I note from the most recent edition of The Field that the famous grouse moor, Millden, in Angus, is for sale. It is of considerable interest to me personally as Millden is just round the corner from where I spent many of my formative years in Glenprosen, and in those days it was always one of the moors where we awaited the start of season bags.

The sale throws up many uncertainties as there is no guarantee that the estate will be sold as a whole, and as we are all aware from history, fragmentation of landholdings has seldom been a cause for good when it comes to sporting management.

The news will come as a blow to many for Millden, in keeping with a number of others, was hailed as one of the new generation of moors which had bucked the generation old trend of failure and recently produced some excellent bags of grouse. So, just as the moor is coming good, why has it appeared on the market?

It would appear the answer lies in the recent legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament which holds landowners liable for the actions of their staff [vicarious liability], and that is something, it appears, some will not entertain at any cost. So it?s sell up, and get out. It may well turn out to be a sad day for the inhabitants of many glens if more and more of the modern-day owners decide to take the same course of action. In the long run, it will only play into the hands of those who are set against the whole ethos of sporting management.

A price too high to pay

There are also those, however, who have to shoulder a great part of the blame for this, and they are the individuals who have decided that they cannot manage their land without the use of poisons. It is the actions of a few who have brought this upon the many, and the really sad thing is I doubt if they even realise just what they have done. For everyone else, the cost may be too high to pay, and may be one which Scotland itself cannot afford, with empty cottages and hotel beds.The sporting tourists will simply go somewhere else for their pleasure, and take their much needed cash ? millions of pounds of it ? with them.

Grouse moor deflation

One of the problems which may well arise is that Millden may only be the first of many, and if that were indeed to be the case, where would it leave the grouse moor in the current market? There are only so many who have the funds available to purchase such holdings, and a glut of moors would certainly depress prices to the point where they may not be saleable as they are. Split up, there may not be the same opportunities for employment, or investment.

Part-time jobs may become the norm, and that is not the answer to rising predator numbers where more staff time, not less, is better. The only reason these moors have recovered their status as notable places to shoot, is that the current owners ploughed substantial sums of money into staff and infrastructure. That funding could disappear just as quickly as it arrived with a considerable negative impact on the local economy.

It will no doubt please some if numerous sporting estates come on the market, as they in turn may be in the position to purchase them at knockdown prices and end the tradition of managing the land for game, whether that be grouse, deer, or even some of the newer enterprises such as hill partridge. But long term, just what will be the outcome of this legislation, which was always going to be open to abuse? It is all very easy for items to be ?found? on a piece of land. I am aware that it has already happened, though the incidents I have knowledge of were south of the border. The fact remains, though, that it is all too easy for someone to be found guilty here without ever having committed any crime, only this time around the long-term implications are very far reaching indeed. Agri-environmental payments may be stopped until there is clearance of any proof of wrongdoing. Those funds alone are very important to the work of any farming unit, which ultimately is what many of these estates are. The whole practice of successfully managing land of this type is a combination of sporting and stock management.

It may well be that this rather flawed piece of Scottish thinking will not stand up in court when put to the judicial test, and if that is the case my worries, and those of many Scottish keepers, will be ill-founded and the crystal ball which predicted moor after moor coming on the market is as flawed as the legislation.