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.