Don’t kill the golden goose

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

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how­ever coin­ci­den­tally ben­e­fi­cial to na­ture, as part of the in­iq­uity of laird-ism, a nar­ra­tive that is out of date and should be rewrit­ten in Ed­in­burgh.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.

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