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......

Thursday, 6 June 2013

On yonder hill, there stood a coo.....

....It's no there noo,
it must have shifted.

I'm wondering if the wonderful Dundee poet, William Topaz McGonagall, had been inspired to put pen to paper after seeing a vacant farm, perhaps?

This blog entry has been inspired by not one but three empty farms....and not a cow in sight.

Before I write, I would like you to see a very basic definition on the three different types of agricultural tenancy in Scotland. The following excerpt is from the Shelter, Scotland website.

Which agricultural tenancy do I have?

You are likely to have a 1991 Act tenancy if:
  • your lease began before 2003, or
  • your lease began after 2003 but the terms and conditions specifically state that your tenancy is regulated by the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991.
You are likely to have a limited duration tenancy if:
  • your lease began after 2003, and
  • your lease lasts for more than five years.
You are likely to have a short limited duration tenancy if:
  • your lease began after 2003, and
  • your lease lasts for no more than five years.
Our family come under the 1991 Act tenancy and we are Secure Tenants. It is proving difficult to find out just how many other Secure Tenants 1991 there are in Scotland by my guess is that we are fairly thin on the ground.
We are the families who have farmed our farms for generations. Our family have farmed at The Back of Beyond since 1890.

Now, I can only speak for the other Secure tenants in my ken but the consensus appears that we all want to buy our farms from our lairds. We do not want to be held under feudal oppression and it would appear that the lairds hold us in utter contempt even more than certain Scottish government ministers do.
There was a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday on the issue of land reform - I will leave you to read the reports of those far wiser and more eloquent that me but from what I saw, the SNP had been caught by a 1960s Headmaster who commanded "YOU BOY! Yes, you. Come to the front of the class and explain your sleekit behaviour".
Some of the speakers had to be given Chinese burns on their wrists before they spat out that yes, they would look at the issue of tenant farming. It was like watching blood trickle from a stone.

We will see what happens but I do worry about the repercussions to those of us who are vulnerable, meantime.

Community buy-outs were mentioned. Lairds choked on their afternoon snifters. One laird even went as far as going stir crazy and donating TWO of his 55,000 plus acres for ten years, such was the emotion. How many people in Govan will benefit from all those lovely vegetables from a big, fat two acres? Was that an acre per finger, your lairdship?

Look at this.

I posted this picture the other day but this area had three farms. The families went to the local rural school with The Farmer's father. a grocery van used to drive around selling wares regularly and the last time the ground was worked was in the 1970s.  A local tenant (Secure tenant) was given permission to plough up a bit for grass. The factor had been vague about the acreage to be ploughed so the farmer kept going and 40 acres later, an out of breath factor commanded he stop.
The farmer told us the land barely had a stone in it and you could "Shove kindlers in that ground and they would grow"
The farmer sowed grass for grazing his sheep and it did well, grew well.

The laird decided that this would make good grouse shooting so the farmers were evicted and every stone of their houses removed. A bed frame and old stove are the only clues that this place once held families, supported visiting vans, the fields once grew barley. This little area suffered the Clearances circa 1930's -1940s.
I suppose it was important to shoot grouse whilst some went away and fought for their country.

This land could easily support a few families. I would love nothing better and see it scattered with wooden houses like the one we are living in, huts for holiday makers...the ideas are endless if the land was freed up.

It is still a grouse moor and I am led to believe that the shooting rights now belong to the person who has the shooting rights over our entire estate, some 36,000 acres give or take a few thou. Not that we know who he/she is. The estate refuse to communicate with us yet this shooting person appears to have shooting rights over our farm and God only knows what will happen when the Glorious 12th happens. I only hope they are better shots than the dingbat gun who managed to hit the only inhabited house in the area...

Stranger still, the land and *FOUR* neighbouring recently empty farms (all once inhabited by Secure tenants) (plus a further two farms which were amalgamated 50 years ago); they were never offered to the Secure tenants but instead given to a newcomer who, how do I put this diplomatically, was relatively new to farming for a chap of our age. 
Sorry if that sounds like sour grapes and that is not my intention but it is unusual for a town lad to take on four (6) farms all at once.
I won't deny this chap works really hard and is giving it his best shot, with heavy promotion- does he have to pay the laird a cut too like we do?
He is not a Secure tenant but a Limited partnership, in partnership with possibly the estate and in a partnership which could be terminated at the drop of a deerstalker; yet local feeling is that we don't actually KNOW who owns the estate.
Could it have been bought out by one of the huge land agencies? Who knows, there is no way of knowing this information in Scotland, hence Andy Wightman's tireless work to find out Who Owns Scotland?
We do know that the estate run by the laird's folk has long ceased, all the gamies evicted and a big-wig land agency calls the shots.

Is this land grab by stealth we are seeing?

Because we cannot find out if there was a sneaky buy out, there is no way of finding out if our registered Right to Buy was triggered off. Sneaky, hmm?

Furthermore, our much respected and late neighbour who died a year or so past, he had a Secure tenancy, he worked the farm with his brother and nephews. Because of the stifling succession laws in Scottish Agricultural law, his brother was unable to take on the farm as a secure tenancy and the nephew was forced to agree to a short limited tenancy. So don't believe all the guff about the support given to new entrants - their farms could be taken back by the estates in as little as 5 years.
So because the Ag laws are stacked against the Secure tenant farmer, a loophole in the law can see a family who have farmed their farm for generations, lose the farm through a limited duration tenancy. You could not make this up!

I find the statements from the Scottish Tenant Farming Association rather disingenuous when they state that 'Tenant farmers do not want the right to buy". Secure tenants DO want the right to buy their own farms and ONLY their own farms, the Limited Duration Tenants and Short Limited Duration Tenants do NOT want to buy their farms; well, perhaps they WANT to but they are not given the opportunity as their tenancies are so short and they could find themselves out.
The Partnership tenancies are not going to ask for the right to buy as they are 50% laird/land agent.
So the broad statement by the STFA makes it look like ALL tenants do not want their own farms but it was never broken down and clarified; the secure tenant silenced by those who were supposed to support.

And the Estates/ Land agents snap the farms back from the tenants, thus locking the land and keeping the population of communities under control.
One man benefits from 36,000 acres of shooting land and don't think for one minute that the community sees any benefit. They don't.

Next shoot, I'll keep an eye out for any 'weel kent faces'. There are all sorts on these moors, judges, police, maybe even MSPs... no wonder the shooting laws have not been looked at in years. The shoots come so damn close to the house, you can almost smell their breaths.

Let's work to getting these rogues off the hills and seeing the land worked properly, feeding and housing the ordinary people.

"On yonder hill there stood a coo, 
There stood a few
which have'nae shifted".

Monday, 3 June 2013

Rural rogues.

You know those sort of days where you waken up, stand on an imaginary rake and it hits you so hard on the face that you do not quite know what is going on? Well, today has been that sort of day.

We are still flitting between the farm and the temporary house, the human sludge is still making us sick and burning our eyes, we dare not open our windows even in this heat.

We were up at the farm until about 9pm last night and left to come back here to the temporary house so the children could be showered in clean(ish) water for school.

When we returned to the farm and up to the little wooden house today, we found shotgun pellets on the decking where the children had been sitting or playing last night. These were lead pellets, according to the Scottish Police Force. Lead pellets where my lovely friend brings her babies to play. So easily ingested by an infant. Our safe place now felt violated.
The water supply had also been turned off.

The Farmer and I had a look around for empty cartridges but we were also looking for the other red kite; feathers, anything unusual- we saw the kites together over the weekend. Only one today. There were seven here and we wonder what happened to the others. We will never know.

I will give you some idea of how remote we are and how vast this estate is. I think there are about 36,000 acres but I will stand corrected if I am a few out. We are surrounded by vacant or derelict houses and very few neighbours, here on the farm. Add the two together and you have several thousand empty acres (which were once all farmed) - why the hell would anyone shoot in the direction of the one wooden cabin which is surrounded by toys, obvious family life, pet animals and forgive my Highland sensibilities but on a Sunday.- nobody shoots on a Sunday.

Look - here is our 'hood. Not exactly teaming with anything other than wildlife and ONE family.

Another question I have for the shooting lot is if a shotgun is capable of shooting, what, 150 or so yards, why is the law permitting people to shoot 50 feet from a home? If you peppered someone's decking in, say, the middle of family homes in Birmingham, questions would be asked, wouldn't they.

Not here.

The last time this happened, the police told me that "It was an Estate matter". Since when were estates above the law? .....
This time, the police were different, they were actually patient and amazing to our family. They stayed a while, we were reassured by them and this lawless glen will be carefully watched.

Between the human faeces fiasco down the road, the bullying, harassment, water or lack of today, no roof, stolen land and I could go on, you would think the group who are supposed to support Scottish tenant farmers would be itching to help because they have known about this and taken our money for ten years.

No help here.

What is going on? Is Scotland now one giant shooting gallery? Are the traditional farming tenants, aye, the Secure Tenants (clue in first word) just filed away at the bottom end of the subsidy payments, left to accept the crumbs off the table by the Upper Crust? - The hard bits on the bottom of a loaf were for the staff, those upstairs got the upper crust, the nice bit. Hence the term.

We are not 'Slipper farmers', we are 'Welly farmers'. We work OUR land. No input from the landowners, just grief and hassle on tenanted farms all over Scotland. Our modest annual subsidy covers our modest piece of land and we have budgeted our living, the diesel, feed, seeds every damn thing on this farm for a fraction of the cost of a modest family car. We would rather there was no subsidy, just realistic prices for our produce.

The Secure Tenants like us who have endured feudal and hellish conditions for generations - we have had enough. We want to buy our own farms and ONLY our own farms. We don't want to be forced into giving the laird a cut if we diversify. We want to be able to bequeath our farms to who we want, not just a spouse, child or grandchild as the law dictates. We have brothers, sisters, step-children, nieces and nephews and they are all barred from inheriting a tenancy.

For ten years, the STFA have done nothing yet they knew what was going on. The NFU sit next to useless in the tenant's dictionary and I refuse to recognise the TFF (Tenant Farming Forum) who we are now answerable to. Read lairds for that lot.

Some us are going to have to go this alone and it is a bit scary, jumping into the unknown but what other option do we have?

Please, hold our hands as we take a bit of a step forward. One day, it could be you running a farm if the land was freed, if agriculture was taught in schools, if urban and rural worked together.

Please support the Scottish traditional, secure tenants who own no land yet who have shaped the land.