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?


  1. Hi,

    As ever, a heart-rending read. Did any of the local Council candidates have much to say about your plight, gentle otter?

  2. No candidates ventured here, MG but those prior were aware of our situation and did nothing.

    I feel that this is a national problem as there are so many tenant farmers who share the same problems as we have. Many rural areas do not have internet access but this may not be the entire reason why so many tenants remain quiet....

  3. When we bought our last house in France we found papers detailing the relationship between the owners of the house and surrounding tenant farmers - not unlike the details you give!
    I often wondered what the response would be if I asked one of them to put his horses to a waggon and fetch me from the station....

    I assume that the silence of the tenants which you note is down to bullying and threats.

    The attempts to discredit you also rang a bell....I had this in France from the 'leaders' of the local expat community when not toeing their line.

    What do you want people to do?
    Like others, I wrote to Salmond and got the bland non response letter, but tell me what action you want taken and i will comply if i can.
    I'm not in Scotland to protest physically....unfortunately.

  4. the fly in the web - thank you.

    Yes, the bland, non response letters were infuriating but this is a problem which will not go away regardless of those and such as those ignoring it.

    I am open to suggestion as to the best course of action which will perhaps shame those who could do something about this situation (and for those in a similar situation to us) until the government finally listen and act for the tenant instead of the landowner.

    These landowners who refuse to fulfill their obligations must be reigned in and called to task. The existing agricultural law system needs looking at and made fairer for the tenant.

  5. I wonder if you could get a less conventional landowner to be your champion. I worked on the Isle of Bute decades ago and see, from afar, how things have changed/progressed since the title was passed down. The heir married a commoner, opened the castle to the public and has greatly enhanced tourism and commerce on the island. Money and power lend strength to a cause.

  6. Thank you, English Rider.

    I had a look at the Bute website this morning and theirs is a great success story. - Good houses, plenty of industry, tourism, etc and people are happy.

    It is a sad day when your own government refuse to intervene and does raise the issue of their agenda.

    Here is a link to an excellent piece from the 'For Argyll' website which outlines the problems in a far more eloquent way than I could have written.

  7. Gentle Otter,I was actually suggesting that you reach out/write to Lord Johnny. Over and above any ideas and/or connections he might share with you, if you could get yourself a spokesperson/champion for your cause it would be enormous. He's not afraid of the limelight or controversy.

  8. Thank you, English Rider and sorry if I misunderstood.

    I think that the problem here is that there are some excellently run estates and others which are run down and decaying.
    The latter are the ones which are killing communities and driving the population down due to poor housing, lack of amenties, etc and which are, in my opinion, a lost cause.

    What troubles me, is that there are certain laws which are not being obliged by some landowners yet it is too costly and time consuming for the tenant farmer to go to the Land Court in order to eg upgrade archaic fixtures and fittings, replace redundant barns, etc.
    Some landowners continue to refuse to carry out the above despite being told to by the cases like this, I feel that the land should be freed so the tenant can invest without having to rely on an unreliable landowner.

    This is why we need government backing plus a change in the agricultural law.

    I believe that the opinion of the landowners has been listened too recently during the Land Registration Bill (who actually owns the land in Scotland).
    This governmental coziness with the landowners sits very uncomfortably with the tenant farmer and many others who wish to see a fairer, less biased and more transparent system.

  9. Many thanks, English Rider and I will certainly consider writing but while Johnny Bute's example is a success, many other estates are not, many other landowners fail to comply with obligations thus the tenant is faced with lengthy and costly legal battles in order to steer the landowner's back to their obligations.

    If it were the other way round, the farmer would lose the farm.

    We need a fairer and less biased system in Scotland and only the government can bring this about.

    As it is, the cozy relationship the Scottish government appear to have with the landowners is not sitting well with tenant farmers or those who wish to see a fairer outcome in the Land Registration Bill.

    The truth is that Scotland runs by one of the most archaic and medieval systems in the world where democracy appears to have been forgotten.

  10. Sorry about a double reply there.

    The first one I wrote and sent showed up as 'Error 504' and vanished.

    But the sentiment remains.

  11. Excellent post, well written and showing the effect on many tenant farmers, ALL of whom are silenced by fear of the landlord or the laird!
    I write from experience,
    We lost our farm to a proven oppressive bullyboy of a landlord, there are many things we could call him but the courts gave him the aforementioned title,
    he was/is a small landowner with a few properties, all of which he built over the last few years with and sometimes without the relevant council permissions in place!

    Our farm has been left vacant, since the day we left and the landlord opened the doors and windows to the elements, and
    in our place a great monster of a wind turbine stands towering over the whole.

    I find it incredulous that the law states that a landlord cannot be a landlord and tenant at the same time,
    and that an agricultural lease runs with the land and not the tenant, to my mind our ex landlord ought to have found another tenant,
    But as usual in Scotland's own way it has overlooked the tenant and the law, more convenient to bow down to the bidding of the landlord.

    Our lease was a more modern version of the writer's lease in this post but the meaning was the same and the obligations are the same, our tenancy was secure, we had the pre-emptive right to buy, however, no where in our lease did it state that the landlord could exercise his powers in assaulting the tenant,damaging the tenants property,interfere with the personal belongings of the tenant, try to poison the tenant, the list is endles.

    We prayed for SNP, we prayed they would get in, we prayed they would change the law to provide agricultural tenants like us, some means of date of writing this has not happened......why?

  12. At Home In Wellies - you were in my thoughts when I wrote this blog entry.

    For years you offered our family support, sympathised with nefarious goings on, compared notes on legal issues, wretched times and all the rest. You understood because you were living like us and felt unsupported by those who were in a position to help.

    Our family felt desolation and despair when you had to leave your farm - the photographs you sent me were a testament, not only of the honest hard work that you put into making your farm and farmhouse somewhere to be proud of but of the struggle against adversity.

    I know the hell you went through and truly admire your strength.

    How many others like your family and mine are struggling to make an honest living but who are being thwarted by the cruelty and inhumane treatment of bad landowners?
    We are not seen as human, merely irritations who stand in the way of luxury housing etc.

    There are so few of us left and whilst 'pressure groups' campaign for the rights of new entrants (and admirably so), what about the existing tenants who don't have the same support?
    The rip offs at way-go?
    The high handed land agents who never had the courtesy to sit at the table and dine with a family who were leaving after more than 100 years of tenanting their farm?
    The underhanded methods used to defame and slight honest people?

    Furthermore, we pay our taxes to this country. Unlike some.

    It boils down to money - the new sheep.
    The morals which we hold dear are trampled on in the immoral stampede for cash.

    And I am ashamed this evening to be Scottish as our government appear to have selective amnesia regarding our history and selective mutism regarding the Clearances which are happening in 2012.

    1. Gentleotter, I could have not explained our situation, by "our" I mean yours and mine, quite so well as you have,
      I admire your staying power in an terrible situation, I too despair the Scottish Government's apparent disregard for Scotland's own farming traditions and their apparent eagerness to back the bad laird rightly or wrongly.
      In the old days, lairds/dukes/earls etc lost their land to the crown if they in anyway conducted themselves other than in the rules of good husbandry, how times have changed, the world of Scottish Agriculture, lost forever in the realms of time.

      A bad sign for tenant farmers, a bad sign for the future of family farms altogether,

      You know where I am if there is anything I can do for you :)

  13. Thank you and bless you At Home In Wellies.

    Just ploughing through the nightmare which is the IACS form today. It has to be handed in tomorrow.

    I feel very slighted today as I heard that Alex Salmond is to address Scotland's landowners on 29th May. Funny I never received my invite given that I am a landowner too....allegedly ;)
    I eagerly await his address to Scotland's tenant farmers, date yet to be set and probably in not such a grand setting as the landowner's meeting place.
    Alex, old Bob up the road has a bit of a shed left and we can rustle up a cup of tea and a piece.

    Now we know who shares the bed with whom.