Answering a First Minister’s Question in parliament from Ms. McAlpine, Ms Sturgeon said she shared Ms. McAlpine’s concern about the situation facing Alison and David Telfer of Cleuchfoot farm, near Langholm. The couple are being forced to give up their hill ground and hefted sheep to make way for tree planting. The First Minister said the Buccleuch Estates should take the couple’s human rights into account in any change of land use.
Ms McAlpine said government forestry grants should never be awarded in these circumstances.
The First Minister told parliament that the Scottish Land Commission had reminded Buccleuch Estates to follow government guidance which clearly states the need for formal community engagement in significant decisions relating to changes of land use.
Scotland’s biggest private landowner is pressing ahead with plans to sell the farm, which it has split in two, as part of a restructuring involving the sale of the 9,000-acre Evertown Portfolio. The Telfers, who have farmed Cleuchfoot for almost 20 years, are now face with forced early retirement next year coupled with the loss of their home.
Buccleuch Estates put Alison and David Telfer’s farm on the market despite earlier promises that that the estate would reflect on local backlash against the clearing of tenants to secure lucrative forestry grants.
Following the First Minister’s comments Ms McAlpine said:
“The Telfer’s agreed to give up the hill land in order to secure a stay of execution which allowed them to remain in their home for another year. But they only did that because they feared being evicted – the estate broke earlier verbal promises that they could farm until they retired.
“Buccleuch’s behaviour has been exposed at the highest level, and the First Minister has expressed her concern. I hope Scotland’s largest land owner will now show some compassion for this couple – there is no point in the estate taking the sheep away this month if they do not have permission to plant. They should leave David and Alison in peace to farm all of the ground till they retire in three or four years, as was promised.”
Ms McAlpine also welcomed the intervention by the Scottish Land Commission who have reminded Buccleuch by letter that government guidance requires them to conduct formal community engagement when a significant decision in relation to a change in land use is proposed.
“In July a review by the Land Commission found that Buccleuch had not always followed best practise in its treatment of tenant farmers. Now we discover they have ignored government guidance on when to consult communities. They seem to think they are a law unto themselves. It has to change.”
Transcript of question to the FM from Joan McAlpine MSP 4.10.2018
12:16:34 – 12:18:22
“Is the First Minister aware of the situation facing tenant farmers David and Alison Telfer who are being forced off Cleuchfoot farm near Langholm by the Duke of Buccleuch? This week the duke plans to value their hefted sheep which have grazed the hill for centuries, to be sold to make way for trees. Does the first minister agree that forestry planting grants should never be given in these circumstances, that the Telfer’s human rights are being violated by Buccleuch and that the duke’s sale of the 9000 acre Evertown portfolio, which includes the Telfer’s farm, contravenes regulations enacted by The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 which say land owners should formally engage the community ahead of major changes.”
First Minister’s Full Response:
“I share Joan McAlpine’s concern. Guidance for landowners makes very clear that communities should play a part in decisions about how land is used and managed.
“I know that the Scottish Land Commission has written to Buccleuch Estates to advise them of how communities should be involved and has offered to provide further advice. Human rights are also reflected in the guidance, which landowners, including Buccleuch Estates, should take into consideration during this, or any, process relating to land transactions.
“Guidance on the Forestry Grant Scheme state that applicants must have control of the land and a legal right to plant trees on the land. Where control of the land changes, or comes out of farming, there must be no doubt about the applicant’s legal right to plant trees.
“We intend to add additional guidance to clarify that where an applicant’s control of the land or legal right to plant trees is subject to a live legal challenge or review, we would not consider the land to eligible for a forestry grant until any legal process had been concluded.”
Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016
Guidance on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land
‘Scotland’s Modern Day Clearances Under Way’
‘Buccleuch Estates land sale row could lead to breaking of fresh ground’