Buccleuch in talks with community groups to sell off 25,000 acres

One of Scotland’s largest private landowners is to enter discussions with community groups interested in acquiring swathes of land in south-west Scotland.

Langholm Moor, part of land being sold by Buccleuch Estates

The Buccleuch group, headed by the current Duke of Buccleuch Richard Scott, said it hopes to create a “window” for interested parties in the area to draw up business plans and ultimately lodge bids for the land.

The significant landholding is about 25,000 acres in area, stretching from Auchenrivock in the south to Hartsgarth in the north.

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In addition to Langholm Moor, which has been the site of two major scientific projects relating to moorland management, the landholding includes several farm tenancies and blocks of forestry.

The Buccleuch group announced its intention to bring the land to the market back in May.

The organisation says it has since undertaken a consultation with communities in the area, which included meeting with community councils and other groups.

Benny Higgins, who succeeded the Duke of Buccleuch as the group’s executive chairman earlier this year, said two local communities have “expressed a desire to reflect on whether or not they may wish to bid for some or all of the land that is to be sold”.

He said: “We wish to respect their interest and to create a window during which they can consider their options. This will enable the community bodies to pro-actively formulate and conclude on their intentions by the end of March 2020.

“If a successful bid emerges, we will ensure there is sufficient time to reach legal closure.”

One community organisation, the Langholm Moor Community Buy Out Group, has been gathering support in the area for a community buy-out of almost a third of the land.

One of the options the group would like to investigate for Langholm Moor is a nature reserve with a visitor centre. It also says there is potential for outdoor adventure sports and events in the area that would benefit the local community at a time when it is under economic pressure.

Mr Higgins, a former executive with Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS and Tesco Bank, said if there was no registered interest in the land, Buccleuch planned to place it on the open market next month.

He said: “Needless to say, if no such bid emerges we will continue with the planned marketing of the land.

“We have taken this decision to recognise the importance of local communities having the chance to consider their positions and to ensure there is adequate time to do so.

“We have held initial discussions with the respective community groups and look forward to engaging with them further.”

At the time it announced the land was being put up for sale, Buccleuch said the decision was in line with the strategic aim of reducing the group’s footprint, while enabling it to invest in “priority projects”.

Mr Higgins has also said the sale would help ensure Buccleuch was “financially robust,” adding it was “not immune to the economic headwinds that every business faces”. The most recent annual accounts for MDS Estates, Buccleuch’s parent company, show an adjusted operational loss before tax of £4.8 million for the year ending 31 October 2017.