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10 March 2003
Unfair Criticisms of Absentee Landlords
Letter from Stephen Gibbs
Chair, Association of Deer Management Group
Scotland on Sunday
2 March 2003
(Filed 10 March 2003)
The recent publication of the joint university
study into Scottish Highland sporting estates (News, February 23)
appears timed to bolster justification for the Land Reform (Scotland)
Act and the arguments put forward by critics of Scotlands
extant system of land ownership.
I have not yet seen a copy of the report - I
look forward to doing so.
Media report clearly have absentee landowners
in their sights, and also focus on the fact that many estates fail
to make money - the inference being that more could be done in terms
of income generation and job creation. But this surely displays
a degree of naivete as to how easy it is to make a living from a
draughty lodge and acres of bog and rock - however beautiful they
Many owners are by necessity absentee because
their main income is derived elsewhere, although used to sustain
their Highland property or business.
Country sports, which also take place and generate
income outside the summer tourist season, require substantial investment
in land management. Substitute or jeopardise that activity - shooting,
deer stalking, salmon fishing - and you also remove jobs, skills,
and the incentive for the owner to manage the land not only for
game, but biodiversity in a far wider sense.
Whimsical reformers, some MSPs among them, might
suppose that an end to the pattern of privatae ownership will see
the Highlands repopulated, developed for tourism, criss-crossed
with mountain bike tracks and ski trails, with campers and canoeists
everywhere - and that greater benefits will be delivered automatically
But how many successful and profitable outdoor
centres can this theme park Scotland approach sustain?
Of course, many estates could and have diversified
into hotels, bed and breakfast, campsites, outdoor pursuits, wildlife
safaris and activities other than traditional country
sports. But if an individual owner wishes and can afford to retain
their estate for their own and their familys enjoyment, manage
the land well and sustain 8.5 jobs on average into the bargain,
what on earth is wrong with that?