Friday, 18 May 2012

Wha's like us?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with some other tenant farmers as I am interested in hearing their opinions.

There is a growing dissent and concern amongst this forgotten sector of agriculture, the feeling that they have been thrown on the heap and ignored. They feel demoralised by two recent land court cases which went against the tenants plus they felt betrayed when the Absolute Right to Buy was shelved.

The accent tends to lean toward the new entrants these days and admirably so but many existing tenants feel that their problems are addressed in a dismissive manner or a daunting manner.
Daunting in the prospect of having to go to the land court to resolve issues.

The cost of going to court is enormous and it is well known that some wealthy landowners try to prolong cases in order to bring the cost up; I will not beat about the bush here, they are looking to bankrupt some of the tenants. "The rottweilers" as they are known.
The wealthy landowners have the means, the Q.C.s, the motive and the will to get the tenant out.
There is the added worry of trying to fight the case, run the farm, cope with all the paperwork that farming generates as well as the everyday problems which arise when you are hands on farming.

There appears to be a common complaint against the agents who seemingly run estates these days. I have yet to hear one decent word about these people as their manner is increasingly inhuman and arrogant. I would say that there is no respect whatsoever for these agents and vice versa is most definitely the case.

Tenant farmers tend to be a fairly tacit group of people and although this may be construed as an awfully broad generalisation, they are not usually known for protests, strikes or loud protestations. Probably because they are out working all hours of the day and night. They are in remote areas, possibly without broadband connection or mobile phone range.

Now here is the crunch. Why are most of them afraid of talking out, even if they did have access to internet, etc?
Why are they feeling threatened yet find themselves in a position where the law is prohibitively expensive? Where is the fairness in that?
Why are they afraid and who are they afraid of?

The answer is simple. They are afraid of losing their farms and afraid of the bullying tactics of landlord's agents.

The sleekit wee nyaff who is supposed to liase with us has had some pretty warped ideas in the short time he has been with the estate. How strange to blame our family for leaving gates open so our cattle escape. Who did he think was going to have to find them, round the cattle up, check that they were all there and that none were injured?
Who was going to get the vet out if they were injured and who was going to pay the vet?

Why would tyremarks from several 4x4s appear in our grazing field at the same time as we attended a farm roup along the road?

The refusal to give notice when shoots take place right beside the house.

Other tenant farmers have had barn roofs removed and no new barn provided. One neighbour had to rent a barn miles away, at a greatly inflated rent. Another ex tenant narrowly missed being shot when a 'careless' shot or two was fired as she hung out her washing...
Some tenants have already lost their farms.

Sometimes the police refuse to come out if an incident occurs on a farm. We were told that it was an 'estate matter' when an illegal shoot took place beside our house.
Tenants feel increasingly isolated and therefore become vulnerable.

There are so many other examples of astonishing bullying taking place and you would not be wrong in thinking that you were in Zimbabwe instead of Scotland in 2012.
An entire culture is under threat, a unique culture like the crofters. What some of us are experiencing is akin to a form of ethnic cleansing, we are seen as being inferiors or 'owned' by faceless large landowners.
Our family (under our farm name) are owned by the landowner's trustees and a grandchild, if my memory serves correctly.

Tenant farmers are indebted to people like Andy Wightman who is not afraid to speak out for them and has written a book "The Poor Had No Lawyers" which accurately illustrates the history and the present for Scottish tenant farmers.
There are so few books about us, so little in the media about us (I wonder why that is!) so those who speak out for a tacit culture are thought of very highly indeed.
Here is a man speaking up for those who are too afraid to speak.

Some still have no lawyers.

Some are still bound by agreements made 125 years ago without personal legal representation in 1890.

Yet this stubborn denial by the Scottish government that feudalism still exists?

The catch 22 is that it is cost prohibitive to exhaust legal issues in the land court then escalate them to the European Court of Human Rights.

Your average tenant farmer, therefore, has to bite their tongue and just keep working for the landowner. In one fell swoop, a culture is oppressed, allowed to slowly die out and the land grabbed back.

Eugenics at it's finest.

Wha's like us?

Damn few - and they're a' deid.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Look me straight in the eye and tell me this is not feudal

An area of our land was taken. Three areas actually.

This land was taken from us for 'sporting' purposes. No notice was given in writing, but the then factor visited my husband to inform him that the areas to be resumed were merely in the pipeline and if they were resumed, other land would be given to my husband as a means of compensation or a reduction in rent.

Nothing was signed, the then factor promptly left the estate and it was quite some time before a new factor took the post.

A fence went up one day in our best field. No notice, no knock on the door to say it was happening, nothing.

The land was simply taken.(2003)

An objection was raised (by our family), letters written, new factor informed etc. A lawyer wrote to ask about this 'resumption'. We continued to pay rent for this area. Still do to this day.

This 'game strip' is a full two acres. Not much you may think but it is a lot if you farm a fairly modest size farm, arable acreage of less than 100 acres. It cuts down the percentage of your grain crop, given that this was our best field for growing grain. It made it tight for turning the combine.
The grain was infested by pheasants. One gamekeeper from another estate estimated some 600+ pheasants in our field one day. In the non resumed side.

We continued to ask the estate to clarify re the land taken, we asked for written evidence of an agreement, we asked if they were going to compensate us.

They ignored our letters consistently. If we phoned, they were in 'meetings'.

In November of last year, we managed to resume a small area of resumed land back. It had been fenced off by the estate, a half assed crop planted in it for pheasant cover which was then left to become overgrown by dockens, the seeds of which blew into our other grain crop and contaminated the yield.

Today, we learn that the 2 acre strip resumed without paperwork is actually a much larger area than we realised which has not been resumed but 'fenced off (at considerable expense to the estate!) to stand guns during a shoot'.
I note that sheep are unable to graze in the fenced off area. which we pay full rent for.

Now, this is the bit that gets me.

The estate ignored our letters and phone calls. They were always very slow to reply to others acting in a professional capacity.

Today, we discover that not only do they claim that my husband 'must have thought it of little value' and that they can find 'little evidence of written correspondence' from my husband so therefore


This, from an entitled, arrogant, junior member of the estate.
Our family have farmed this ground for 125 years.

Patronising and disingenuous do not even cover it.

21st Century Scotland, people. Where land grab is the order of the day and freedom of speech is forbidden.
21st Century Scotland where people are still expected to live in hovels, ingest foul water and keep quiet about it.
21st Century Scotland, the playground of the select few on land which is closed to the majority.

Mr ********, the farmer, may be personally barred from objecting about what has happened. Mrs ******* will have no hesitation speaking on her husband's behalf.

Unless someone from the Scottish government is willing to assist me?
I don't care whether they are SNP, Labour, Tory, Green, Independent or a penguin.

We need land reform urgently to stop this feudal high handedness in it's tracks and support for the tenant farmers who are enduring hellish tricks by unscrupulous landowners.

Mr Salmond, STOP ignoring this.

I invite you here, Mr Salmond, to our farm, to see this for yourself.
Just yourself, Mr Salmond, our family and your aides.

Fellow tenant farmers, land reform campaigners are welcome too.

The estate are not invited.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The effects of 21st century feudalism

I wanted to write about the constraints on our family and families like ours who, despite The Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) 2000, are still bound by certain rules, terminology and burdens due to our ancient leases.

I have undertaken discussions with many people from all over the world, many who cannot understand how some parts of Scotland are still living under positively medieval rules, feudal 'superiors', etc.
Why do we continue to allow this to happen?

Why, indeed.

Our family are still bound by a lease, written in 1890 and where the new tenant farmer was unrepresented by a lawyer but which bound all the generations to a set of rules. Many of these rules contravene modern human rights, the tenant farmer being used like a pack horse.

Talking of pack horse, here is an extract from our lease. Remember, we are still bound by this lease.

" being understood that in the event of the Landlord wishing to use wood grown in his own plantations the foregoing obligation to perform cartage shall include cartage of rough timber from any of his plantations to any sawmill he may consider suitable, besides cartage of such wood to the farm when sawn;

And the tenant binds himself and his successors in this Lease, if and when called on, in the first place, to do yearly free of charge - five- days' carting of peats by one pair of horses and one man from any part of the ******** Estate to ****** *****; and in the second place, to cart yearly, free of charge, eight tons of any substance from Perth Railway Station or any place not farther (sic) by highway from the Farm than the Station to (names landlord's houses) or any place not farther by highway from the Farm than the nearest of those Houses, or instead of such cartage to perform yearly free of charge - five days' work of any kind by -one- man with suitable carts or ploughs, or other implements, at any place not farther by highway from the Farm than the said Station, it being agreed that the Landlord shall fix the places from and to the said tons of substance or any of the same are to be carted, and whether work is to be performed instead of any of such cartage, and, if so, where and what kind;"

Sorry about the lack of paragraphs but the lease is written in one solid lump.

Carting, horses and freebie work aside (and I can assure you that we will all be washing our hair that week), it beggars belief that our family is legally bound by the above in 2012.

This community has slowly been dying for years.

The church was the first to go; a previous landowner built a shiny new church but the deal was that the community change from Free Church to Church of Scotland....

The community dismantled the shiny new church, sold the stone and continued to worship in the manner they were accustomed to.

There are so many empty houses here - they are falling into severe decay, some are dangerous. They have the potential to house several families which in turn would ensure the local primary school had a healthy population: As it is, the school has a stay of execution for five more years....

There is little here. One pub closed, the other, which is leased from the Estate by an excellent chef, is only open on certain days.

There are plans for new houses to be built - 'eco' houses. These expensive houses will be fed by the wonderful water supply we have here which is 'organic' to say the least. Organic as defined by the dictionary...

If our family wish to diversify, we must ask the landowner's permission.
If the permission is granted, we would invest our own money yet have to pay a percentage to the landowner, simply because he is the landowner.

Sadly, the area we had hoped to use as diversification - a wonderful area untouched by machine and rich in flora and fauna, has been let out to the shooting tenant despite the fact that we also pay rent for the same area.

We had hoped to diversify in a low impact way; small scale camping, sharing the beautiful location with people who wanted to see nature as it was intended, peace and quiet...
No point in that when it is littered by shotgun cartridges and the peace shattered by shoots.
Plus, there is the issue of the water and public safety.

So, diversification is made difficult.

Many tenant farmers are horrified at the Scottish government's complete lack of support.

We are very fortunate to have amazing support from people like Andy Wightman, who works tirelessly for Land Reform and change.
Change which has been long overdue, possible for at least three hundred years but forgive me if I'm a few hundred years out.

Lesley Riddoch, journalist and broadcaster, has written about how the Scandinavian system would work here; the Scandinavians who have a common sense and fair system for their farmers, or Scottish communities who have successfully bought out the land from useless landowners and who have transformed their communities into places they are proud of rather than the neglected, run down places the absentee landowners created.

We urgently need to get out of this fugue.

Our buildings are falling down and antiquated; due to the landowner's refusal to invest.
It is far too costly to take the landowners to court to enforce their legal obligations. They just get off with it.
Tenants like us are expected to live in decaying farms, decaying houses. Those of us who have no intention on leaving should be given the chance to own our farms so we can invest in handing something worthwhile over to our children.

When our situation raised awareness in August last year, I was informed by several sources that I had been discredited to the press, that I owned several properties around Scotland (!).
For the record, my Dad bequeathed me a 1/4 share of a 2 bedroomed flat in a backwater Angus village.
I was informed by the solicitors who were dealing with the estate that there was nothing left of my share as their fees took the lot.....

Furthermore, I was insulted by the insinuation that the farm cottage, owned by my husband, was automatically mine.
His family worked for it, built it and therefore it belongs to them, not me. There are women who do not assume automatic ownership of possessions after they get a ring on their finger.

The modest rent pays for the upkeep of the stock.

What that had to do with our farmhouse is beyond my ken.

Dear God, do you think we really want to live like this, tolerating these conditions? I, for one, want my family and families like us, to be treated humanely. It is not asking for much.

It is time to truly end feudalism, to reform, to open up the land to others.

The feudal hangover simply does not work for communities or individual farmers. The existing system merely serves a select few and despite the protestations, the communities see very little, if any, investment as a result.

I am ready for change.

Are you ready to walk with me?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Trouble with Blogger

It is 4.19am and I cannot sleep.

Yesterday was incredibly hot and it was a joy to work outside all day but I took a bit more sun than I realised and have probably joined the ranks of many other pale skinned Scots who are also awake suffering from sunburn.

I thought I would try and meddle about with the blog settings to see if I can sort out the spacing issues. It was something to occupy my mind in the middle of the night while I waited for the copious amounts of aloe vera to work on said fried skin.

Honestly, it feels like the first day at school all over again. I can't find anything which relates to spacing and even ventured into the 'advanced' part of the settings for a look. That was a bit scary. Luddites and 'advanced settings' are an anathema.

It is easier to bring colour to my milk white tinged with woad blue Scottish skin than to find the Thing Which You Click On in order to create a space.

My fear is that I click on the wrong thing, wipe the entire blog then end up miserable, confused, with prickly heat and insomnia to boot.

I have mentioned before that as a child of the sixties/ seventies, our nod to technology was the Language Lab where we had to listen to French through earphones while the teacher listened in to our dreadful attempts at emulating French through a thick Black Isle accent.

'Dons the loomin ay, sil voo play". It sounded splendidly exotic spoken by the pupils from Avoch but not in a French way.

Our biggest worry was that if the person who wore the headphones before you had nits or trying to prevent yourself from slipping into a coma by the sheer tedium of the class. And the social isolation of being stuck in a booth so you could not elbow your friend to make her laugh.

"This is the future" the French teacher would boom. "This is the searing end of technology"....

I'm old fashioned and want to write to Blogger in a Dear Sir/ Madam, I am having a faff trying to sort out spacing. Please could you help me? type of letter. With a stamp on it.

What are the odds of this ending up in one paragraph when I press 'publish'? I am compelled to drink Ovaltine. That's it Blogger - you have sent me on the road littered with discarded People's Friends and support stockings.

I have aged and it is all Blogger's fault.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Not Dull at all.

Please bear with me as they have changed 'Blogger' and I am back to faffling about trying to find my way around again. I've had a right carry on trying to sort out the spacing of sentences and the last entry read as if I had wolfed twenty cups of coffee then some Red Bull anditreadlikethis. Anyway, still on the Perthshire trail, today, Dull. It was our fifth wedding anniversary today, five years which have flown past and have been as varied as the weather. We were married in this house, which has to be one of the most picturesque registry offices in Scotland.
It is not a million miles from Dull
Dull has been mentioned a lot in the media recently due to a proposed twinning with 'Boring'. Quiet and tranquil sprang to mind. We saw one or two new builds coorying up to the old established Victorian stone built houses plus an unusual stone which lends itself to many interpretations....
The village appears to be hiding behind some huge boulders that were left by long melted glaciers.
Now forgive me but this is the closest there is to photographing a swear. Ok, not one but just about all the AngloSaxon I know. AllAtOnce. Loudly.
Unseen and unheard was the military jet which divebombed the glen one millisecond after I pressed the shutter. What was seen and heard around the glen, was my nervous reaction freak out to said jet. The ducks of Dull raised their eyebrows.
It was time to return home, neck some chamomile tea, get our little boy to bed, dance with The Farmer. The road back from Dull. The hills of home.
Me and my farmer.