Monday, 9 December 2013

Please make life a little easier?

I have not blogged for ages as I have been quite unwell so my apologies to those who have written to ask how things were going.

The family are just in - we have all been working at rebuilding the cattle court so the cattle can come in from the field. The cattle should have been in long before this but we were faced with a Catch 22 situation namely, we did not have water in either the sheds (nor in the cabin) so the cattle had to stay outside in order to drink from the burn.

The shooting tenant, however, decided to hold a shoot in the same field as the (pregnant) cattle. This stressed our herd and (on professional advice) increased the risk of 'spontaneous abortion'. They could lose their calves plus fall ill to infection, etc.
Our herd are very calm, usually. There is an unwritten rule among the farmers here that their cattle never see a raised stick nor hear a raised voice. I have never heard my husband shout at his cattle and if they need guiding then he holds out his arms as a means of directing them.
You can imagine how the herd reacted then, to several guns going off beside them. I see it as an act of cruelty.

We are desperate to take the cattle in and will tomorrow but there is a limited amount of water which we received from the estate. A herd of pregnant cattle will easily drink in one day, the contents of the cubes of water we have been given.

It has been five days since the supply ran and whilst we are aware of a 'problem' we would expect the problem to be resolved by now. We are fortunate to have help rebuild the cattle court and are accommodating someone in the cabin. Can you imagine how you would feel after working in a cattle shed for several days yet you could not wash your hands or body? Toilet flushed by a bucket from the cube of water outside?
I think someone from Medieval times could imagine such unsanitary conditions and that is what it feels like.

We have to double up the cattle shed as a grain store.
When the cattle go out in Spring (if the weather is good and the grass has grown). We are high up in the hills so have a relatively short growing season. Our grass comes in later that the pastures on farms a few miles away but who enjoy more sheltered areas.
Once the cattle are out then we clear the dung, wash the floors and walls then go over them again then a final wash with a steam cleaner to kill any bacteria. It is a huge task but we do not have anywhere to store our grain (as the grain shed was built in the 1800s and tiny due to carts and lower yields).

This task of cleaning out the cattle shed was hampered by a lack of water this year. I will not elaborate on how we finally managed to wash it out but I will admit it was backbreaking and laborious. Farms use a lot of water for these sort of jobs.

No, it has not been easy at all these past few weeks but I was heartened when the entire community of some 70 people came together to try to resolve the problem with an antiquated water system which has now come to the end of its life.

The landowner has exercised 'the landowner's right' and taken the grant which was available from the council (for water improvement) from the tenants. Several private homeowners also gave their grant to the estate and we await a plan plus time constraint from estate and council.
I worry that all 70 will be left without water if the weather becomes very cold or if we get snowed in. It happened to us a few years ago so it is possible.
I'm not aware of a contingency plan, bowser or anything in place for those in more remote areas.

There has been mention of connecting the farm to the pipe which runs through our land (to a big school). We are a bit wary of this option as the school appear to have issues with their supply and I believe it was off again at the weekend. It does not bode well that a former teacher has sought legal means due to having to ask for a bucket of water to flush her toilet. Neither bucket nor water were provided....

Contrary to blusterings on Twitter by Scottish Land and Estates, what I am saying is "A total misrepresentation of the situation". Why then don't some of us have a) a supply b) a clean supply c) a reliable supply? (I say 'some' as one or two have giant water storage tanks with filtration systems).
I Tweeted this yesterday-

Community (70 strong) working with council, estate, SEPA etc. Still think boreholes are the cheapest solution.
Please do clarify the situation, SL&E because an entire community would love clarification.
We are not working against the estate, to the contrary, residents are willing to explore any means possible of receiving clean, plentiful water. We are working with estate, council, SEPA, Scottish Water and anyone else who can help. It is just not acceptable to deny that there is a problem.

It is written in the title deeds of the private homeowners that the landowner owns the mineral rights. This prevents the sinking of boreholes (as favoured by several in the community).
Scottish Water mentioned circa £2,500,000 to connect the glen to public water. Who pays? Who is responsible?
Nobody really knows who owns the water pipe itself as the land is divided by trusts, etc. My guess is that if gold was found then the owners/trustees would soon pipe up. (Unintentional pun alert).

I have been threatened with an injunction to ban me from speaking on Blogger or Twitter about the situation here yet I can assure you what I write is true. I truly fear for the welfare of our community this coming winter especially the elderly and the very young.

I would say that our problems are exacerbated greatly by the shooting and selfishness of the shooting tenant yet they pale greatly when people are without water.
If our family are unable to provide our cattle and sheep with water whilst they are inside and dependent on us then we have no option than to sell all the livestock. My husband refuses to accept this but I can't see any other option when the welfare of the animals comes first. If they stay outside, they will not put on weight plus it is easier to feed them or carry out checks on their wellbeing when they are in. Plus they are protected from the stress that a shoot brings.

A neighbour summed things up recently when she was asked to renew her subscription to Water Aid. "Can we have some water aid here, in a glen, in Scotland, in 2013, please?"

Friday, 11 October 2013

Think before you drink.

This is the fourteenth day without water on our farm.

The supply yielded a small amount yesterday but that quickly went off again and despite having written to the estate to ask why we have no water, I have not received a reply. So much for the promises of improved communication from the CEO of the Scottish Land and Estates and the estate representative when they sat at our kitchen table.

The situation here is that the supply which has fed the farm since 1890 has ceased. The farm is fed from a reservoir and shares a pipe with a large public school. The public school have embarked on an improved water supply system and it would appear to me that they may know something about the cessation of our farm supply....
The deal was made in 1948 that the school would be allowed to lay a pipe through our farm on the condition that the farm would receive water. This permission was given by the landowner and the tenant farmer had no input into the agreement.

Given the disruption to our crops by an ancient pipe system bursting (or being burst by estate plumbers smashing our pipe with mechanical diggers), the sensible solution would be to replace the pipes along the roadside thus it would make access easier plus it is a shorter distance.
But this would involve common sense - something I find lacking in certain elements around here.

The genius solution the estate came up with was to pump raw water from the little burn, top up the local community holding tank with said burn water and from what I can glean, divert some of the water to the big public school. I mention that my understanding of this is limited due to lack of clear information from the estate.

Further up the burn lie the carcasses of sheep which have died over previous winters. There are pheasant carcasses in the burn too.
A boil water notice has been advised but the practicalities and expense of boiling a lot of water, for example for a bath are impractical. Most people have showers and have discovered that the raw water has damaged the showers given the amount of sediment and solids plus how do you boil water for a shower? You still ingest the water, skin being the largest organ in the human body. Try brushing your teeth with a tub of boiled and cooled water. Try reminding your children that taps are not for drinking water. Try telling children who have learning difficulties not to drink or bathe in the raw water.

I was heartened to read that the Scottish government have pledged an enormous sum of money for overseas aid to assist those suffering health issues due to lack of sanitation and clean water as well as other issues.

I ask that they also take into consideration, the communities in their own country who are also experiencing difficulties due to a lack of clean water plus the constraints of being reliant on an estate who owns the water, charges for the water yet who are incapable of supplying this most basic human resource to those who need a clean, potable, reliable drinking supply.

The alternative is to drill a borehole but the permission of the landowner is required. Given that the landowner collects quite a considerable sum in council rated water charges from each household, I somehow doubt permission would be granted.
The cost of a borehole is between £6,500 and £10,000 and considering the geography of this area plus the fact it lies on a major fault line, there is no shortage of underground water. Several owner/occupier farms have sunk boreholes and have had no issues at all with either supply or quality.
People are afraid to ask permission in case their supplies 'dry up' - just like the farm supply has 'dried up'. I don't know about you but I have issues at having to ask permission to spend a small fortune on sinking a borehole to improve our quality of life, especially when it would end up being considered as a landlord's improvement.

I suspect that our community is not the only one facing such a nightmare as there are roughly 100,000 people on private water supplies (probably owned by a handful of landowners).

Have you visited an area served by private water? Have you ingested putrified sheep/ pheasant carcass? Have your children paddled in burns which may harbour cryptosporidium, Ecoli, etc? Has anyone spread human faeces in the surrounding fields?

In an odd way, our having no water supply is probably safer than being supplied with raw burn water however, we honestly do not know how we can provide water for our livestock when we bring them into the sheds for winter soon. Are we being forced to sell our herd of cattle and flock of sheep due to lack of provision of water? Are we being driven out by drought? It looks like it to me except we are not leaving. No intention of giving up no matter how much the estate tries to harass or make life difficult.

The law itself needs changed but it appears nobody who can change it is listening. Until then, we are at the mercy of the landowners.
God help us.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Sunshine on Dull

Seven days now without any drinking water at the farm.

This came in from the council -

I understand that the FarmAtTheBackOfBeyond cabin and caravan are served by ********** private water supply and that (neighbouring) farm cottage is served by (local parish) private water supply. 

********* Estate have been having problems supplying water to the properties on ****** supply and water was initially tankered to the main tank at (neighbouring farm) before they arranged a temporary abstraction from (the wee local) burn to keep the main tank supplied.  As burn water was being used and the treatment provided at that time was not guaranteed to produce wholesome water PKC issued all properties on the (local parish) supply with boil water notices.  The Estate has also advised occupants not to consume the water.  I understand this situation is still ongoing.

I note that the estate provided you with bowser water from a burn.  This water should certainly be treated as unwholesome and should not be consumed without treatment and/or boiling.

As you are a tenant of *********** Estate you should continue to make representations to them about the provision of water to FarmAtTheBackOfBeyond cabin.  I would suggest you examine the terms of your lease or tenancy agreement to establish who has responsibilities in this matter. 

Yours uncaringly,

The Cooncil

Do you see any reference to supplying our family with clean drinking water? Me neither (sorry for the bold writing all of the sudden).
What I do see is an estate and council who do not care one whit about their tenants/ people who pay tax and council tax.

From what I can glean, a new pipe is being laid somewhere (although the plumbers had not turned up as it was raining) so rather than wear hoods and not be total Jessies, it was easier to keep our supply turned off. We are not informed when the water will go off but find out by turning on the tap.

This rocked up after my requests for drinking water for the farm.

 The dirt is on the inside of the bowser and the water really is a murky green colour.

How do you get the middle tank off the trailer?

"Here is what you could have won" - pumps and everything but sadly.....

The water bowsers, pumps and everything were removed the following morning leaving us with one minging bowser and no means of transporting the water unless by bucket.
21st century Scotland, mind.
(Do the police know that the estate trailer has no number plate?)

Plus this nonsense was going on in the lower field at the same time. The field where the cattle graze.

Looks like a lovely Autumnal landscape until you look right in the centre of the photo. Rather sinister?

Here is a better view.

Blood sport before lunch.

So the list of 'People who could do something to help but are turning a deaf ear/ blind eye' grows. We are only tenant farmers, after all.

Where does the Sunshine on Dull come into the equation?
The answer is that I took such a scunner to the situation that I took off to Dull for a change of scenery. The Birks (birch trees) of Aberfeldy are just beginning to change colour and were beautiful, indeed all the trees between Aberfeldy and Dull wore a different colour.

The people at Karelia House, Dull welcomed me like an old lost friend and plied me with mugs of hot coffee, home baking and all the news.
Their first ever coffee morning at the weekend raised a massive £3034.79 for Macmillan on Saturday. A brilliant amount from such a tiny community and enough to cheer the gloomiest of spirits.

It felt easier to return to the farm after being treated so kindly at Karelia and it helps to strengthen resolve and spirit. A little human kindness goes a long, long way.

Home to a different glen and an indifferent estate.

Home to no water.

Update: Saturday 5th October 2013 - Still no water. Supply was on for a short while but went off again at around 4.30pm.

Sunday 6th October - water still off.

Monday 7th October - no water. Is this now permanent?

Tuesday 8th - No water. Not a drop, plumbers are now digging holes on a neighbouring farm and the huge pump which is supposed to be feeding our farm is  switched off.

Wednesday 9th. Not only is there still no water, the taps are acting like hoovers in that they are sucking air in. I have never seen this happen before. The water supply has literally been sucked dry. No word from the estate.

Friday 11th October - small amount of water yesterday but it went off again and none at all today. I have discovered that other members of the community are afraid to complain to the estate in case their water supply is cut off too. All they can do is refuse to pay the full council water rate which the estate charge each person. Some are afraid to do this.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

We URGENTLY need water.

The farm and farmhouse has had no water for days. The occasional sporadic amount but not enough to store in a tank to wash your hands or flush a toilet.

Apparently, it is news to the estate who are responsible for the supply.

Given that I have taken to emailing them almost daily to let them know we have no water and given that they read this blog, I will ask "Please can we have some water?"

We are currently working in the antiquated grain sheds - a filthy job so the ability to wash our hands would be a luxury right now, even from the outside tap.

The water has been on and off (mostly off) for almost *three months* now. The anticipated 'precipitation' precipitated. The reservoir which has fed our farm since 1890 is full.

I would be asking the wee man in the white van (who is working for the estate) - "What is it that you are doing near the valves early in the morning?" And "Are you going to give us 24 hours notice before the supply stops?"
For the record, there are no leaking pipes on our farm.

It is quite simply really. If the estate are unable to supply us with water then they ought to have this responsibility taken from them and this fundamental human right, the basic right to clean water in Scotland in 2013, given to someone who does have a clue.

Because right now, it looks like harassment and an attempt to drive us out.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Smoky Smirr O Rain

"The hills aroond war silent wi the mist alang the braes.
The woods war derk an' quiet wi dewy, glintin' sprays.
The thrushes didna raise for me, as I gaed by alane,
but a wee wae cheep at passin' in the smoky smirr o rain.

Rock an' stane lay glisterin' on aa the heighs abune.
Cool an' kind an' whisperin' it drifted gently doon,
till hill an' howe war rowed in it, an' land an' sea war gane.
Aa was still an' saft an' silent in the smoky smirr o rain."

George Campbell Hay

The Autumn mist has made our house quite invisible to the world, the hill at the front floats, only the top can be seen backlit by the full moon and inside, we are huddled around the fire, recovering from a horrid lurgy which struck the whole family, bellies filled by the plums and apples we picked from the garden, settling into the return of the dark nights.

We have worked at getting the harvest in; a bumper harvest of oats this year. The straw and hay for the livestock has been bailed and stacked but best of all, we had a holiday at the invite of another tenant farming family on the Islands.
I won't say which island to preserve the anonymity of those we met but what I will say is that we were treated like family, welcomed with such warmth, love and friendship that it was difficult to return home.

We met many other tenant farming families during our stay, gathering around the big kitchen table, everyone from the youngest to the more mature in years had their say, stories were swapped; not in bitterness just hard facts.
We heard of the young, articulate, highly qualified farmer who desperately wanted his own farm yet who was badly let down at the last moment by the landowner, the farmer who had worked at farming with his sibling all his days yet on the sibling's death, he would lose the farm due to the succession laws which prevent a sibling taking on a tenancy.

As we travelled around the island, there were so many houses like this one.

Houses staring with dead eyes over ground which once saw crops. Houses which once saw families where bairns tumbled off to school, now the schools lay empty, abandoned. There were few shops, just miles and miles of grouse moor.

You did not need to travel as far as the Islands to see this desolation, it is evident all over Scotland and the Islands. Dead eyed houses, empty schools, no shops, miles of nothing but barren waste where once stood crops and workers.

On the last night of our visit, I stood outside for a puff. The air was so pure and the smoky smirr of rain hung in the air. I'm not sure how it happens but nights like those have the ability to catch sound and as I smoked my cigarette, I could hear a man singing at a wedding some distance away. I don't know what he was singing as it was Gaelic but his voice was beautiful and ethereal in the mist. It did not matter what he was singing as the message of his song rang clear and hit my Soul.

I see lights in that little house. I see bairns tumbling off to school, crops being tended, animals grazing, neighbours swapping news in the shops. If ever a message rang home, it was that this land is worth fighting for to bring it back to life and to make the community feel valued again.

Our home too, depressing as it was to return to.
Nothing has progressed despite our meeting with our visitors. NOTHING.

The entire glen has suffered water shortages and I feel for them as they are not used to the disruption, ruined water filters and inability to bathe their children safely. We are used to it as it has happened to us for years. The only difference appears to be their willingness to speak out and try to get something done.
The community received a rather high handed email explaining that 'lack of precipitation' had caused the shortages and no mention of the antiquated, patched, lead in places burst pipe system which has long since died a death.

The smoky smirr of rain has arrived, the rain or 'precipitation' has fallen in abundance, yet still no water.
Still no roof.

A surveyor had a quick look around and we were promised a proper survey...... no word about when he will be back or what the hold up is. What are a few more weeks after initially asking in 1976?
No place to store our oats either. The grain shed is circa 1850 something and built for carts. It holds 30 tons maximum and this year we were able to produce 70 tons. The grain shed is 'fixed equipment' ie something which came with the farm in 1890 yet the roof has fallen in - once an object has passed its life 'through fair wear and tear', it is the landlords obligation to replace - not the farmer's. Tenants are wary of building new sheds as after a certain length of time, if the farmer leaves,the sheds depreciate in value (in theory) therefore the landowner can deem the building obsolete on waygo but in practice, the shed still has many years of  life left. So the farmer has paid for the shed himself yet when he leaves, the landowner can write it off and pay no compensation on waygo but let the farm to a new tenant and include the sheds!
Plus, try getting a fit for purpose shed out of a certain type of is easier getting a pint of clean water.. Aye, right.

The grain prices are low just now as everyone has had a good harvest but it is prudent to store the oats for a few months until the price improves. This is just one example of when a landowner fails to invest in fixed equipment, it can affect the income of the farm. We heard so many similar examples when we were visiting the Island plus many more from others on the mainland.

It is not good enough. There has to be something better than this. What has happened to our country that complete strangers can empathise with your situation as they have experienced the same neglect? They are no longer strangers but become kith and kindred spirits through these shared experiences and hardships in modern day Scotland.

I think we are not getting a roof/ clean water or any water as the question of the absolute right to buy our own farms is raised and some estates would hold tight rather than provide a roof to, let's remind them, sitting tenants. Since 1890 in our case.
Some estates deserve to lose their tenants as the tenants themselves will make a far better job of providing themselves with basics like a roof for their homes and sheds plus that basic human right, clean water, than wait for an indifferent landowner to make the house wind and watertight.

I look forward to the day when the Smoky Smirr o Rain falls on our roof and we are warm and dry will be by our own hands, our own work and a reliance on no laird. I will be so bold as to speak for many Secure tenant farmers who wish the same, regardless where in Scotland they are. These good families deserve better.

Freedom, come all ye.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A conflict of interest

I am really, really upset writing this.

The Farmer, Rosie and I had a meeting with the new shooting tenant plus the estate spokesperson today regarding a troublesome 'game strip' which was taken from us ten years ago; apparently when the laird executed his right as laird under the 1890 tenancy agreement.

There are no resumption papers, no signed documents, no rent reduction, no compensation, no land in lieu. On the contrary, we pay the full amount for land which we cannot use.
Here is an indication of what a 'game strip' looks like - yes, it is the entire area that you see.

It is a considerable area, two acres, plus it is two acres taken from the best field we have. The last crop which we grew in the 'resumed' strip was barley.

The issue I have, apart from the feudal, almost Medieval resumption is that the ground which once yielded barley is now sterile and sour. Ten years of 'land management' by inexperienced shooting tenants have resulted in two acres which is not fit for purpose. Nothing will grow on it as it has not seen crop rotation, no organic material, pheasant damage, in short, the land has been ruined by ignorance.
To what purpose? So a handful of people can shoot pheasant or other game regardless of the cost to the ground itself or the noise and nuisance to those who live in the area.

Things are potentially very awkward for our family as the new shooting tenant has moved in to the house which overlooks our farm. He has a family and we will be neighbours yet there is a real conflict of interest due to two businesses on the same piece of land. Furthermore, they are conflicting businesses especially if we wished to diversify into offering quiet rural breaks or wild camping.

What has upset me is the fact our family have to decide whether to take the ruined strip back, repair it at our own cost and time but if we do then we may have to give up the other end of the same field as a game strip. I wonder if this would fall under the 'Such cartage to perform yearly free of charge five day's work of any kind, by one pair of horses and one man, with suitable carts', as written in our 1890 lease and the terms of which we are bound today.
The estate resumed the land using terms from that lease so why not invoke the slavery bit too? In 2013. Why just pick and choose from the lease? Why not go the whole hog and go for absolute humiliation? It worked in 1890 and is still possible today if you ignore the tenant's Human Rights.

Why do an estate of some 28,000 acres require a two acre strip of our best farmland?
The reason, apparently, is because the land falls steeply to the river and the pheasants can be easily shot mid flight from the game strip.

Some tens of millions of pheasants have been bred for sport in this country and they are so prolific here that they are close to being vermin. They ruin silage bales by pecking at them and destroying the contents, attract rats to the feeding areas, pull up the young shoots of winter wheat or barley not to mention damage to vehicles when they fly out in front of a car, smashing a headlight or splattering their bodies over a windscreen.

We discovered too that if a  neighbouring shooting estate's pheasants cross the river on to our farmland then they are 'dogged' or chased back by dogs and their handlers to their side of the river. No permission asked for.

We are talking about life in 21st century rural Scotland here just in case you thought this was historic.

28,000 acres of moorland. How many people would that feed or house if the land was worked and opened up?
One of the points raised by those against a reform of the land was that "The land was not productive". Wrong.
I found reference in 'Present State of Husbandry in Scotland' 1778 (housed in the Innerpeffrey Library) on how to reclaim moorland and turn it into viable soil.

That is how moorland was reclaimed and used to grow crops in 1778. By hand.

I do not think our estate need our two acres when there are 28,000 other ones. I do not like having to decide which part of our best field we have to give up for 'sport'. It is a classic rhetorical question and one which has the potential to affect our farm business.
I loathe the feeling of sheer entitlement that 'sport' for an elite takes precedence of putting food on tables. A pheasant will feed very few, two acres of oats will feed many and is accessible to all.

Enough is enough.
We should not be put in a position that we have to decide which part of the land we pay full rent for should go for an elite sport. That is a hellish and despicable thing to do to a farmer and is no less than land grab by slyness, in my opinion.

We are supposed to be in a new era where communication was improved (which it is) but issues like this hellish choice are not conducive to building trust and mending bridges with the tenant farmer.

Look at the other 28,000 acres of desolate, uninhabited moorland then take a damn good look at your own motives.

Find somewhere else to shoot and ruin. Plenty of scope in 28,000 acres, I'm sure but remember that the farmer who knows proper land and soil management is looking over your shoulders with an eagle eye.

:Update 16th August 2013.

We were under the impression that the meeting with the shooting tenant and estate would provide us with shooting dates, etc. This would enable us to move livestock and provide the children with ear protection plus prevent them straying into shoot areas. No dates were forthcoming.
The meeting at the farmhouse with our MP, CEO of the SL&A plus the estate spokesperson was an extremely positive one yet none of us were made aware that this crass proposal was in the offing.
Alternatives were mentioned but no direct reference to what occurred yesterday.

I do not lay blame with the estate spokesperson as they are only following order but who gave the order? Who came up with this suggestion? Were they unaware of the fragility between landowner and tenant despite the best efforts of Doug McAdam to smooth the issue?

This does look like our roof is being dangled like a carrot but first we have to forego certain conditions. A wind and water tight house, clean water and a right to a peaceful life ought to be a given in 2013 Scotland as opposed to being railroaded into giving up areas of productive farmland.

No, is our reply. No, our land is not up for grabs for game shooting.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Guest blog by Scottish Anglers for Change

Scottish land reformation is due for a radical change in the not too distant future.
The reform of the land ownership, tenant farming, land use, community ownership has been due for a very long time. Too long have these issues been ignored or shelved by those who had the clout to change our country for the better.
There are many articles on land reform. Andy Wightman's excellent blog informative, intelligent and hosts some cracking discussions.
Lesley Riddoch plus the 432:50 briefing paper written by Professor James Hunter, Andy Wightman, Peter Peacock and Michael Foxley. Please take time to read it.

I have, however, read very little indeed on reform for our rivers, burns, lochans and lochs so I hand you over to an article written by Scottish Anglers for Change, a group which is campaigning to bring about reform to what it sees as an exploitative, hierarchical and outdated system.

Growing up in Ayrshire, I fished. I fished in the sea, I fished in the rivers, the reservoirs, the flooded quarries, the lochs - I even fished for goldfish in the garden pond. Tales told by my paternal grandmother of her second husband's fishing skill, of Canadian aunties' cousins' trips to the wilderness for lake trout in waters that would swallow my whole country, of conger eels pulled from local harbours as thick as myself, drove me wild with excitement and wonder as to what I might catch.
There's something about fishing which is far more than the catching though: it's an attachment to the land and the wildlife, and perhaps the retaking of our place amongst nature itself, something often lost by those growing up in towns. For some folk the therapy comes in the cooking, for others it's in the growing, for me it was in the hunting, and still is more than ever.

Of course, at seven years old, we tend to follow the rules. In the sea, fishing was free, in freshwater, one paid for a permit - that's just how it was. That this was due to the lack of any meaningful reform to the elitist structure of recreational freshwater angling since 1868 (when Jesse James was at the height of his powers) probably wouldn't have bothered me when my local fishing was cheap enough and I'd enough trouble getting a lift to the local river never mind the Tay.

It is only in recent years that the difference between Scotland and the majority of the Commonwealth, the US and much of Europe has struck me. New Zealand's riparian strip system, ironically initiated by Queen Victoria, allows anglers access to all freshwater, and with it some of the finest trout fishing in the world, whether land is adjacent or not, for the price of around £80 a year. This would buy you a few hours on the Cargill beat of the Tay in September. Nova Scotia, to which the same species of salmon – Atlantic – migrate to spawn as come to our rivers, has similar rules regarding land access, with the permit around $35 a season, and free to under thirteens. Each US state, of course, has its rules and regulations, but for the most part, wonderful fishing is available very cheaply. The world's beacon of capitalist evils and whipping boy to champagne socialists the country-wide, it would seem, appear to view the right to fish through far more socialist eyes than Scotland.

Scotland, under the rule of supposed left wing governments since the first Scottish elections, sees fishing under the control of the Crown Estate, landed gentry, and new rich who move in, some of whom then decide that no fishing should be allowed, others that it should be let on a day-to-day basis, or syndicate, at ludicrous costs.
To be fair, it would be harsh to criticise any of the governments. Fishermen are hardly the most vocal in this country, despite angling being the nation's largest participation sport, probably as a result of the 'We cannae dae it, nuhin will ever chinge' attitude that permeates us. Calling round the various political parties last year, I was greeted with initial silence on the other end of the line when asking of their policy on freshwater angling, then, 'Well the government is in discussions with the Faroese over mackerel catches at the moment', or something similar. Quite simply, it's unlikely any young researcher with dreams of a future cabinet position has ever picked up a fishing rod – or kicked a football for that matter – in these days of the professional politician.

The most interesting response came from the Tories. 'Well we tend tend to side with the landowner', came the reply in a thick European accent. 'What's the fishing like in your country then, does it cost much?', I asked. 'Oh, of course we don't charge for fishing in my country. It's all free', came the reply, with a tone suggesting that such an idea would be utterly ludicrous.

For anglers desirous of reform, the main hope is that we can hang on to the coat-tails of the land reform movement, which has far more momentum and academic weight behind it. Strangely, from what I have noticed anyway, land reformers rarely seem to have an interest in fishing rights, and indeed in some community buy-outs, North Harris in particular, they were happily to allow salmon rights to stay under the ownership of the local landowner. 
If owning such vast swathes of land as is common in Scotland whilst growing rich on subsidies, rent from tenants etc is unfair, then the ownership of fishing rights, both those which can be held independently of the land (salmon and sea trout) or those tied to ownership the land (mainly brown trout, but essentially all other freshwater fish), is as equally out of place in a modern country. Similarly, anglers will feel very aggrieved should such communities then decide to keep the salmon fishing for themselves; it is as much the disadvantaged of our cities right to fish the River Lochy as anyone else's, and a small landowner charging a fortune is the same as a large one to us.

Scottish Anglers for Change is calling for the a complete review of angling from grassroots level. Primarily, a national body, controlled by the majority of association anglers, not the minority who own the fishing rights, should to be set up to which all anglers, whether resident or visiting, pay a national license. This funding would then allow a proposed national angling association to buy both salmon rights and riparian strips from estates and landowners if and when their salmon rights become available, and to allow members of angling associations the freedom to roam on all other association waters in what is simply an extension of the current, and rather outdated, exchange ticket system now in place.

Another aim would be the conservation of stocks. As it stands, some clubs, such as the River Kelvin Angling Association, have a tagging system in place similar to that in Nova Scotia. Five fish per year is the maximum to be killed. However, other associations don't, and it's all up to a local committee, many of whom lack the expertise to make such decisions, and others who simply don't want to stop taking as many salmon as they can.
The protection of pike and wild trout anglers from further commercialisation should also be a priority as it increases in popularity. The only reason this is as cheap as it is is that it was never a fashion in the 19thcentury. This will soon change if money can be made.

This country is blessed with thousands of miles of lochs and rivers and some wonderful wild trout fishing, some of which is never touched. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, however, suggests that wild trout lochs should be 'promoted, marketed, and policed' by district salmon fisheries boards, i.e. there should be a price put on fishing them in order landlords can grow richer on the back of fish they don't own. This must be stopped, and trout rights either separated from the land such as is the case with salmon, and the brown trout's genetically identical wandering friend, the sea trout, or a riparian strip system put in place.

This is only a very brief outline of Scottish Anglers for Change's aims, with a more detailed explanation found on our website. The first sallying-forth into the world of reform has brought with it an expected reaction – anti-Scottish racism, prejudice against 'Chimney sweep Bobs' who apparently don't belonging on the big rivers, and the cries of 'It'll never work' All a good sign, in my opinion, that something's been hit quite close to the mark.
All feedback is welcome from land reformers, anglers, and the prejudiced alike.

Thursday, 1 August 2013


"I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall the buildings of concrete are; but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man"

Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe

We were happy to have the company of our MP, the CEO of the SL&E plus a representative from our estate round the table at our farmhouse yesterday. It was the first time in years that we had folk in and despite the lack of electricity so no tea, it was good to meet the faces behind the emails or phone calls.

Communication was first on the agenda and whether it is due to a new estate representative or something else, I have noticed an improved communication between estate and ourselves.
As it should be.
It should not have to take several years of legal battles, blogging, etc in order to sit round the table as equals and have a say on what will affect your home, family life, business and other issues. It has only taken 123 years but we finally discovered who actually owned our farm and farmhouse. The landowner himself, apparently.
This ought to be obvious but not necessarily so as the estate is owned by various trusts, individuals and others. A bit of a burach, in my opinion, but at least we know who is responsible for our bit.
The estate representative is able to approach the landowner directly and request our farmhouse receives a new roof, external building repairs and windows to make their house wind and water tight.

I thought about the people from Applecross and Mount Stuart on the Island of Bute estates where the tenant is excluded from decision making on issues which affect their lives. I thought of the tenants who want to speak but are afraid to speak, so great is the divide between them and their lairds or hurt by high handed land agents. Inclusion is paramount for so many reasons but it brings an equality and balance to discussions. Nuances, body language, eye contact all bring a discussion to life.
The tenants sometimes have no idea who the people are who make the decisions which are so vital for their future, some have discovered that the people on these boards do not live locally or indeed, do not even live in Scotland. Exclusion breeds contempt, creates barriers and negativity.

The crux is that we are offered some hope that our farmhouse will indeed receive a new roof and fairly soon. I cannot say for certain as the landowner must decide then legal documents drafted up, read and considered, yet, we are hopeful.
We will hopefully be meeting the new shooting tenant and estate next week in order to address some of the conflicts of interest that shooting/ farming bring plus addressing the resumed land which used to be our barley field - ten years of bad management by inexperienced game keepers has rendered the soil sterile. We did ask why an estate of some 28,000 acres needed two acres of our best land for a few weeks shooting and if I am not mistaken, the estate are willing to move this game strip. I hope they move it off the farm completely and utilise the 28,000 other acres more efficiently.
Guns and family homes do not mix. Best there is a lot of distance.

It has not been easy this past seven years, watching the decline of our home, treated poorly by past factors and estate agents whilst plodding on with our daily work and trying to raise a family but with hope and a new inclusion of sorts, we look forward to the future.

We have gathered around our kitchen table and had a decent discussion with various people who have differing political opinions and aims yet the outcome was one of calm and agreement.

Which is as it should be.

We are all Jock Tamson's bairns; each of us have something valuable to bring to the table. I ask other estates to consider what I am saying here and begin to include the tenants, not exclude them. Estates wonder where the animosity stems from or why things get out of hand and communication breaks down....ask your tenants. They are the ones who know the very ground the best.
Reply promptly to your tenants if you receive a letter, listen to the issues which are upsetting people, do not make the mistake of remaining silent, aloof and as untouchable as the English royal family who appear to be role models for certain lairds.
Life is a struggle enough without added complications and burdens.

I will still shout from the rooftops about the need for the Absolute Right to Buy and equality. Some of our guests will disagree completely but that is their choice in a free world. We can agree to disagree but that is the beauty of a democracy.

I will shout from the roof top when there is a roof top but in the meantime will extend our family's thanks for the first moves towards progress and agreement to our MP, estate spokesperson and to the CEO of the SL&E. It was a big step forward for all, I think you will agree?
If this a new era in the SL&E then Luke Borwick must consider that he has made a good choice with Douglas McAdam. I liked the man even although our points of view are polar opposites. He is energetic, intelligent and keen to make amends, admirable qualities.
Those around the table who have clout are going to work together to try and get a public water supply to our area; a very positive aim indeed.

There are a good few hundred tenants who will serve up something more palatable than water and a dish of biscuits  (the best chocolate ones wolfed by the youngest bairn before guests arrived).
Listen to them, include them and get to know them. Here are the people who have worked the land you own, some for generations. Feelings run strong, especially just now; some may refuse to talk for various reasons and this has to be considered too, what has happened to create such a barrier? Were they included or excluded when the decisions were made? Were they made to feel unwelcome and inferior by their lairds? Do they feel ripped off and cast aside when they had given the best years of their lives to their farms?

"“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” 
― Paulo Freire
See the human. See the family. They have a Soul, they bleed when wounded, hurt when excluded.

I don't know what will happen in the future, when land reform will bring in changes and where the Scotland of old finally blows the stour of past away but right now the scent of change is in the wind and it smells sweet.
It won't happen overnight but it will happen.

I think there are five and a half million of us in Scotland and I doubt there is a single one of us who does not agree that our country is worthy of change by the people, for the people.

All Jock Tamson's bairns.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The STAG roars

I have not blogged for a while as it has been a busy time on the farm, gathering in hay, cleaning out sheds, shearing (which took place a few weeks ago) plus the myriad of other jobs which needed doing.

We almost got away for a short break but the steering damper decided to break only a few miles from home so there was no alternative to return and the upside was the comforts of our own beds and The Farmer thrilled to be home again.

We caught up on reading the news, catching up on emails and proper time to read the Scottish Farmer which was sporting this advert...

Yes, of course we got in touch and offered our support for the Absolute Right to Buy our own farms.
The STFA (Scottish Tenant Farmer's Association) have sat on the fence re this issue and have been rather irritating in their blindness that the majority of Secure Tenant farmers (people like us who have farmed the land for generations) DO want the ARTB.
I cold called a selection of tenant farmers across Scotland - quite daunting but interesting and once they ascertained who I was, where we lived, who your father was, etc, every single one of them wanted to buy their own farm and be freed from the constraints of a tenancy.

The feedback received brought up several issues - from the farmer who felt he had bought his farm several times over to the farmers who had invested their own money in sheds, ditches, drainage yet their rents were raised and their improvements undervalued.
Several farmers objected strongly to the 'Laird's cut' whereby a percentage of a diversification project eg tourist accommodation, etc has to go to the landowner simply for being the landowner. No input just output at the tenants expense.
Or the farmers who asked their landowners for a tiny piece of land to build a modest house for the next generation yet who are still awaiting, months later, a reply from their absentee landowner in London. That in itself shows how communities are kept to a minimum population due to the sheer rudeness of a non reply to the farmer's request for a few square yards of the farm they have worked for generations.
How degrading and frustrating for that family.

There was one overwhelming response from every single one - "Please don't give my name out". These men and women who are not afraid of hard work or the unexpected knocks life can bring, the harsh conditions in winter or a poor summer, none of them were willing to go public with their names. Many were in the middle of rent reviews and one or two genuinely worried about being evicted if they spoke out.
In Scotland, in 2013.

Why do we want the right to buy our farm?

Well, for one, we would have a wind and watertight home. We have a meeting on Wednesday with our MP, the CEO of the Scottish Land and Estates plus a representative from our own estate.
I really want to know why things got so bad.
We have already met with the estate representative but she had to take our issues to a nameless and faceless board for discussion. Needless to say, the tenant is not included in any part of the discussion, has no place at the table with the decision makers.
Also needless to say, they have not come back with a decision although it has been three weeks if you ignore the first request for a new roof in 1976 then all other requests in between.

We have been airing the house and trying to dry it out over the last few weeks which were hot and dry - it is pouring rain now and the rainwater is lying in pools inside the farmhouse. All our efforts have been undone in a single day and I feel so demoralised as a result.

We would have the right to a peaceful home life without the shooting which can take place at random - I want to write during the shooting season but there are course shoots throughout the year so you never quite know when one will take place and where. That makes things awkward if the tenant wishes to invite tourists to the area for peace and quiet plus has the potential to affect income.
The new shooting tenant seems like a decent man but the laws he adheres to have not been reformed since around 1890 and seem very pro shooter and very anti anyone else.

I could write for a week on the benefits of owning our own farm, in fact, I cannot think of a single reason against. This brilliant paper  written by Professor James Hunter, Andy Wightman, Peter Peacock and Michael Foxley, outlines the need for Scottish land reform and the benefits, not only for the tenant farmers but for all of us.

Can I ask you, please support STAG. Help us to realise our aim to be independent and free from the constraints set by landowners who own us and to bring Scotland forward into the 21st Century.

Thank you.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Down to the river.

Yesterday proved a little bit busy.

The phone rang non stop, visitors arrived, the blog stats hit just short of 100,000 true hits, Scottish ex pat communities from all over the globe have been reading and we thank you for your letters of support.
I was cheered by letters and phone calls from other Scottish secure tenants who empathise with us as they too have been dreadfully treated by their lairds and knew what we were going through. I also received communication from people who are on private water supplies and how their water, despite local authority 'treatment'; still affects their health and livelihood. Tenants rarely receive water notices but private houses do.

We also had a farm to run plus the added inconvenience of my accidental ingestion of raw water on Monday so running a slight temp but hopefully the anti emetics from my doctor will work.

I have a question:

The Scottish Government are aware of the difficulties our family are experiencing, why are they not answering my letters or stepping in to help us and others like ourselves?

Why do secure tenants want the right to buy our own farms? The answer is simple. We can do a better job ourselves rather than wait for a bad estate to fix their houses, mend or replace buildings, secure march fences, etc.
We are familiar with every aspect of our farms, the soil and how best to manage it, wildlife areas, drains, ditches.....and quite frankly, the estates do not have this familiarity and tend to trample over areas which are environmentally sensitive and leave us to pick up empty gun cartridges and screen waterways for lead shot.

How many people who attended the rather exclusive school where the water supply runs through our fields (yet they do not allow us water from their pipe) - how many old boys know that parts of their pipe are asbestos from circa 1930s? How many old boys suffer health problems as a result of drinking the raw water which came from an asbestos pipe?

The nearest public water supply is not far away so why does an entire community including two schools, two inns (both sadly closed down), elderly, children and visitors, why can we not have clean water? The community are charged full council water rates by the laird yet everyone pays the charges and buys in bottled water. Why do they not speak out.....?
The community water supply comes from the hills, gathers in a vile little tank then is fed to a larger tank which is treated by the estate. I would question the qualifications of a land agent who adds goodness knows what to the water but it has resulted in burned skin. Notices sometimes arrive to warn of Legionella and the water tank is not wind and water tight. Rats could easily get in.

Today is my birthday and I am away to the burn which runs through the farm, it is my solace and place of reflection. It is quiet and calm plus it is not the shooting season so I can sit for a while without my nerves becoming shattered.
The stone blocks are the remains of the little water wheel which used to supply the farm with electricity.

I assume that the Scot Gov's silence is due to the fact that they simply do not care for the ordinary Scot. They appear to me to be falling over themselves to assist the lairds, what with the huge windfarm subsidies and whatnot. Fuel poverty for the rest of us who have to pay extra on our bills to pay for those subsidies.

Our country needs strong leadership, it needs Independence, the ordinary people need help with so many different issues, the land must be shared out and tenant farmers must be given the right and the dignity to own their own house and farm.

Clean water, a warm, wind and watertight home, freedom from health anxieties, freedom to roam without fear. Not much to ask for, is it?

Monday, 17 June 2013

Clearance by drought?

The water has been turned off again, this time for four days now. - the usual; no written warning, nothing...

We have a handful of cattle in the shed, one or two calves being hand reared some cattle ready for market. All of them need water so The Farmer and I are back to lugging 25 liter containers of water from the temporary house and up to the farm.

The last time that the water was turned off with no warning came right in the middle of calving so water was imperative, clean water very important.

During winter, our water went off - not through freezing but was switched off. Our MP demanded the estate provide water and a bowser appeared for the cattle - none for us - the bowser was then removed the following day and a limited supply of water reached the cow sheds. It went off again soon after and it was easier to lug containers than to get the estate to either explain why the supply was off or even contact us.

Our 1890 lease forbids us from providing our own water supply. We are wholly dependent on the laird providing the farm with water. We are forbidden from digging a well or sinking a bore hole.

I know that certain land agents read this blog so this part is for your eyes in particular.

The same land agents who ordered someone to do this......

There is now, in formal international human rights law, an acknowledged human right to water and sanitation. In 28 July 2010, following many years of discussion, debate, and negotiation, 122 countries formally acknowledged the "right to water" in a General Assembly (GA) resolution (A/64/292, based on draft resolution A/64/L.63/Rev.1).[1] Two months later, on September 24, 2010, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a binding resolution recognizing that the human right to water and sanitation are a part of the right to an adequate standard of living.[2]
That resolution, in part:
"Affirms that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity"
The human right to water places certain responsibilities upon governments to ensure that people can enjoy "sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water, without discrimination" (cf. GC 15, below). Most especially, governments are expected to take reasonable steps to avoid a contaminated water supply and to ensure there are no water access distinctions amongst citizens.
"Without discrimination". Read on.....
"It is now time to consider access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, defined as the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses—drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene—to sustain life and health. States should prioritize these personal and domestic uses over other water uses and should take steps to ensure that this sufficient amount is of good quality, affordable for all and can be collected within a reasonable distance from a person's home." 

I will remind the laird or the land agents who run the estate that we are humans. Our livestock rely on us, our crops are managed by us.
We have dignity and will not be forced from our farm through harassment and bullying.

If we were given the absolute right to own our farm then we would be free of the constraints and whims of the landowner who seems hellbent on Clearance by drought using terms set in 1890.

Urgent reform NOW, Mr Lochhead. We thirst for it.

Update:21st June 2013

Estate plumbers arrived first thing this morning without warning that they were going to dig our hay field up and stop our water supply again.
Water is off (it would be once a digger smashed its way through it) and we have been informed by the plumber that the situation is ongoing, they will keep digging through our fields, the estate never asked them to inform us of the work and they 'did not even know who people are'.

Just to note that this farm has been inhabited by my husband's family since 1890.

27th June 2013 : I received a phone call from Environmental health yesterday. The result of the sample taken from our water supply shows an e Coli count of 8 and a total coliforms of 11. Chemical analysis will take longer and I will publish the results when they arrive.
As a result of the water taken from our farm water supply and used to top up the local village supply after the pipe was left open for four days, this has led to the entire community being put at risk. Boil water notices have been issued but people were drinking this water without realising how dangerous it was.
I will reiterate that the landowners charge households on the estate, the council rate for water.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

"You'll have had your tea" update

Just a brief update and a copy of the reply by SEPA. I have edited out the names of individuals but you will get the jist of how pathetic the response.

From my visit to ****** ******* and the surrounding area last week I can update you of the following:

  • I walked the banks of the River *********** where possible and also inspected a number of locations downstream of the spreading activities.  I was reassured to find that the sewage sludge cake was not spread in close proximity to the river and other watercourses. ‘Buffer strips’ to protect the water environment were complied with and no sign of detrimental impact of the water course was found.

  • As you are aware odour from the spreading activities is regulated by Perth & Kinross Council Environmental Health and ******* ****  is dealing with this aspect of your complaint.

  • With regard to livestock being present whilst sewage sludge is being spread.  I did not find evidence of this during my own site investigations.  I am aware that Animal Health (AHVLA) were visiting ******** **** farm on the same day as my visit and they shall carry out their own investigation into this matter.  As mentioned before SEPA do not regulate this aspect of the activity.  I shall pass on your photographs you provided to Animal Health and my colleagues in SGRPID (Scottish Government Rural Payments Inspection Directorate) for their own investigations.

  • With regard to livestock having access to the stockpiled sewage sludge cake, I have looked into this issue.  It is noted as ‘good practice’ to minimise access from livestock to stockpiles with recommendation for the storage area to be penned off.  This however is a recommendation and not a mandatory requirement of the regulations and PEPFAA code which farmers and land managers must adhere to.  I have contacted ORAN Environmental Solutions who provide the sewage sludge cake and register the storage of this waste with SEPA.  I have made them aware of SEPA’s concerns with good practice not being followed and requested more information be provided to farmers to encourage livestock access to stockpiles is minimised where possible. 

If I have anymore information with regard to SEPA’s investigation into this issue I shall contact you accordingly,

Thank you again for your information,



A pathetic response, in my opinion. At least, the 'good practice' could be tightened up and at best, the sludge removed from being stockpiled near humans and animals.

So the lamb pictured nibbling the human sludge - that is ok? The lamb kebab that it may become one day, is that ok as well?
The majority of beef/ lamb producers adhere to the strictest guidelines in Europe, Scottish produce being second to none so I think it is imperative to keep the vile practice of spreading human sewage and lime well away from the food chain or better still ban it all together.

I received this letter from a friend in Northern Ireland and was shocked at the contrast.

"We live on a livestock farm in County Down. What I was going to say was the treatment your family have received is in conceivable to us! My husband reliably informs me that the EU directive states that it is illegal to spread slurry, manure or fertiliser within 50 metres of a water supply - ie bore holes or a well. We also need a special licence to spread human waste. He states that they would get a massive fine and lose all their single farm payment!

NI is always considered to be behind the rest of the UK, it just would not go on here. Our press would have an absolute field day. Our rural community here would not tolerate the treatment you have had to put up with. My husband states it would make our main news! I was especially saddened when you told how your daughter couldn't start a wee business.

Could you let us know if there is anything we can do from here. I
would just like to say that we love your blog and are horrified by what is going on".


"My husband has checked DARD NI's regulations and they state that animals should not be allowed to graze for 3 weeks, on land that has had human sludge applied. It also states that : ' Organic manures must not be applied within 250 metres of a bore hole used for public water supply. We have an EMERGENCY contact number for the public to report slurry etc getting into a waterway.

I really don't know how you do it! Journalism in NI is first rate due to 'The Troubles'. Is there no TV programme in Scotland that exposes injustices? Our MPs would be inundated with complaints. The minister responsible for the environment would take a pasting in our Assembly if he was found to be ignoring activity such as you describe.

It all seems so wrong to my husband and I. Farming is a hard life as it is, without being subjected to the trials and tribulations you face on a daily basis. Feel free to use any of this for your blog. I only wish that there was something we could do.

Keep your chin up - someone somewhere in Scotland has to care enough to do something to improve your lives and the lives of others in the same position."

Closer look just beside the house and well within the 50 feet the sludge must be kept from a water course.

I have posted a photograph of the waterway which 'has not been hit' and you can decide for yourself bearing in mind that the waterway is where the lead pipe which feeds water to two houses lies. The estate have acknowledged there is a crack in the pipe in this area.
For the record, every inhabitant in our tiny community are still experiencing unusual symptoms which range from burning eyes, burning lips and mouths, burning skin, vomiting and stomach upsets.

Lamb is also off the menu......