Crofting concerns at new scramble for estates

Marketing large estates for their “rewilding potential” will concentrate land ownership in the hands of the few, the Scottish Crofting Federation warned this week.

SCF chairman Donald MacKinnon was speaking after rural property consultants Galbraith pointed to a growing demand for estates driven by woodland creation and habitat restoration as well as the more traditional grouse shooting and stalking.

Emma Chalmers, a partner in the firm, said: “The Scottish estate has always been sought after, formerly principally driven by interest in traditional sports, together with the desire to ‘get away from it all’. Demand has always outstripped supply, with only about 10 to 15 estates offered for sale each year, either privately or on the open market.

“However, we are seeing with the accelerating understanding of climate change, growing desire to offset carbon usage, both personally and by business, the need to be more visibly green or indeed by some to meet their net-zero targets, the traditional estate, together with the hill and stock farms, are attracting increased interest from this new natural capital purchaser.

“The sales of Glenlochay Estate in Stirlingshire and Auchavan Estate in Angus, sold in 2019 and 2020 respectively, both prompted a number of natural capital buyers to come forward alongside those who were primarily interested in traditional pursuits.

“However, the sale of Kinrara Estate earlier this year saw the majority of potential buyers with interests in woodland creation and natural capital above all else. This was further experienced when a stock farm was marketed and sold privately, also earlier this year, with a natural capital buyer secured. Thus, demonstrating the changing nature of the market.”

Galbraith reports that buyers include “corporations, institutions, and investment houses, as well as private individuals” with a variety of motivations and interests. Private sales have increased considerably as a percentage of the overall market, the firm added.

The average price for a Scottish estate continues to rise, Galbraith found. Hill ground, until recently priced in the region of £600 to £800 per acre, “can now see that figure more than double”, particularly where natural capital potential exists. With increased demand and more closing dates, this has helped drive sale prices to their “maximum achievable level”. 

In response, Donald MacKinnon told the Free Press: “The marketing of estates for their natural capital and rewilding potential is a concerning trend and will only reinforce the concentration of Scottish land ownership in the hands of a few. We would like to see more of the estates owned by communities rather than ‘corporations, institutions, and investment houses, as well as private individuals.

“Decisions about how land is used should be made by the people who live on it. We also want the creation of new crofts so that more people, more families, and more communities get the benefits of our land. Whoever owns the land and whatever use they put it to, they can provide a great service to the Highlands and Islands by creating crofts – giving others opportunities at no detriment to themselves or their aspirations.”

Article by Michael Russell and image by Willie Urquhart.