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.


  1. It was all sounding so hopeful....but it seems to have been turned into a dialogue of the deaf.

    Echoes of the situation in France before 1789....

  2. I agree, the fly in the web. We did feel hopeful and things were going well but today's events do echo pre 1789 France and now we wonder what else will happen to the detriment.
    It has put us feeling wretched and mistrustful especially when the land resumed lies unused for the bulk of the year.
    If it had been in grass, we could have had good hay then a further crop of silage, this year.

  3. Get Andy Weightman onto your case, theres is a good crofting lawyer in Inverness too

  4. Oh dear, one step forward, two steps back.

  5. I have just found your Blog, I'm addicted and enraged at the same time!
    I wish you all the best in your struggle with the Laird.

    You have inspired me to start blogging and I shall no doubt tell my tales from when I was a Lairds lachy and tennant, as well as the heart ache of leaving the family home in the Glen.
    Power to your pen, it is an inspiration

  6. Dear Gentle Otter,
    following your new blog post above and your circulating of this widely on Twitter I have, as promised, spoken in detail with the estate.

    I have to say that the estate is horrified and disappointed by your blog and subsequent update. They have made it very clear to me that they do not accept the version of events as you have sought to portray it. I know they have responded to you directly because they have copied in both myself and your MP as the ones who met with both parties recently to try and help broker progress. The estate has been clear both to me and in that email that what you have said in your blog is not an accurate reflection of the meeting that took place yesterday.

    This issue of the game strip was discussed at the meeting that took place at the farmhouse with myself and your MP present. It was agreed then by all present that the estate and yourself would meet with the shooting tenant for an open discussion on the possible options to move the existing game strip to a different location. Indeed the estate offered this as soon as the matter was raised. Having referred back to my meeting notes, I recorded that the estate offered to be very flexible on this issue and they also offered to reduce your rent accordingly, an offer they said at the time that they had made before. Your blog is silent on that offer made by the estate. The estate explained to me that the purpose of the meeting yesterday was in fact to simply discuss options and share ideas with all the relevant parties ie. yourselves, the estate and the new shooting tenant. They thought this was the right approach to establish good communications from the start and indeed this was what was discussed and agreed as an action at the meeting with myself and your MP. The estate said that you were not asked to make any choice as you state in your blog, rather the point of the meeting was to share ideas on how a repositioning of the game crop area might work for all parties. Further they said that the return of the existing area and how it might be remediated from its current state was not even discussed at this early stage in sharing ideas. The estate said that far from asking you to make any choices they instead had asked you to think about it and what ideas you might have and that they would be in contact next week to have further discussions on this.

    I see my role and interest in your case as helping to resolve what has clearly been a breakdown in relationship over many years. As you have pointed out, the original lease on your farm dates back to 1890. However, despite the historic date that the tenancy was granted, it is now covered by the 1991 Act legislation and, where relevant, the 2003 Act. Therefore, I do question the relevance of your referral to law set in 1890.

    I have heard both sides of this story and understand how a stalemate developed. Integrated land use is of course one of the goals of the Scottish Government, and this can only be achieved when all those who make their living from the countryside work together - be they farmers, those involved in country sports tourism, outdoor recreation or those involved in the many other activities that people try to make a living from across rural Scotland. Please remember that the shooting industry in Scotland is a vital contributor to the rural economy, contributing over £250m per annum (Shooting Sports, PACEC 2006) and supporting 58,000 workers (11,000 FTEs) paid by shooting activity.

    My earnest hope is that we can all together find a positive way forward. I was greatly encouraged by the meeting that we had with your MP and the estate at your farmhouse. However in order to make positive progress we have to work together. Trust and respect is needed.

    Doug McAdam, CEO, Scottish Land & Estates

  7. Dear Mr McAdam,

    Firstly and historically, the estate have always been 'horrified and disappointed' when faced with publicity.

    Whist I agree that the meeting with yourself, our MP and the estate was positive with regard to the roof and water, the meeting with the shooting tenant was strained as he had already decided which part of the farm was best for him. The area he wanted was in front of the cottage situated opposite the field. His exact words were "You either give me this end of the field (my husband's name) or that end but either way I am taking it".

    The estate representative tried her best, in my opinion, to find a solution and we showed the shooting tenant a different field but he said it was no use to him.

    I stand by what I wrote in this blog and indeed any other articles I have written. Our life here is why I began to blog. The estate/ shooting tenant will stick by their version but we received no help at all with regard to the previous shooting tenant who bullied, threatened violence, padlocked gates, vandalised our fields, let cattle out, menaced the tenants in the cottage and who held shoots beside where our family were living and the children were playing. His view was that "He was the shooting tenant who could do as he ****** well pleased as he had rights over our complete farm".

    He was given advice by a complete inept who works for the estate and who emailed me copies of the 1890 Game Act plus direct excerpts from our lease (also 1890).
    Surely you can understand our concern re our safety and the farmland?

    The new shooting tenant appears to be just as the previous one. A high handed approach for his own benefit.Our family are left wondering what the next few years will bring as the last few have been absolutely hellish due to unpoliced shooting tenants and an arrogant disregard for anyone but themselves.

    Every single tenanted farm in this area has a game strip of resumed land. Every one of those strips is sterile and sour. Only weeds grow. Surely you can see this is down to poor management of the soil itself?
    I asked the shooting tenant how much it had cost him to plough, fertilise and sow the strip (two acres) and the sum he quoted was double how much it would have cost us. Why did he not ask us rather than bring in an outside contractor?

    Nobody is answering my question - Why does the shooting tenant need two acres from our farm (plus two acres from all the other farms) on an estate of some 28,000 acres?

    Why have we not been given dates of shoots including rough shoots?

    Why do shoots have to take place on our farm at all?

    If the estate offered compensation years ago, why have they not paid any? Do they have a copy of that document as we would be interested in reading it?
    Have they included compensation for damage to crops by pheasants, vermin, vehicles and spent cartridges? Noise nuisance? Loss of our LFA payment for the area?

    I wrote to the estate a few weeks ago, offering a solution to remedy the damaged ground on our farm which would have meant the removal of the dividing fence plus other fences in a non resumed area. I did not receive a reply regarding this and hoped to discuss it further as I feel this is a serious problem. I wrote that it would take years for the soil to return to the full fertility we achieved before the area was taken.
    If the shooting tenant wanted the other end of the same field, we would then be four acres short.

    Trust and respect are indeed required but it is a two way road, Mr McAdam. Whist we were left hopeful after our meeting, we had hoped that the estate would realise the problems where two businesses rent the same ground- It simply does not work.

    Please be aware that the Scottish agriculture industry is a vital contributor to the rural economy, contributing 2.3 billion per annum and supporting 65,000 workers.

    Our family hope there is a solution for the problems on our farmland as the existing system simply does not work due to issues of entitlement and a feudal mindset which has no place in modern Scotland.

  8. I think it's totally counterproductive to be fighting this sort of thing out in "social media" like blogs and Twitter. Good luck with it, though.

  9. Surely a Laird would be anxious to pay compensation for the damage the shoot has caused? The area involved is 2 acres so say £500 per acre or £1000 per year from the start of the farm lease plus interest. A payment of £150,000 immediately should go a small way to putting this right. As for the farmhouse no one can seriously expect payment unless the property is in good condition? So again compensation and full repairs are the order of the day. I look forward to the SLE spokesman above announcing this course of action immediately.

  10. Neil - believe me, I would rather be writing about carting home bales or hay making and have always written this blog as a snapshot on our life as tenant farmers.
    I do not see this as 'fighting this sort of thing out in social media' but merely an avenue to reach other tenants as I know many others are too afraid to admit what happens on their farms and land.
    Twitter has provided me with real life friends who offer me support when things get tough plus it is a medium whereby other tenant farmers can share their issues and garner support.

  11. Skottimama - A rent reduction of £21 per acre so £42 per annum has been offered although no mention of back payment, damage to standing crops, damage to silage bales, damage to the very soil, etc.

  12. Rent reduction is not a fair compensation. You should be paid for income foregone and the extra expense and disruption caused. Since the Laird introduced the original lease date to the discussion it must in all fairness be started from then. £150,000 should be no more than a token amount to a 28000 acre estate. I would also expect similar or larger sums in regard to the house issue. Perhaps SLE should make an offer? After all they claim to be interested in fairness? Surely there should be no issue with such a nominal sum over such a long period of inappropriate action by the Laird?

  13. As you say Gentle Otter, this is YOUR blog pages, and if any of us choose to read and follow it (as I know thousands do!)
    then that is our choice. I would however question the professionalism of Douglas McAdam who represents Scottish Land and Estes who uses your blog to negotiate with you. I find this alarming, unprofessional and disquieting.
    As the blog owner I understand why you had to respond.
    The truth will out, and this country will be free.
    Saor Alba

  14. Dear Gentle Otter

    Your despair is palpable. Apologies for the delay in responding. Below a statement, which along with a link to your blog I will endeavour to circulate.

    To anyone reading this who is frightened of talking about the menace of shooting, please don’t be. Do so anonymously to begin with, I am ‘hiding’ behind Common Decency, those who need to know who I am, do.

    To those who are not personally affected by shooting, but are appalled at its hegemony, simply help by exposing it. Shooting culture is covert because it knows its attitudes and practises will not stand up to scrutiny.

    To everyone following Gentle Otter, my reply to Neil King below may be of interest, as might,

    Best wishes Bessie - Sue

    Landowners/field sports, have blighted lives for centuries.

    The culture of driven bird shooting is selfish and mendacious.

    Dripping emollient words on mean attitudes and crass behaviour is no solution.

    A sense of entitlement which regards anything or anybody as a nuisance to be “dealt with” or “accommodated” cripples decency.

    “What can we get away with?” and “What’s in it for me?” fuels intimidating behaviour.

    Such ways of thinking are so deeply entrenched, trusting or believing in integrity is futile.

    So long as the law protects this wilful menace, rural living will continue to be afflicted by anguish, fear and despair.

    The law should prevent this imposition, not protect it.

    A home is a place for living not a place for killing.

  15. Dear Mr King

    Why do you think it is counterproductive to raise this issue on twitter and blogs? Your answer could be instructive.

    I do not agree with you and will try and explain, not just for you, but for others who read Gentle Otter’s blog.

    Driven shooting is premised on frightening a bird to behave in way that makes it fun to point a gun at. If a bird which has a capacity to fly high/fast, could not be controlled or was not disturbed by noise and movement, there would be no bird to aim at. The birds susceptibility to disturbance necessitates it residing in places that are quiet and still, i.e. no people and therefore no witnesses to intimidation and menace.

    Social media enables sharing and exposing the despair, the covert culture of shooting gives rise to. Knowing that one is understood, (and being proffered kindness in contrast to persistent bullying), by empathy from those who have experienced the same as oneself, is very comforting and consoling. Shooting cultures instinct is to run for cover, rather like the pheasant, social media will not only flush out the logistics of shooting (poorly understood by many - even those who shoot), but flush out the attitudes which accompany it, concealed by clever marketing. It may take time, but I do not doubt that common decency will prevail. Social media is a seed and a mirror.

  16. CD - sorry, I haven't looked in on this blog for a bit so didn't notice your comment directed at me until now.

    I didn't say it was counterproductive "to raise this issue" [driven shooting] in social media. I said I thought it was counterproductive "to be fighting this sort of thing out" in sm.

    The thing I was referring to there is GO's disagreements with her landlord. I suspect there has been a long term breakdown in communication. In my experience this is best repaired by face to face communication rather than in writing because no matter how eloquent you think you're being, it's very easy in writing to convey the wrong impression inadvertantly. And that provokes an adverse reaction from the other party who responds in kind and so on until positions have become utterly polarised.

    Of course there is a role for putting things in writing and social media (including making new friends as well) but they are not the be all and end all and there are associated risks.

    As for driven shooting, I have no strong views on it. It's not my cup of tea but I don't object to other people doing it provided they exercise the utmost respect for other affected parties such as the occupiers of the ground they're shooting over. I get it that GO considers that this is not happening but I suspect the blogging (in the language GO is using) and the tweeting is actually making things worse rather than better (after the initial euphoria of having got it off your chest has worn off).

    But that's all just what I think and what I would have said to GO if she'd asked me (which I appreciate she didn't but the blog does invite comments). I could of course be totally wrong and there will be others who take a different view.