Sunday, 18 February 2018

Scottish Highland Estates, greed & the loss of wild land


Regular visitors to this place will have read the piece posted on here a couple of days ago: Scottish Highland Hydro Scheme Mapping. I provided a link to it on the TGO Challenge Message Board, as these schemes have a direct impact on Challengers who walk across Scotland, particularly so as the majority of these schemes have not yet made it onto Ordnance Survey Maps.

Here's a screen grab of that post on the Message Board, and the first reply from a chap who will be taking part in the Challenge for the first time this year. 


For those of you with small screens, I'll reproduce Paul's comment at a larger size below:

I've met Paul and I found him to be an intelligent and likeable bloke. I'm sure quite a few other very decent hill walkers will share his view, which is why I'm giving space to it as a separate piece, away from the narrower issue of Small Hydro schemes.

As regular readers will know I am particularly keen to promote the TGO Challenge, especially to first-timers as they are the life blood of the walk. (Mortality is a statistician's delight as without exception everyone dies and the more Challenges you do, the closer you are to meeting your maker.) If we want the TGO Challenge to continue, then fresh blood is vital.

I've walked across Scotland for over twenty years and over that time have seen a dramatic drop in the wild places. The predominant reason for this being the remorseless spread of wind farms (with the associated tracks and electricity pylons) a massive rise in hill roads for the grouse shooting industry and considerable changes, especially in the eastern Highlands in vegetation as muir-burn has become the predominant landscape. Recently Small Hydro (predominantly run of the river schemes) have  spread like a rash throughout the wild places.

Elsewhere on this blog I have written extensively about my despondency of walking through more and more damaged landscapes on the Challenge. (Just click on "Wind Power stations" under the 'Label' heading on the RH column of this blog) As I promote the Challenge a great deal, I think it is time to accentuate what is fabulous about walking across the Highlands and some of the positive changes that are being made by enlightened estate management.


As I understand it, Paul is making two points; The first is that Highland Estate owners have to make a living from their land and the choices are from either small hydro scheme subsidies, wind farm rental, commercial forestry or grouse shooting. His second (supporting) point is that he's all in favour of killing mountain hares to preserve the grouse shooting industry, which in his opinion preserves the land from commercial forestry, as he would prefer to see shooting instead of forestry or wind farms.

He suggests that it is not helpful for me to rail against small hydro, grouse shooting and wind farms, as that leaves only forestry and he would not like to see that marching across the hillsides. In his view trying to limit wind farms, small hydro, grouse shooting and forestry (which I don't believe I have ever mentioned) will lead to the depopulation of the Highlands.

At first pass it might seem that Paul is making a fair point. Indeed, these are the points that Scottish Land & Estates - the representative body of the majority of Estate owners - trot out at regular intervals to support grouse shooting, industrial scale wind farms, hydro schemes and commercial forestry across Scotland. After all, these Estates provide a living for a fair few estate workers across the country.

Let's look at Paul's second, supporting point to start with, as it bolsters the main thrust of his comment.

The points about livelihoods and killing hares (regarding grouse shooting) are made well in the recent BBC Countryfile television programme that Paul made mention of on the TGO Message Board, before he deleted the comment. The programme examines the mass shooting of mountain hares (a native species) to protect the grouse shooting industry. However, the same could also be said of the points made by Harry Huyton of OneKind against the shooting of Mountain Hares. Take a look at the programme  yourself: It's about a ten minute watch. You can see the programme on the BBC iPlayer for the next 16 days by clicking on the following link:

NB: Rather than watch the entire programme, the relevant sections are from 7:00 to 14:00 and 30:30 to 36:10

Harry Huyton's subsequent take on the programme can be found here: Three reflections on Countryfile's mountain hare culls feature 

For a detailed look at hare culls you might like to view this document: Mountain hare persecution in Scotland After reading that, I think you'll agree that Paul's position on culling mountain hares looks pretty shabby.


Now let's take a look at Paul's first, main point: Scottish Estate owners have to make a living, and it's going to come from either grouse shooting, rental income from wind farms, commercial forestry or small hydro.

Of course, this is a straw man argument. Those are a carefully selected sample of possible income streams for Highland Estates. As it happens, they are the income streams that some find unacceptable in the modern world and so we are given a choice by the estates (and Paul) to choose those we find least unpalatable from their selection.

On the morning of the day I posted the link to my piece on Small Hydro Mapping on the Challenge Message Board I had also posted a piece that Chris Townsend had mentioned on twitter - an inspirational piece from the Scottish Wildlife Trust's website written by the Estate owner, Lisbet Rausing, detailing the work that Corrour Estate has been doing over the last ten years or so and the plans it has for the next ten. You can find that piece by clicking on this link:


I really would like you to read this piece so that we can understand each other as we move forward. So sit up straight at the back of the class and take a few moments to read it please.

Thank you.


And, you're back in the room! Hello again. That was a great read. You're jolly glad you took some time over it.

You will have seen that the stewardship of Corrour Estate has shifted fundamentally from an extractive model to a stewardship model. The entire ecosystem - flora and fauna - is recovering from over a century of appalling abuse. It appears from this shining example (and others mentioned in the piece) that Highland Estates can make a living without wind farms, grouse shooting and forestry. The Estate now washes its face economically by generating income from tourism attracted to the place by the transformation of the landscape and wildlife.

Who knew?

Tourism is a *major* business in the Highland economy. Visit Scotland estimated that 1,88 million people from the rest of the UK and 0.4 million people from overseas visited the Highlands in 2012/13. These visitors spent a combined total of £509 million.

However, you will have spotted that Corrour *does* include four small hydro projects as part of its income stream - a fairly big disappointment.


This brings me rather neatly to another reason for disagreeing with Paul's comment.

If you or I were to buy our first home, we would know that along with the mortgage and rates that we would have to pay, we would also be faced with a raft of additional costs. Every once in a while all the exterior woodwork would need painting. The decorations inside the place would need keeping in order. Plumbing problems, heating bills, electricity bills, they all need to be sorted.

Moving on to your next, larger house, all those costs increase, and so on to an even more expensive house, with a large garden, fences to maintain, you'll need a larger lawnmower. You can already see where this is going, can't you?

Those fortunate enough to be in a position to buy a Scottish Estate know full well what they are buying. They are buying a whole heap of ongoing outgoings that to you or me would seem eye-watering! Of course, they would try to mitigate these costs by having an income from the Estate. And that is exactly what Lisbet Rausing is doing at Corrour.

But let's not kid ourselves; these Estate owners are incredibly wealthy individuals, from all corners of the world as well as the UK. And let's be brutally honest. They can afford to run an Estate, even when it makes a loss. Their accountants will have told them how much it was going to lose year on year before they bought the place and that was part of the purchase decision, just as I knew full-well when I bought a sixteenth century listed cottage with wattle and daub exterior walls that it was going to be eye-wateringly expensive to heat. There's not a scrap of difference between the two purchases.


Going back to Paul's comment: He says "...what would you like them to use the land for? It has to be used for something..."

I really do have a big problem with that statement alone. I would be quite happy to sit here for a few days debating just that one question and answer. You see, Paul is looking at land as a commodity, or a vehicle to provide an income.  He's not looking at land as something that just by being there provides huge pleasure to those who live amongst it and those who travel through it. These people are not monetising land. I could quote John Muir verbatim about land and wild places. You'll have heard it all before.

However, the land that these Estates have parcelled up between themselves doesn't care who owns it, or who walks though it. It is just there and that is why we hill-walkers go there ourselves. It is for freedom from the daily grind. It's to reduce stress. It's to be like my friend Mick, who I wrote about only this week, HERE.

And we should not forget, that is the main reason the Estate owners bought the place at the very outset. Because to live there would be to fulfil their dream of living in one of the finest places on the planet.


So let's not hear any more about monetising Highland Estates. It's not about the money. It's not about choosing between one, two or three or even four methods of abusing wild land. Those choices are strawmen arguments put up by those who enjoy shooting birds for fun. This argument is put up by those who want to rake in extra money by letting out their land for commercial forestry, or wind farms or building small hydro schemes - each of which is designed, built and paid for by other commercial enterprises.

So Paul, let's not hear anymore about the further depopulation of the Highlands; Corrour has shown that to be complete nonsense.

Let's instead encourage landowners to take a lead from Lisbet Rausing and the incredible work she is doing at Corrour transforming the place from an extractive business model to a stewardship model. And really, Lisbet, there was no need for you to build those small hydro schemes at all. You can afford to live there without them. 


Footnote: Wise and venerable readers of this blog will have noticed that in this entire screed, written all in one mad rush, there is no political message. I haven't mentioned the SNP once, because there's no need to. Greed is the same the world over.


  1. Totally agree with your views Alan, a well written piece, that puts forward a good perspective. As soon as the ‘quick buck boys’ move in, nothing is safe from development, you only have to look at the changes in the planning laws to create more housing to see vast swathes of ‘green belt’ being swallowed up. It’s quite a few years since I have been to the highlands, but your posts over the past year or so on turbines and hydro schemes demonstrate a desecration of a beautiful landscape that will never be the same again. As you say, those that buy up the highlands, know they are buying a loss ( I have no doubt set against tax) but! Still insist on trying to monetise their land. It has to be stopped and the highlands set aside as good for all and left alone, John muir would turn in his grave. The other sad thing is, none us seem to be able to stop it, or do anything! SNP well that’s another story, Queen Nicola!! Thank you Alan for your comments, keep on posting, and good luck with the training !

    1. The carpet baggers always appear when there's easy money to be made. With the current fad for the cult of climatism politicians the world over have got themselves into an impossible bind. Originally they enjoyed providing funds for climate research as it cast themselves in a good light. The NGOs saw this as a magnificent opportunity to support 'Carbon' (ie CO2) reduction knowing that it would drastically impede economic growth in the developed world - something they see as evil. These organisations get a load of money from governments throughout the world and have very slick long-term marketing programmes (far longer term than most political parties' policy terms) and they in turn convince the public that reductions in CO2 is a wonderful thing.

      Then governments realise that are in trouble. They have created an unstoppable, well funded belief system and to go back on the idea that CO2 is a bad thing would be highly damaging to their parties' prospects at elections.

      I don't know many politicians who are engineers or scientists. So we have the ignorant deciding public policy that damages their own industries and populations.

      All the political parties in the UK are guilty as charged. However, the SNP in Scotland is an extreme case, glorifying in screwing their own country.

  2. Alan well said sir, well said!
    We have the same problems arising in Shetland from a few greedy people trying to mop up windfarm grants at the cost to the rest of us. Shetland will be turned into an off shore wind farm if they get their chance. Sustainable Shetland have done some sterling work fighting this over the last few years as the majority of the population is against it, but due to the politicians and the council they have their back to the wall. If the government pay for the £600 million pound interconnector, It will ruin Shetland. Those that have the money are preparing to decant when/if it happens. Modern day clearances, some threats never change!

    See you in Kilchoan on the 11th

    Neil fae Shetland

    1. Hi Neil and thank you for commenting. You're spot on. You only have to look at the results of the Beauly-Denny line to see what would be in store for Shetland.
      Christ: £600 million?
      They're out of their tiny minds...

  3. I know there is a lot of focus on the Greed of Landowners, but I am sure there are other much more significant forces at work here. As you suggest most owners did not buy their estate as a for-profit enterprise.

    But the owner hires an estate manager who is driven his own motivations.

    And there's the strong political pressure at every level to move from the current 281 on-shore wind farms in Scotland to the planned 460 of them. And then the regeneration of the older ones - retiring the small turbines and replacing them with larger ones.

    So then there's a whole industry with a much higher level of funding and lobbying than the tourist and ecology groups.

    And there's a lot of perfectly decent chaps who have good and well-paying jobs driving around delivering and assembling the infrastructure. They are unlikely to vote for a few more hares and wild orchids in place of their weekly pay packet.

    To combat all this requires quite a large and coherent policy shift to preserve the environment as we want it!!

    So well done, Alan, for banging on about it!

    1. Not sure what the connection between having a job 'driving around delivering and assembling infrastructure' has to do hares and the culling of same. Seems irrelevant to me.

      Hares thrived perfectly well amoung all the ski infrastructure
      and human pressure in Glenshee until they were shot for sport. There are plenty of photographs online showing piles of dead hares with the morons who shot them posing for photographs. Frankly, if those people all lost their jobs tomorrow I wouldn't give a toss.

    2. Paul: ...a large and coherent policy shift...

      That really did make me laugh out loud! There's fat chance of that in Scotland. The SNP won't even allow local democracy in planning decisions that's enshrined in law in England.

      We're all screwed as long as politicians act as mouth pieces for left wing NGOs like WWF, Greenpeace and the like. Politicians did PPE at university. We need to replace them with Engineers and dump the NGOs' funding. Completely.

    3. Gibson.
      I'm with you on this one.
      People who want to murder wildlife for fun should be given a 200 yard start, and we should hunt them down like dogs.
      (In my dreams...)

  4. Another good post on the despoilation of Scotland. I was going to write more but it turned into an excoriation of the Scottish government (i.e. the SNP) and pretty much everything than can be said has already been said.

    1. Oooh.
      Shame. I always enjoy a good excoriation, Sir!

  5. Thanks for this debate. During the TGO challenge last year I was also struck by the sudden emergence of hydro schemes creating new tracks through some of the wildest areas of the highlands. I've been walking in the Highlands for over 30 years and was shocked by these recent scars on the landscape. Conflicted by the debate, after reading the wonderful story of Corrour estate which I walked through last May, I am now convinced of the economic value of hydro schemes on the proviso that after the scheme is complete they will rewild the tracks - that is another debate, Alan what do you think?

    Thank you so much for this link

    You may be interested in my TGO Challenge 2017 account from Lochailort through Corrour to Glen Feshie and Montrose. You will find it on my brand new blog I started 3 weeks ago. I've included a daily account of my first TGO challenge.

    I've not signed up for this year, but will do so again in the future - work permitting.

    Colin out n about

    1. Hi Colin, and welcome.
      I believe that the roads that are built from the headwaters of each project down to the Generator house and then out to a public road have to stay in place for maintenance purposes. Over time sides of cuttings and embankments will regrow vegetation, but the roads themselves will always be there.

      This means that the four Corrour schemes will always be there. Fortunately, the road out to the public road is already in place and mostly within woodland.

      I've spent a happy afternoon reading your 2017 Challenge account. Thoroughly enjoyable. I've added you blog to my "Better places to Visit" list over on the RHS of this blog.

  6. Alan, I agree with much of what you write, especially the part about the rich and powerful in all walks of life putting simple choices up as the only options when in fact there are far more possibilities. However, there’s one part of your thought process that I would like to challenge, and that is about energy production and energy consumption.

    As long as government insists on a supply side argument for energy needs, we’re going to see increasing numbers of wind turbines, hydro-electric schemes (and fields full of photovoltaic panels) because they’re clean ways of generating electricity compared to coal powered or even nuclear power stations.
    If everyone chooses to live in old cottages that cost a fortune to heat the problem won’t go away. Many countries in Northern Europe have made building regulations much more demanding for new homes to be more energy efficient. Legislation was in place to make all new homes very low carbon by 2016 (and that was already a generation late!) - a change in government meant that disappeared. It’s possible to make all new homes more or less carbon neutral - if we don’t emphasise that aspect of the energy equation, we’re stuck with generating large amounts of energy from somewhere and you can be sure that Scottish hills will be prime targets for that.

    1. Thank you Graham for your very considered response.

      There's really only one reason why we have industrial size wind power stations scarring our wild places. It's the same reason why there are fields of solar panels and solar panels on housing estate roofs. There's only one reason that there is now a rash of small hydro schemes.

      That reason is 'green' subsidies. These subsidies skew the electricity market so much that we are now subsidising our main source of generation - gas power stations - as they have to ramp up and down to adjust for wildly intermittent wind generated power and that result in a loss of efficiency.

      We could have invested in clean coal generation (as Germany has over the last six years) at *massively* less cost. We could have invested in more gas storage facilities. We are now importing wood from the other side of the Atlantic which in terms of CO2 emissions are worse than our *old* coal plants! You couldn't make it up.

      The only way to sort this is to get rid *entirely* of green subsidies. Then the market will become demand-lead and once again in balance and at a drastically reduced cost. Huge strings of new pylon runs to service wind farms could then be removed.

      I agree with you about energy efficient homes. We are *way* behind the Europeans.

  7. Excellent post as usual Alan. Nothing I can add. Thanks.

  8. Good to see my comment has generated so much debate and discussion. Keep it up Alan!

    1. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this post, Paul and the subsequent comments. The floor is yours, Sir:

  9. Here's an excellent piece from The Atlantic Magazine discussing coat colour changes as a response to snow coverage, with specific reference to mountain hares.

  10. Great piece, Alan. As you know I'm from the USA so I don't really have the full background on everything to make a judgement myself, but I've definitely gained some knowledge from your posts.

    I'm commenting to say that this argument reminds me very much of the gun control debate that's going on in my country yet again (not sure if you heard about the school shooting here in Florida last week, it was about an hour from where I live). The thing that reminded me of it in your post is when you mentioned the straw-man arguments being used as reasons to support a practice that is destroying the wilderness areas of the highlands. The same is being done in this country by those that believe that the right to own assault style weapons take precedent over the right of children to go to school and make it home alive.

    I know it's two very different things, but I feel like there are similarities in the arguments people use to defend the estates or gun rights. Most of the gun rights arguments are also strawman arguments that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has made up to keep selling guns, and their members and other pro-gun people eat it up and accept their statements as fact with very little (or in a lot of cases, no) backing evidence.

    I'm not sure what my exact point is, other than it makes me sad for the USA and for Scotland that things are so easily controlled by people/corporations that have no regard for ordinary people or, in Scotland's case, wilderness areas with lots of history. I'm not sure what the solution is either, as any sort of argument against the right in this country is touted as "fake news" and dismissed outright.

    1. Hi Brian

      First of all the coverage of the horrific Parkland shooting has been covered extensively here in the UK, as have all the previous school shootings. Over here, we look on with rage at what is allowed to happen over at your place.

      My own view is that if the US would not do anything after Sandy Hook it's never likely to. The lunatics (NRA and the like) seem to have total control in running the asylum.

      The straw man fallacy is used all the time over here by both main parties, but in my opinion (and I am biased as I am pretty central on the true political spectrum rather than the present spectrum where the centre has been yanked leftwards by a bunch of pretty nasty militants who have hi-jacked the Labour Party) the left use it a lot more often. This is chiefly because they know full-well that their proposed economic model does not stand up in theory and certainly not in practice and so in consequence they try to set up the Conservatives as the 'Nasty Party'or the party that is going to take away education and destroy the NHS. The idiots then sit back gleefully and watch as politicians try to counter these ridiculous statements.

      We used to have politicians that would not stand for this crap and told the left in no uncertain terms that they were idiots and then laid out plans and then implemented them that turned the UK from an economic laughing stock on the world stage to a vibrant economy once again.

      Now, we have Conservative politicians who hug hoodies (that's muggers and thugs) and repeat the leftist NGOs like Greenpeace, WWF and their ilk in saving the planet by reducing 'Carbon Emissions'

      And that is where our problems have really started. Signing up to this claptrap has meant the proliferation of wind farms in our wild land, strings of pylons running through the Cairngorm National Park and now, Small Hydro Schemes.

      As soon as I see the straw man set-up I go for the throat. It means that either they are ignorant of all the facts or completely f*cking evil.

      Just like the NRA.
      Just like the Green Party.
      Just like the LibDem Party.
      Just like the present configuration of the Labour Party.

      They're Machiavellian shits.

      (I hate fence sitters...)

    2. Sounds like your left and right is the opposite of what is happening over here.

      Our right (The Republicans) knows their economic model doesn't stand up in practice, but they don't as they just gave themselves, the billionaires and corporations a HUGE tax cut (and most likely exploding the national defecit over the next decade to the tune of another $1.5 trillion). We'll soon be entering into another economic depression, just like under W Bush and Reagan before him. They also make the left out as the nasty party, and people believe it even though it's the right (and Trump in particular) who are the ones slinging vulgar policies and twitter messages. It's really disgusting the way things are going, and there's tons of anger on both sides.

      Like you, I'm much more centrist, but there are very few politicians who sit in the center anymore.

      I'm sure you've also seen how trump has shrunk our national parks to allow for drilling and mining, as well as all of our seashores for fracking. Basically they're trying to deregulate everything so corporate profits go up.

      I'm hoping that this past year has really, truly motivated people to vote in our midterm elections this coming November. It seems like it has, as the Democrats have flipped 37 seats in the house since the 2016 election, all we can hope is people stay angry until November this year.

      I agree with you that most people who argue in favor of Trump's policies, or gun rights are typically (willfully) ignorant of the facts, but the NRA and the republican party know full well what they are doing and are just greedy and hateful.

    3. That first sentence should say "...but they don't care as they just gave themselves, the billionaires and corporations a HUGE tax cut (and most likely exploding the national defecit over the next decade to the tune of another $1.5 trillion)."

      Forgot the word "care" in there

  11. Wonderfully written Alan. Wild land is not a commodity to be profited upon but sadly that's how landowners treat them with no concern whatsoever for the short, medium or long term damage they are doing. The experience at Corrour is encouraging, they appear to be taking their wider responsibility seriously and proving that there is another way (excepting their Hydro scheme error).

    1. The fact that walking visitors to the Estates can see this, yet most Estate owners appear not to, does lead to the inevitable conclusion that either they don't give a toss, or that they are plain & simple greedy bastards.


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