Land drives our future and what Scotland can achieve”
Next years REVIVE Conference will focus on Land.

Editor: previous coverage of the environmental and economic damage of grouse moors

Photographs provided by Peter Rowberry an environmental activist based in the Scottish Borders. His article on grouse moors (Scots – Muirs) Grouse management: An environmental liability? was previously published by Newsnet and is well worth a read to understand the environmental damage and not least the misguided understanding of the shallow economic case underpinning landowners claims of ‘benefit’ to rural communities.