Friday, 31 May 2013


Scottish people do not move house, they 'flit' and unlike the image of a graceful butterfly who flits effortlessly between flowers, the reality is slightly more chaotic.
There is even a saying; "You look like something off a country flitting"! - a slightly disparaging remark about a dishevelled appearance.

We are in the process of flitting. We are moving back up to the farm, we cannot live here with the stour of human waste clogging our noses, burning our eyes and mouths, making us vomit. Our family cannot risk our water being contaminated by human faeces and the indifference of the landowner who fails to provide a water tank or repair his houses.

I have lived here for ten years, the longest I have ever stayed in one house. My parents liked flitting and moved every few months so it became part of your nature to flit.

This house was a sanctuary to my daughter, Rosie and I when we first moved in. The house was delapidated and had been empty for some years but we scrubbed, painted and mended and it soon became a home.

Regardless on how much I love it here, the house is falling apart. There are rooms where the plaster has fallen completely off the walls, a thick black mold decorates the corner of our bedroom, the external door is rotten through despite being held together with bits of wood and trusty duct tape. It is impossible to heat and the oil filled rayburn which was installed by a previous occupier in the early 1960s - this is now included in my short assured Tenancy lease and I am supposed to be responsible for it.
We switched it off in 2003 as the carbon monoxide monitor would stop beeping......

We are tenants of a huge estate here, a different laird to my husband's laird but the forty or so tenants here have identical problems, houses which are not wind and water tight, no repairs, the original single pane sash windows, no insulation, chimneys with breaches in them and of course, a private water supply. We ignore the pylon just a few feet away although it is always in my mind that every household  beside the pylons has lost a female family member to cancer - uterine or breast, usually. My beloved neighbour included.
Here is a picture of a blackbird taken five minutes ago from the back bedroom.

There is no point in asking for repairs; if the two estate 'workmen' turn up, they patch. One climbed up on to the roof, forgot what he was supposed to do and climbed down again. Two years later he was back up on the roof and cheerfully announced that he had "Found the tube of sealant that he left up there"! As a result of his forgetfulness, the rainwater poured in and eventually created a hole in the roof and the plaster all fell off.
On the plus side, the bats love it and they come and go with ease.

This is a tiny community, only 11 people yet it is the place where the community once demanded that they could build their own church with the stipulation that the congregation were the preachers. They refused the laird's church and religion. Once upon a time, the lairds dictated which religion people should follow.
They employed a scribe and petitioned to have their church recognised. They even built a bridge over the river so others could worship freely.

It could have been a bigger community today; someone bought a piece of land and wanted to build some new houses on the land. The landowner refused a water supply and in one fell swoop, kept the population to a minimum.

Today, our tiny community lies under a pall of waste. Nature wears a putrid perfume, visitors to our local beauty spot hurry past and don't stop.

The nesting heron, the tadpoles which Rosie saved and released beside the stream will have been affected, the red kite, the otters. There is a very good reason why I chose this pen name but that is a story for another day.
The corncrake - he arrives each year and calls for a mate. We have not heard him this year.
The cuckoo, the red squirrels that my neighbour cared for and as a result, there are families of red squirrels in our gardens. The kestrels, bats, woodpeckers, Arctic hare, the water cress and tiny trout and salmon in the stream.....
The hedgehogs so carefully nursed back to health by which we promised to release and keep an eye on, they had to be rescued again and moved to a place of safety. Please support Hessilhead if you can. They do incredible work.

SEPA and Environmental Health are now monitoring the situation here but what took them so long? We had alerted SEPA seven years ago when the human waste started to arrive. The runoff has gone into a major salmon river, hell, a ditch was dug so the human waste runoff could pour into the river during the heavy rain; but nobody came when we asked them to.

We only received a water filter once Public Health were made aware that our family and neighbour were becoming so sick after our water was hit with faeces and lime. Rosie had to stay off school for weeks as some of the pupils are immunocompromised and we could not risk their health. Our other neighbour has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she was wondering if the lead pipe which supplies her house could have been instrumental.....
This is the same woman who asked for repairs to her house. Basic repairs were carried out but her rent went from £440 per month to £1000. I shall reiterate, an elderly lady with Alzheimer's.

We should have been able to live on our own farm, in our own house but I thought it prudent to keep renting here until the Farmhouse At The Back of Beyond was repaired. I have never stayed at our farm in the six years that The Farmer and I have been married.

We saved and built a tiny wooden building. A grandiose name would be a 'chalet' but some visitors have seen the shed for what it is and named it thus. We are moving in to it. We are waiting for Environmental Health to collate the quotes for water filters and give the yay or nay for a grant to have them installed. Meanwhile, our family return to this house at night for showers and a place to sleep. We have done this for six years.

I feel selfish for abandoning the area and community I have grown to love but our children are affected by the human waste and we have to get them into fresh air.

The Land Reform Group do not see any problem here. Perhaps we cannot conduct estate tours, fine dining, ply them with wine and heaven knows what else. The LRRG preferred the disingenuous veneer and glitz offered by the landowners to the harsh honesty of the actual land inhabited by the common Scot.

Don't do this to our land, our tiny forgotten communities.

Monday, 27 May 2013

You'll have had your tea?

What would be the most sensible thing to do in the countryside on a very windy day?

Fly a kite?
Brave a picnic?
Spread human faeces on a grand scale?

Guess what is happening here right now? A clue is that there are no kites nor picnics.

Here is what an enormous heap of human faeces looks like; my apologies if you have just eaten your tea.

The fence is on the roadside. The actual heap is not fenced off at all.

A lamb and sheep nibble on the waste.

Uncovered tractor loads have been passing the house every five minutes beginning first thing this morning and are still passing five minutely at 6pm. It is very windy here.

That is a huge volume of 'slurry' which is being sprayed on the fields around here. No notification that it was going to happen, sheep, lambs and cattle graze.

The smell is so bad that we are vomiting. The smell in the kitchen is hellish and we cannot open the window as the stuff blows in. Actually, there is no point opening the window as the windows do not close properly in the first place, the ones which have glass. The panes held in by duct tape.

Tomorrow, they will spray our water supply with human faeces. They do it every year and we all get sick.

The grey mush in this picture is freshly sprayed faeces. Perhaps the sheep moved out of the way of the sprayer as it distributed this muck on their pasture.

This cow did not move out of the way, got sprayed and just kept grazing.

Looks like our water tank got hit too.

Great water tank. Bet you all wish you had a water tank like this....

Our son by the tank - he does have a face but I have blanked it out.

Many people in Scotland are on private water supplies and have children. Many visitors to Scotland visit areas of outstanding beauty, they bring their children. Everyone drinks water.
The water supply is the landowner's responsibility. The tank belongs to the laird.
The laird could apply for an enormous grant, paid for by the public. He would get a grant for each of the private supplies which feed each house.
We could have watertight tanks.

There are only a few people who live here but each house receives many guests and visitors during the year so a lot of people ingest the water.

This is our water filter 10 minutes after it had been changed. Ten minutes.
We are told that one set of filters should last a year. The filters struggle after a couple of weeks and if they are not changed, the water does not run as it is too clogged up.

I am in a dilemma whether to move the children up to the farm where the air is not thick with human faeces but the water there is raw water, unfiltered and contains enormous amounts of coliforms, 'solids', e Coli and cryptosporidium.

Welcome to the areas of rural Scotland that the tourist board like to keep quiet about. The places where the houses are falling apart, where the tenants live in fear of retribution, where the water is toxic, where the beauty of the countryside belies the misery of the fractured communities. Where we are treated worse than the human faecal matter which is thrown on to the ground.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

But Sir, you ARE the problem.

I feel there is a need to explain why so many tenant farmers are furious about the LRRG's decision to ignore the many issues which make a tenant's life so difficult in 21st Century Scotland. Here are a few examples:

1. The laird's cut.

Our daughter, who is registered disabled with learning difficulties and who will be leaving school next year, wishes to set up her own business. We are working with her school to concentrate on life skills, independent living, etc and we all agree that Rosie ought to be able to work in her chosen field and make an income for herself.
We would help her with book keeping, VAT, etc but the bulk of the work is well within her ability.

The problem is that she would have to ask the lairds permission to start her business.
Our estate have a history of never returning letters, are in 'meetings' if you phone, are shifty if you email. Months can go past before you get a reply, IF you get a reply. They do not visit our farm in order to talk face to face. They do respond to a letter from our lawyer, however.

If the laird granted permission, he would then set the percentage of his cut of Rosie's business, his only 'input' being that he owns the land.
Rosie would do the work, buy the stock, put in the hours, etc and the laird would benefit from her work.

I have personal issues with some of the laird's agents. I have found them arrogant, ignorant, misogynist, dismissive and so frightfully plummy that it can be difficult to figure out what they are saying. And those are their good points.
I fail to see why anyone should have to go cap in hand to ask permission to start up their own small business and pay someone else for it.

Rosie would feel intimidated by these men. There is so much more I want to write about that loaded sentence but I think it best, dear reader, if you decide for yourself and that way I will not be sued.

I have written to several of Britain's leading business people to ask advice on how a disabled person goes about starting up a business but have not received a single reply apart from a 'Good luck' from Deborah Meaden. I was not asking for money but just how do they avoid pitfalls like being exploited, how to organise the business side etc.

We do not have to travel off the farm to experience exploitation.....

2.Feudal slavery.

 In 1890, when Great grandfather Otter rolled in on his horse and cart, wife, child and few belongings, ready to begin as a new entrant to farming after resigning as a headmaster in Edinburgh, a whole new world awaited him.
The then laird, grandfather of the now laird, had a lease written up. In those days, farmers did not have lawyers and besides, the lawyers would have been close to the lairds so the leases are nothing more than a testament to slavery. the restrictions for the farmer are astounding.

Our family are still legally bound to those terms and conditions. In 2013.

The railway that we are supposed to cart stones from the also redundant quarry - no longer exists. The horses that a 'good man' is supposed to use for a week of unpaid work for the laird, they are long gone and only a few dusty bridles still hang in the bothy as testament to their presence.

The roof which was patched up in 1800, repatched in 1890 is the same roof today. There is nothing left to patch.

The original sheds still stand and we still use them for grain, shelter, sheds for the animals when they come in bye. They are tiny sheds, not designed for modern machinery like a tractor loaded with hay for example. All heavy feeds have to be carted in by hand - just like they did in 1890.

Nowadays, the laird is supposed to provide the tenant with modern day sheds but they will not do it. this is a huge issue for a tenant farmer as they end up buying and erecting their own sheds then they do not receive the true cost of the money they spent if they leave at 'way-go'.
 Plus, and this sticks in my craw, they have to ask the laird's permission to spend their own money on erecting their own sheds. Usually once the new shed goes up, so does the rent as it is an 'improvement'. You could not make this up.

3. Shooting rights.

Why is it legal for a laird to charge full rent from TWO PARTIES for the same field? We are paying rent for a field which also comes under the remit of the shooting tenant. Not that we have a clue who it is. The estate have never informed us as to the name or address of the new shooting tenant. the man who appears to have been given free reign to shoot anywhere on our farm, cropped land, near the house on any day he pleases.
And we pay full rent for land which was fenced off from our best field, no compensation, no legal document to state this land was resumed, no adjustment in rent nor field in lieu.

4. Water.

To date, we still have polluted water.
In April, right in the middle of an early calving and the lambing, the farm water supply was turned off with no warning.
The Farmer and I had to transport gallons of clean water from our temporary home up to the farm, several times a day so the newly calved cows were hydrated and could make milk for their calves. ditto for my sheep.

When I phoned up the person responsible for turning the water off, merely to ask when it was going to be turned on again, this rude man hurled abuse at me and asked me why I had broken the pipe! He must have been psychic as at that point, they did not know where the burst was yet I was being blamed for smashing a pipe somewhere in a five mile radius give or take a few miles.
It is reminiscent of blaming a witch for crops which never grew or a solar eclipse happening and turning night into day suddenly.
A bit 16th century, don't you think?

There are other issues but I will write about them another time.

So, it seems if we are having these problems, the LLRG have decided that it is best if we go to our laird to sort them out. All very cosy and jolly.

When the problem IS the laird, the fact that some lairds openly break the law, some lairds are even law do you go cap in hand and tell them "Sort yourselves out, dudes?"

How do you ask for clean water when they are not interested if a) you actually died and b) the public will pay for the water then c) they will charge water charges.
and I will add d) charge rent for the water pipe you installed at your own expense.

How do you prepare a vulnerable young woman to go and ask if she can start out in life, supporting herself financially, offering something valuable to society, the self esteem of being independent, to ask this in front of misogynistic, unapproachable, sneering men?
And leave it to them to calculate their cut?

The simple answer is that we cannot approach the laird to address these issues.  We are supposed to address them through a land court but this would cost an enormous amount of money plus the lairds tend to employ expensive Q.C.s who can prolong a court case and ruin a farmer.

The odds are stacked up against tenant farmers. These farmers are honest, hard working, helpful and empathetic. They are also isolated, often have no modern internet access nor mobile phone reception and are therefore vulnerable.

We are abused by the lairds, ignored by parliament, despised by the landowner's agents yet we take the knocks and persevere with our livelihoods.

You won't read any of this in the newspapers nor hear it in the news, it is one of Scotland's dirty, hidden little secrets and one which, in my opinion, is part of a bigger agenda....follow the money...

Please support Scotland's tenant farmers. Write to the Scottish government, email, shout out your support on twitter and help illuminate the problems we are facing, how feudalism still exists, how we have something valuable to offer but are held back by oppression.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Pulling the wool over our eyes.

My sincere apologies for not having written for such a long time.

The long drawn out winter compounded with the long drawn out battle with the estate left me feeling wearied and wondering if there was any point in trying to continue against their stubborn attitude and point blank refusal to undertake their legal obligation  to provide us with a wind and watertight house.

Well, the sun finally came out, the duffle coat came off, the lambs made their entrance into the world. The sheep were turned out to grass which only started to grow a couple of weeks ago.
The fields were ploughed and sown with oats and barley, the others with grass and once all the Spring work had been done, my fighting spirit returned with a fury.

I had time to catch up with the news today whilst sitting with crossed fingers that my car would pass its MOT retest. The bits which were held on with bailer twine were frowned upon and fixed properly and the myriad of annoying but ignored bits all got sorted out. It was like waiting for Higher results and I felt just as thrilled when I was handed the certificate which announced my car legal.

So, while we were out farming and working, it appears that the tenant farmers of Scotland had been hoodwinked and betrayed en masse.
A rather expensive and dubious group of non farmers, led by an ex Moderator of the Church of Scotland (big wealthy landowners who cannot stretch the Widow's mite to Scots yet managed to build a luxury hotel in Beirut)....after collecting information on Land Reform from many sources, they, in their wisdom decided that they would not bother with tenant farmers but pass that on to the lairds themselves.

The same lairds who have done such a marvellous job in maintaining tenant/laird relationships, the lairds who like to own the land but prefer if others do the dirty work and lairds like ours who could not organise getting blootered in a bochan if they were transported in a whisky tanker.

What should our family do when we have a problem ie no roof, no water no electricity in the farmhouse belonging to the laird and his 'agent' absolutely refuses to communicate with us to the extent that he informed new neighbours to "Ignore the Otter Family as if they did not exist".

Our testament to existing on this farm lies outwith the farmyard. Our long hours of work show in the crops growing and healthy stock.

This arrogant and blinkered attitude has become the norm to these people and there are tenant farmers all over Scotland who genuinely suffer, usually in silence through fear, at the hands and deeds of rogue landowners.

Not all landowners are bad, far from it, yet the examples of good tenant relationships, good housing, potable water on private supplies, good land management are few and far between.
Not every landowner wants the land spoiled by wind farms and the subsidy which is trotted out as ' for the benefit of the community'. What benefit and what community? Let's not beat about the bush here, the money is for them, not the ordinary person.

If these landowners are so desperate for money, why won't they sell the farms to the tenants who have worked the land, sometimes for generations?

The entire land reform issue appears not to be about the people, it is about money, power and greed - and these are not qualities I have ever encountered in a tenant farmer.

The truth is, they want our land, not for  farming, hell no - just import food. Cover the countryside with massive wind farms, let the farmhouses decay and build houses that the working Scot cannot afford, isolate communities and turn Scotland into a playground for the wealthy non tax payer.

If the Scottish government and the LRRG think for one minute that the tenant farmers will roll on their bellies and submit to those who have made their lives hell for generations....they have made a very grave mistake. 'Sex up' a Clearance all you want but we have learned from experience...

I propose that a proper Land Reform group is formed. No landowners, no groups with a hidden agenda. I would love to see Andy Wightman consulted, hear Lesley Riddoch's Scandinavian ideas, speak with tenant farmers like ourselves who work and understand land management and who want to buy our own farms so we can invest in the future.

The government thought they could pull the wool over our eyes.

They forgot who produces the wool.
They forgot who turns the wool into tweed.
They only saw the tweed jackets. Those expensive jackets seasoned by 'fual'.

We need to be independent of these jackals in jackets, stinking of 'fual' and feudalism.

We need to be independent.