Private enterprise is key to rural economy

All businesses have a part to play, says Jamie Williamson

There are differing opinions on what forms of ownership are best for Scotlands estates. Picture: Tony Marsh

Diversification by land-based businesses across Scotland continues to be a key driver to creating growth in our rural areas.

Across the country, estates, farms and smallholdings are pursuing some highly innovative enterprises including tourism, conservation management, forestry and renewable energy.

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In the same way that agricultural diversification takes many different forms, so do the ownership patterns of many of the nation’s landholdings.

Recent weeks have seen differing opinions presented in the media and political arenas on what forms of ownership are best for Scotland’s estates.

A recent report using data compiled from community controlled estates sought to suggest that community, rather than private ownership, was always the best way forward, with few benefits of private ownership accruing to those in the community. However, for Scottish Land & Estates members it is clear that a plurality of ownership patterns can work without one always being superior over the others.

Scottish Land & Estates recently commissioned its own independent study – conducted by Rural Solutions and Scotland’s Rural College – into the economic contribution of estates towards rural areas. It found that revenue-generating activities by the Scottish Land & Estates’ private estate membership contributes £471 million (or £207 per hectare) to Scotland’s output.

The research revealed that more than 8,000 full-time jobs are linked to Scottish Land & Estates members’ estates. The study also estimated that expenditure by the Scottish Land & Estates membership amounts to nearly £300m a year, with the vast majority of that expenditure remaining in local economies.

Whilst community ownership has worked in some areas, with such evidence it is clear that private ownership can also enrich and form an integral part of helping the nation’s rural areas to thrive.

Farming remains of paramount importance to many rural areas and the study recognised the £10m investment by landowners in tenanted farms each year. But of particular interest was the finding from the report that estates are involved in more than 20 different business sectors and areas of diversification. The report concluded that of the 8,000 full-time jobs, 2,000 were tourism related.

In the Highlands on Alvie and Dalraddy Estates, where I am based, four miles south of Aviemore, a broad range of businesses are a vital part of what makes the estate a success. The estate survives and thrives on partnerships with other local businesses and the community.

Farming, forestry, field sports, a fish hatchery, horticulture, holiday accommodation, leisure pursuits, renewable energy, quarrying and housing are some of the enterprises on the estate.

Dalraddy Holiday Park, which was established in 1968, is owned by me. It covers 39 hectares of what was heather moor land, and is now one of the largest campsites in the Cairngorms National Park.

Most of the activities at the park are run as businesses independent of the estate, in a symbiotic relationship between the estate and the organisations providing these visitor attractions.

Catered and self-catering accommodation provides customers for visitor activities both on the estate and elsewhere in the locality, and we also support local producers.

In short, businesses on the estate are thriving, creating jobs and contributing to the local economy.

Whilst some would argue that these benefits would be available under community ownership models, it is clear from independent research – and our own knowledge on the ground – that private ownership has a key role to play as well.

In the same way there is diversification in our rural areas, there is also a diverse pattern of ownership that can work well in various scenarios. Every land holding is part of the fabric of rural Scotland, no matter who owns it.

What we need to ensure is that we have businesses that play their part in ensuring that our rural areas are thriving and vibrant places to live and work.

• Jamie Williamson represents Alvie and Dalraddy Estates – a member of Scottish Land & Estates