Don’t kill the golden goose
NAtional identity is often founded upon myth and nowhere is this truer than of Scotland. the shared Scottish story is peopled with glittering heroes and evil bogeymen, the villainous laird being prominent among the latter. Subscribers to this myth can never forgive Victorian landowners for their part in the Highland Clearances, which drove families from the hills and led to mass emigration.
this explains the passion with which land reform is being pursued north of the border. Big landowners are often English or from overseas, and invariably rich, so it’s axiomatically right to some politicians that their lives are made as difficult as possible. the fact that they pour money into their loss-making estates and support an economy that would collapse if they were to leave is regarded as immaterial, as is the little-noticed contribution they make to the environment.
there’s nowhere more glorious in August than the Highlands, but they would be considerably less beautiful were it not for investment by sporting estates. What’s good for grouse is good for the plover, lapwing and curlew. the deer boom has wrecked biodiversity; stalking helps herd management.
this logic is unpalatable to MSPS, who see such sporting pursuits, however coincidentally beneficial to nature, as part of the iniquity of laird-ism, a narrative that is out of date and should be rewritten in Edinburgh. Sport is now not the only— or even the principal—motive for the purchase of some estates.
Around the world, billionaires are increasingly attracted to wilderness, whether in Patagonia, Romania or Scotland. Dark skies at night, remoteness from urban pressures, absence of pollution, nature in all its fascination and variety: scarcity has put these things at a premium.
Paul Lister’s energetic pursuit of rewilding at Alladale, which includes the restoration of peat bog drained with government subsidy in the 1970s, is well known. Less so are the environmental improvements made by the Danish fashion tycoon Anders Povlsen, the second biggest private landowner in Scotland, or the Swedish Rausing family, whose charity, Arcadia, is dedicated to the protection of endangered culture and nature.
the Duke of Buccleuch, Scotland’s largest landowner, has long been known for environmental and societal responsibility, seen most recently in the hen-harrier project at Langholm (expensive and, alas, failed, partly due to nature’s unstoppable logic) and support for golden eagles in Dumfriesshire.
the Scottish Government prefers community ownership to that of the hated lairds (the CPRE seems to be suggesting something faintly similar in England for big farms, not realising that they can do many things well, page 52) and yet it could never replace the many millions that would be taken out of the Highland economy if the lairds sold up.
throughout history, one of the most elusive and desirable of all species for the environment has been the goose that lays the golden eggs. How foolish to kill it.