A Scottish estate covered in Fieldsports News has sold for £10.5 million to a rewilding company. Highlands Rewilding bought the Tayvallich Estate in Argyll. It raised part of the money through crowdfunding. The new owner says it plans to restore the 3,500-acre estate’s ‘natural environment’. It already owns two Scottish estates, Bunloit in Inverness-shire and Beldorney in Aberdeenshire. Residents on the Tayvallich estate were concerned that the company would sack estate workers and plant forestry for lucrative carbon offset payments. After meetings with company representatives, some are now hopeful Highlands Rewilding will protect the community.
MSP Rachael Hamilton says the local community in around the Tayvallich estate have rightly expressed their concerns about the potential sale of the estate. She says: “I think it’s important that jobs and communities are placed at the heart of any transactions. Reports that Highlands Rewilding intends to close the purchase of Tayvallich Estate by the end of this month may cause alarm bells to ring and smacks of a lack of consideration for the community. We know that in terms of environmental benefit and biodiversity, rewilding is less effective than properly managing the land and in many cases can be harmful to jobs and livelihoods.”
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This is a story of corporate ‘green’ lairds versus local communities. The Tayvallich estate in Scotland is the latest battleground over land-use. The 3,500-acre estate in Argyll is up for sale for £10.4 million.
Supported by the conservation industry, the corporates want the land to plant trees as tax breaks. The locals want to be able to live there.
A group of locals are planning to to buy it, but they are up against a company called Highlands Rewilding, that plans to plant it with trees. The company already owns two Scottish estates, Bunloit in Inverness-shire and Beldorney in Aberdeenshire, where it is carrying out what it calls ‘rewilding work’.
There is controversy about green lairds buying land where they can make money by planting trees to offset carbon emissions elsewhere.These schemes are pushing up land prices and making it tougher for local people to compete.
Ailsa Raeburn of Community Land Scotland says it’s not trees that are a problem it is that they attract people who want to plant them for the incentives.
She says: “This is all about the further financialisation of Scotland’s land resource. So rural communities are suffering hugely from issues like depopulation which impacts on the school roll.”
She says the schools close and there aren’t nurses or care workers either. She says: “Businesses can’t get employees because we’re seeing huge depopulation, because trees and carbon are seen as more important than people.”
It’s a problem for country people all over the UK. In Wales, farmer Gareth Wyn Jones questions whether trees are the best solution.”
He says regenerative agriculture and tree planting are both the same.
He says: “I’m not against planting trees, but what I am against is these monocultures of just planting thousands of trees in areas.”
He says hedges are a better solution. He says: “We can use that to sequester the carbon and give livestock shelter. It will give habitats for different invertebrates, wildlife, insects, and birdlife, all this works together.”
Rewilding is also controversial in England. BASC’s Gareth Dockerty says regeneration does not work on grouse moors. He says: “This landscape carries more biodiversity now than it would do as its woodland equivalent, and I think we’ve got to think about that into the future.”
He says that, where there is tree planting or ‘regen’, it needs to be the right trees in the right locations for the right reasons, adding that it can work on the edge of the moors but not in the middle of them.
He says: “This is where birds nest and the landscape attracts millions and millions of people. One of the most iconic parts of our uplands, whether that be Bowland or Northumberland or the Yorkshire Dales or the Peak District. Wholesale tree planting in these areas I don’t believe would help.”
Rural communities want a say in how the land they live on is used. Gareth Wyn Jones says it’s important that people lobbying decision makers.
He says: “We need to be sharing our stories. Government and policymakers are so far removed from the real farming systems we need to readdress that. The farmers are the people that have got their hands in the soil, and they know what’s needed. And, policymakers and governments need to listen to the people that are feeding them.”
He says a hub of farmers to lobby is needed to make sure their voices are heard in the right places.
Gareth Wyn Jones says trees aren’t the only way to combat climate change.
He says land should be used to secure the environment and provide a sustainable source of food. He says: “Upland farming is very unique. It’s very diverse. We are storing hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon. By using these creatures – white, fluffy things and cattle – we’re able to control the grass. He says: “Grass helps to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. These are intricate parts of the upland systems. We’ve got some of the rarest flora and fauna and wildlife up there and we need to protect them. These are animals in life and in death can feed many, many families on the mountains.”
Gareth Dockerty says that, when important decisions are made, they need to balance the needs of rural communities.
He says: “Whether it is what’s right for shooting, or what’s right for agriculture, or what’s right for biodiversity, and then selecting those woodland areas or those regeneration areas really sensibly, and then working with lots of people as well to make sure that it works.”
Gareth says there’s no point planting trees or having regeneration areas if they aren’t going to be managed He says it is vital to control rabbits, squirrels, deer and anything that might eat the woodland.
Planting hundreds of thousands of trees may appear to be the solution to tackling the climate crisis in the short term, but the long-term cost to rural communities may be much higher.
Ailsa says lots of external businesses are looking to either buy up carbon credits or to offset their own carbon. She says: “We’re seeing a lot of airlines and big transport companies buying up carbon. They are using Scotland’s land as a route to address their own issues and they’re not interested in speaking to local communities.”
She says that companies are not interested in affordable housing or whether the school closes or whether they can’t get any nurses, because they’re just seeing land is an asset from which they want to extract the maximum value.
Gareth Wyn Jones says: “We have seen a lot of crazy ideas about plant-based diets and how we can save the planet. How we can save humanity is by eating seasonally.”
Gareth Dockerty says the peatland on the moors is the largest carbon store in the country. He says: “Carbon is being sequestered out of the air and it’s being turned into peat and fixed into the ground, which is great for climate change.” He says the concern is that regeneration or tree planting stresses the peat as it reduces the water table. If the peat dries out it starts sequestering carbon back into the atmosphere. He says: “It would be bad for climate change; it would be bad for tourism. It would obviously be bad for grouse shooting as well. I think it would probably be bad for the ground nesting birds that exist here because they’re not they don’t have the open spaces they need.” He says there would be more predators and the gamekeepers wouldn’t exist to help the birds. He says: “The whole rural economy would effectively collapse in this local area. So we’ve definitely got to pick the right locations for tree planting. And this to me, certainly isn’t it.”
Unfortunately, money, or in this case, tax breaks talk. The future of the Tayvallich estate may come down to who can afford to pay more, rather than who can protect the people who live there.
For details of the Tayvallich estate, visit StruttAndParker.com/properties/tayvallich
Highlands Rewilding declined to comment on this story.