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Fresh questions around ‘Green Laird’ buyouts of sporting estates

The Green Laird phenomenon may have peaked as estate acquisitions face increasing scrutiny and the Scottish Government prepares to tighten its fiscal belt.

Deer stalkers scanning the hill

In recent years, prices for sporting estates and hill farms in Scotland have skyrocketed in response to the emergence of a new breed of estate owner looking to ‘rewild’ while making money through carbon trading and timber production. These new owners are referred to as ‘Green Lairds’. In a recent review, agents Strutt and Parker noted that: “The valuation methodology for some hill land, once based on sporting yields of grouse or red deer, is now assessed on forestry, carbon capture and re-wilding potential.”

A crucial driver of this change has been the availability of forestry planting grants from the Scottish Government. The Green Laird approach is typified by BrewDog, the brewing company, whose eviction of its gamekeepers from its Kinrara estate was exposed by Shooting Times. The estate is now the subject of a huge grant application.

However the environment for these buyers is changing. On one side they are being squeezed by land reform campaigners who see them as a continuation of the pattern of big land ownership they hoped would disappear. On the other side are people like Gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen who in retirement has discovered the power of social media to promote his message. (Read more from Ronnie Kippen here.)

Ronnie said: “Rewilding is a pure scam to make the rich richer at the cost of the Scottish taxpayer. It is a poorly thought out fad. But what would you expect from people that have never had to produce food for the country in their lives?”

Meanwhile the financial and legal background is also shifting. The Scottish Government is working on new community right to buy legislation which will be introduced in 2023. Current legislation only works well when sales are advertised and green lairds have been accused of using off market sales to prevent communities from getting involved in deals.

Scotland’s finance minister Kate Forbes recently told Holyrood, “We face a very difficult financial position over the next few years”. With a looming £3.5 billion spending gap the Government may be tempted to look again at its generous grants scheme. A leading Scottish land manager told Shooting Times: “Big cuts to the forest grants scheme might not knock green lairds out of the sky, but they would certainly clip their wings.”