South Scotland

Land Commissioner intervenes in Buccleuch tenant farmer row

Cleuchfoot Image copyright Andrew Smith

The chairman of the Scottish Land Commission has criticised the treatment of two tenant farmers by one of Scotland's largest estates.

Andrew Thin claims Buccleuch Estates has acted unreasonably towards David and Alison Telfer, who have farmed at Cleuchfoot near Langholm for 20 years.

The couple have been given until November next year to vacate the farm.

The landowner says the Telfers are not being evicted but have reached the end of their tenancy.

Mr and Mrs Telfer had hoped to remain on the farm until they retired in four years time.

But when their tenancy came to an end in February, they claim they were told the hill which makes up part of their farm was to be planted with trees.

They agreed a new short-term lease for the farmhouse and low ground until November 2019 but they are due to lose their hill grazing land later this month.

Their flock of 580 hefted sheep is to be sold to the estate within a matter of weeks.

Their case was raised at Holyrood earlier this month amid accusations that lucrative forestry grants are incentivising the removal of tenant farmers.

'Perfectly reasonable'

Now Mr Thin has called for a stay of execution on the couple's tenancy.

He said: "I simply cannot understand why Buccleuch wish to remove these sheep and why they are not willing to extend the tenancy of the farm and farmhouse until the tenant is of retirement age.

"That seems a perfectly reasonable thing to ask for.

"We don't have any authority to force the issue but it seems an entirely reasonable request.

"I haven't seen a reasonable explanation as to why Buccleuch are not willing to do that."

Buccleuch Estates manages the commercial interests of the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, Richard Scott, who controls 217,000 acres across Scotland.

The hill and farm at Cleuchfoot were put on the market last month as part of a 9,000 acre sale of the Duke's land around Langholm.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Buccleuch Estates manages the commercial interests of the 10th Duke of Buccleuch

Substantial grants are available from the Scottish government to plant trees, as part of its ambition for 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of new forestry every year.

Forestry Commission Scotland confirmed this week that no application for planting at Cleuchfoot has been made, but Buccleuch Estates said an application is to be submitted within the next fortnight.

A Buccleuch spokesman said the company had offered to sell the low ground to the tenants, and insisted it has "always tried to find an amicable solution". The company had agreed to buy the flock "at Mr and Mrs Telfers' suggestion", he said.

"Mr and Mrs Telfer have been, over a long period of time, made aware of the estate's intentions for the farm, particularly in relation to the upland ground," the spokesman said, adding that the new lease on the low ground took the tenants 21 months beyond the date of their tenancy agreement.

"Given our intention to sell the farm, and the fact it would be grossly unfair to many other short-term tenancy holders, it has not been possible to extend the tenure of the farm further."

The Land Commission was set up as part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. It looks at land use and ownership in Scotland, scrutinising law and policy and making recommendations - but cannot enforce compliance.

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