One of Scotland’s biggest landowners has offered 13 of its tenant farmers who are on secure tenancy agreements the opportunity to buy their land.
The move by the Buccleuch Estate, which has faced heavy criticism over its plans to replace tenants with trees in the Langholm area, was broadly welcomed by the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) as a “step forward for land reform”.
However, the STFA added the caveat that it remained to be seen to what extent the move is a serious intention to reorganise the estate’s landholdings and how much is a public relations exercise to ward off criticism.
STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “The answer will become evident when the money is on the table, and the agricultural community will be watching with interest.”
Buccleuch’s chief executive, John Glen, said the estate had sold 22 farms to tenants across the south of Scotland since 2000.
Discussions are ongoing with 11 tenants and letters were sent this week to 13 tenants on secure tenancies offering them the “opportunity to meet with the estate manager” to discuss their future aspirations.
Mr Glen added: “Tenants who do not wish to consider purchasing their farms will continue to enjoy the security of tenure of their 1991 Act agreements.”
The development comes in the wake of intense local controversy over
Buccleuch’s plans to plant trees on stretches of hill land which has been
traditionally used for sheep farming.
And while the STFA welcomed the opportunity for tenants to buy their farms, it insisted that the prices expected by the estate for the land should be fair.
Mr Nicholson said: “Most tenants on secure tenancies will have invested
heavily in their farms over the generations and this investment must be reflected in the purchase price of the farms which should be subject of a tenanted discount.
“If Buccleuch are serious in their intentions to sell, we would expect
independent and transparent valuations and a willingness to negotiate a realistic purchase price.”
Mr Nicholson added that a move to ownership would be good news for the local community which is worried about yet more Sitka Spruce blanketing the hills around towns like Langholm.
“Although these tenancies are held under security of tenure, they are still vulnerable to bits being resumed for tree planting or other non-agricultural use,” he said.
“Furthermore, landlords have traditionally been reluctant to invest in tenanted farms and ownership will give the tenants the confidence and ability to develop, invest and broaden the scope of their businesses to the long-term benefit of the community.
“STFA would welcome similar proposals in other parts of Scotland where initiative and investment is still being stifled by a monopoly of land