Some thoughts on land ownership

Posted by on Jul 4, 2011 in Commentary, Landscape | 3 Comments
Recently added fence on the summit of Carn nan tri-Tighearnan, a very visible symbol of land ownership
I can vividly remember the first time I became fully conscious of the concept of land ownership. It was 1998 and I was sitting in a cafe cum bookshop in Antigua Guatemala, relaxing with a litre bottle of Cervesa Gallo after a Spanish lesson. In my guidebook I read the following.
‘The greatest challenge to a lasting peace stems from great inequalities in the basic social and economic structure of Guatemalan society. It’s estimated that 70 % of the cultivable land is owned by less than 3 % of the population.’
This struck a chord with me because I grew up on the Isle of Bute, an island with a population of around 8000 which was owned by one man, Lord Bute. The comparable statistic was that 100 % of the cultivable land was owned by 0.01 % of the population! I realised that I had grown up under a feudal system and that this was a rather odd thing to have experienced in a developed country in the last quarter of the 20th century.
View south over the River Findhorn from Carn an Uillt Bhric, a nearby trig as yet unmolested by fences
It is a great shame that Scotland is divided up into sporting estates, vast parcels of land that are available to be bought and sold. As such the management of our wild land is subject to the whim of the landowner, land that is well managed today could easily pass into the hands of one who is motivated more by profit than by any sense of custodianship of wild land. Under this system of land ownership there is no obligation to preserve that which makes it special.
Recently I paid a visit to the summit of Carn nan tri-Tighearnan, the Hill of the Three Lairds. It is one of my local hills and takes its name because its summit marks the boundary of three estates.  The summit plateau is guarded by extensive peat hags and was previously imbued with a tremendous sense of open space.  I say previously because since I last visited a fence has been erected along the boundary line. If you start your ascent, as I did, from the River Findhorn, the fence must be surmounted in order to access the trig point. The fence is reinforced with chicken wire down to ground level. For the first time in millennia the mountain hair have been deprived of their right to traverse these high moors from the Findhorn to the Nairn. The fence now constrains them within their respective estates. When the winter snows drift against the fences will they be able, briefly, to roam at will.
It is not particularly straightforward to establish who owns estates or where their boundaries lie. The fence motivated me to find out the identity of this trio of fence-building lairds. I subscribed to the excellent and satisfied my curiosity.
The three fence-building lairds are, clockwise from bottom left, the Moy Estate (owned by John Mackintosh of Mackintosh); Holme Rose Grouse Moor (Owned by M.M. Hasson (1/2), W.D. Armstrong (1/3) F.E. Ratky (1/6)); Cawdor Estate (owned by Cawdor Trusts, Colin RV Campbell, (7th Earl of Cawdor) & Isabella Campbell (Countess of Cawdor) and Angelika Campbell, Dowager Countess of Cawdor)
I met a couple of elderly baggers on the summit. They were true, blinkered, list-ticking baggers in that they had climbed all the Munros before moving on to the Corbetts. Someone had then suggested that they should climb Suilven and Stac Pollaidh and that had started them ticking their way through the Grahams. They suggested that grants were probably available to the landowners subsidise the construction of fences such as the one we had recently scaled. Do any readers know if such fences are indeed subsidised from the public purse, and if so, to what extent and, most importantly, why?


  1. Anonymous
    July 7, 2011

    Dear Gavin

    Many of these fences are being put up to manage tick mops. Contract shepherds graze wethers for a few months and regular dip them during that time. The idea being is reducing the tick density will improve the habitat for grouse.

  2. Gavin Macfie
    July 12, 2011

    Thanks for explaining that. A few sheep have indeed accompanied the coming of the fence.

  3. Douglas Griffin
    August 27, 2011

    Interesting post, Gavin.

    I recently bought a copy of Andy Wightman’s ‘The Poor Had no Lawyers’ (it’s out in paperback now – I know, I was too tight to buy the hard cover edition) – it makes for some very interesting reading on the land ownership issue!


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