So who owns Scotland?

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THE ownership of Scotland is undergoing a revolution as vast swathes of land are bought from wealthy aristocrats by local communities.

An investigation by The Scotsman into who owns Scotland has revealed large areas of the country are now in the hands of the people.

Dozens of areas, from whole islands, to small green spaces, have been bought by community ventures. This week, The Scotsman will reveal the results of an investigation to find the 20 biggest landowners in Scotland, between them responsible for almost a fifth of the country.

It shows aristocrats and government bodies still dominate ownership of the country, but communities and charities are increasing their control.

At No11 is South Uist Estate Ltd, a community venture which owns 93,000 acres of land, including the islands of Benbecula, Eriskay and South Uist.

It is the most successful example so far of Holyrood's Land Reform Act of 2003, described by some as the devolved government's most significant piece of legislation to date.

The act gives community groups first refusal on land which comes up for sale, with the idea that areas would be transferred from the aristocracy and property speculators to people who live and work locally.

Iain Gray, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, was instrumental in the legislation, and said it had "transformed Scotland".

"Arguably, it was legislation that Scotland had waited 1,000 years for," he said.

"Over the course of time, it will change the face of Scotland. It is fundamental. In many ways, the history of Scotland has been defined by the ownership of the land itself."

He added that giving communities the rights to ownership brings "profound" change.

"It springs from the fundamental principle that the people who live and depend on the land will have their own best interests at heart in the ways it is used, so that they are far less likely to use it in a way that would be damaging."

The Isle of Eigg was one of the first areas to be bought by a community trust, in 1997. Already, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust has made huge advances, and has even set up a company providing mains electricity to islands for the first time in its history.

Mr Gray said: "They pulled together. They had a series of owners who had failed the community for different reasons and the legislation gave them the opportunity to take control of the land themselves.

"It has made a big difference to their lives and the sense of control over how they live."

So far, about 1 per cent of the 19 million acres of land in Scotland has passed into the control of local communities, ranging from small areas of forest, to large islands. However, Mr Gray said he believed the laws would see far more land pass into the hands of the people.

"I think what we have seen is just the start, but it is difficult to predict how far it will go. Obviously, the right to community purchase does depend on a willing seller."

Alasdair Allan, the Nationalist MSP for the Western Isles, said that putting the land into the control of the people was helping to rejuvenate communities.

The majority of the land in his constituency is now under community ownership.

"It has made a big difference," he said. "It gives power to communities to change things. If you have a landlord who's not interested, it's very difficult. It makes a big change to people's self-confidence.

"If you suddenly give them control of the land, they have the opportunity to build new houses, establish new businesses and it encourages them to stay there. It just gives people control over their own lives."

Over the years, notorious landowners have made life miserable for their tenants. The island of Gigha, a 3,400-acre island off Kintyre, was bought by a community trust in 2001, putting their destiny in their own hands for the first time. It was once owned by disgraced lord Malcolm Potier who was convicted of trying to recruit a hitman to murder the mother of his child and her boyfriend.

Parts of Rasaay, near Skye, were owned by Sussex-based laird Dr John Green, who visited the island only once.

Meanwhile, after decades of problems with absentee landlords, the Isle of Eigg was bought in 1997 by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust. The island's population has thrived since it went into community ownership and, earlier this year, a mains electricity grid was built, powered entirely from renewable sources. It meant that the island was served by mains electricity for the first time.

More than 17,000 acres of the Knoydart Estate, which makes up much of the Knoydart peninsula in Lochaber, on the west coast of Scotland, was bought by the community in 1999.

In June 2005, the community of Assynt bought 44,400 acres in a landmark buyout of the Glencanisp and Drumrunie Estates in Sutherland, in the north-west Highlands. The land, which includes magnificent mountains such as Suilven and Canisp, was bought from the Vestey family under the provisions of the 2003 Scottish Land Reform Act.

And residents on the Isle of Rum are preparing to take over control of their island early next year. Michael Russell, the environment minister, has announced the Scottish Government is ready to transfer the land and assets worth around 250,000 to the community from Scottish Natural Heritage.

The transfer of the community hall, village shop and tearoom, campsite and surrounding land to the Isle of Rum Community Trust will take place after February, providing there is a positive vote from the community early next month.


THE Scotsman carried out its investigation to reveal who owns Scotland, and how this has changed in recent years.

With the help of historian Andy Wightman, we identified the 20 biggest landowners in the country. Mr Wightman wrote Who Owns Scotland in 2000, based on research covering 51 per cent of the country, through the help of Land Registers Scotland. He is updating his work to cover 75 per cent of the country.

Over the past eight years, the top 20 has changed, partly due to the death of some property giants such as Edmund Vestey, whose vast wealth was based on the family meat business.

Before he died, he sold off about half of his 84,000 acres to a community ownership group, talking his family out of the top 20.

16 Scottish Natural Heritage – 84,000 acres

SCOTTISH Natural Heritage (SNH) is a quango set up under the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 to manage and protect vast tracks of land and wildlife across the country.

Following devolution it became directly responsible to the Scottish Government. As well as being responsible for environmental protection, SNH also has an economic role. Around 93,000 jobs are dependent on it and it has generated an estimated 2 billion for the Scottish economy, mainly through tourism.

SNH's biggest responsibility is for Scotland's 71 National Nature Reserves (NNRs) which cover 328,650 acres. These were set up in 1949 along with the National Parks in England and Wales to protect the environment wildlife and heritage of the areas and they can be found from Hermaness at the tip of Shetland in the north to Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire, in the south.

SNH owns only some of them outright; others are leased and some run through agreements with landowners. SNH owns nearly 100 per cent of the land on 17, more than 50 per cent on six, and less than 50 per cent on 11.

A full list of reserves owned and managed by SNH is on

17 Fleming family – 80,000 acres

THE bulk of the Fleming family's property is the spectacular Black Mount Estate in Argyll and Bute, known for skiing, climbing and picturesque walks.

The most famous member of the family is Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, but the family's fortune was based on its private bank – Robert Fleming & Co, which was sold to the Chase Manhattan Bank in 2000.

Several branches of the family were involved with the bank, but its patriarch for many years was Robin Fleming, who was down as the official owner of the Scottish estate.

Ian Fleming was not the only successful writer in the family. There is a monument on the estate in memory of Peter Fleming, the travel writer and brother of Ian.

The estate hit the headlines in March 2008 when a mystery skeleton was found in the Auch Forest, near Bridge of Orchy. It was noticed by forestry workers creating a scenic path.

The estate is also known for falling on one of Britain's best-loved long-distance walks, the West Highland Way, which runs from Milngavie to Fort William.

The Fleming family has used the area's natural assets to turn its estate into an attraction for lovers of outdoor pursuits.

18 Charles Pearson – 77,000 acres

THE Hon Charles Pearson owns the Dunecht Estates, spread over thousands of acres in Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire, and managed from Dunecht village.

He runs the shoots on the Cowdray Estate in Sussex, where he spends much of his time, living at Shotters Farm, Lickfold, near Petworth.

The aristocrat has hit the headlines for infuriating animal rights campaigners for allegedly allowing snaring on his estates, and he was named as the UK's most cruel landlord by the National Anti-Snaring Campaign (NASC).

The NASC has alleged that on Dunecht there is a "ruthless persecution of foxes" with a "keepers sweep competition for killing the most in a day". Police were called in after a badger was allegedly found dead in a snare on the Dunecht estate.

Snaring has been a more fiercely fought issue in Scotland than south of the Border, partly because landowners with large shooting estates, such as Mr Pearson, dominate the landscape more than they do in England, and practices on Dunecht Estates have been used to back a ban.

However, campaigners in Scotland have so far not succeeded. The SNP has caused anger among campaigners by not supporting a complete ban, although Mike Russell, the environment minister, has instituted some strict regulations.

19 Lord Margadale – 73,000 acres

THE current Baron Margadale is Alastair Morrison, who inherited the family estates in 2003. He owns tracts of property in England, too, but his main estate north of the Border is one of Scotland's jewels – the island of Islay, where some of the most renowned whisky is distilled.

In 1853 the family bought the island, including Islay House, built in 1677 and one of the most impressive aristocratic piles in Scotland. It became a holiday home for the Morrison family and a visiting place for almost every prime minister until Harold Wilson.

The family sold the house in 1985 and it is now owned by Tom Friedrich, a former US fighter pilot, but Lord Margadale still owns the island.

The first Lord Margadale was John Morrison, chairman of the 1922 Committee and a member of the Magic Circle which ensured Alec Douglas-Home became leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister, succeeding Harold Macmillan in 1963, instead of Rab Butler, who had been expected to take over.

The machinations led to the Tories reforming and allowing MPs to elect their leader, rather than one simply being appointed by the Queen. There were suspicions that the first Lord Margadale was elevated to the House of Lords out of gratitude from Douglas-Home.

20 Tycoon Mr X – 71,000 acres

TOURISTS going to the famous Queen's View beauty spot in Glen Avon, Moray, where Queen Victoria used to look down on her Royal estate, now see land owned by the Andras Conglomerate based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In reality, the conglomerate is a front for a mysterious and reclusive Malaysian-based businessman, who has never been identified, but is known in his estates as Mr Salleh.

The estate is the largest part of the 70,000 acres of land he now owns in Scotland and is well known still for its shooting parties. The businessman bought the 40,000-acre Glenavon estate, once owned by the Wills family, for 6 million in 1995 and has increased his holding since.

The second secretive businessman's estate is the 30,000-acre Braulen estate around Glen Strathfarrar in the North-west Highlands in Inverness-shire.

This slightly smaller estate was the scene of a legal battle over land access. The businessman took Scottish Natural Heritage to court to prevent the agency sending in nature conservation inspectors on parts of the land it is responsible for.

Mr Salleh is said to visit his estates from Malaysia two or three times a year.