The Duke of Buccleuch, this weekend, put Alison and David Telfer’s farm near Langholm on the market. This is despite earlier promises that he would reflect on local backlash against his estate clearing tenants to secure lucrative forestry planting grants.
The couple told their MSP, Joan McAlpine, they believed the estate was trying to sell their hill ground “on the sly” – and they felt that they are being victimised for speaking out against the influential aristocrat.
The Telfers now face the anguish of having Buccleuch remove their flock of ‘hefted’ sheep. Sheep have grazed the hill for centuries and are considered an intrinsic part of the area’s natural heritage and culture.
SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said:
“The Duke came to an angry public meeting in Langholm earlier this year and promised to change. But he and his factors are unflinchingly cruel in the case of the Telfers.
“The Duke could easily allow them to see out their working lives at the farm until they retire in five years but instead, he has split their farm into two lots for sale. The Telfers believe they are being victimised by a powerful and vindictive administration, and I am inclined to agree with them.”
The higher ground of the Telfer’s farm is being taken from them and sold for planting immediately as “Tansy Hill”. This is separate from their holding Cleuchfoot, which has become synonymous with the campaign against Buccleuch’s “modern clearances”.
The Telfers have been allowed to stay on the remainder of the lower farm ground – which is also being sold – until November 2019. This is several years earlier than the couple expected. They had received verbal assurances, when they took on the tenancy, that they could farm the land until they retired in five years. That verbal promise has not been honoured.
Ms McAlpine continued:
“Alison and David told me that, in their opinion, breaking the farm up for sale has been done to disguise the fact that it is their ground which is being cleared and sold for tree planting. Cleuchfoot is synonymous with their fight, Tansy Hill means nothing. This is deliberate and misleading”
The Telfers say Buccleuch intends to come to value their hill sheep for sale on 10 October and will remove them soon after. However, it is unclear whether permission has been given by Forestry Commission Scotland for planting to take place on the ground.
Government ministers have previously said that forestry grants should not be misused and there has been speculation in recent weeks that Buccleuch may be refused permission for mass planting on tenanted farms because of the public outcry.
Ms McAlpine has asked Buccleuch on behalf of the Telfers, if the sheep can be left to graze for the remainder of the tenancy, since there are no immediate plans to plant the hill.
The MSP said:
“The sale came as a complete surprise to Alison and David and just demonstrates how little power tenants like them have. Potential purchasers need to be made aware of the story here.
“The Duke could easily allow Alison and David to retire in five years and then sell the land, as they were promised at the start of their tenancy. It would not hurt His Grace at all. But being forced out is definitely hurting Alison and David.
“Scottish history is stained by the legacy of the clearances. Well, albeit in the southern uplands, the treatment of the Telfers is akin to the lowland clearances for the modern age and it cannot be allowed to stand.”
The Evertown Portfolio
Forestry Commission Scotland