This is what the blogger GentleOtter calls the situation facing tenant farmers in Scotland right now.
Feudal. Medieval. Unfuckingbelievable.
GentleOtter and her family live and farm in the Perthshire Glens. An idyllic location that hides the desperation that she and many other tenant farmers face right now. She started blogging last winter, that harsh and unforgiving winter, when they were without running water or heat for weeks. During that winter, GentleOtter posted about the barnÂ needing repaired, she wrote to Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, she tried not to panic when her husband suffered a heart attack, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when he recovered well from the surgery. Having to sell their cattle was a hard blow, but these are hardy Scots. They don’t give up easily.
All the worry and the stress of the past year and now this.
The farmhouse roof has crumbled ‘through fair wear and tear’. It has covered and protected the house since circa 1800, before that it was thatched. I think it is safe to say that the roof has lasted well.
We have asked that the roof be repaired, to no avail. We have asked for years.
Yesterday, a chap from the council came up to look and informed us that a demolition order be served.
There is nothing we can do as it is the landowner’s responsibility.
GentleOtter and her family will have 28 days to leave the farm. Leave behind their heritage, their home, their livelihood. The farm that has been in their family hands since 1890, that they have nurtured and tended. They will be moved into a B&B in Perth.
To say that she isÂ devastatedÂ is an understatement. She is floored by this.
I first met GentleOtter last year after posting a question on Mumsnet about kennels in Perth or Dundee. We had planned a day trip to Edinburgh to go shopping during our homeleave in Scotland, and needed someone to take our dog Daphne for the day. GentleOtter poohpoohed the idea of a kennel, offering to take Daphne for the day instead. So Daphne went to a Highland Farming Show, and I went shopping with my friend. Out of the goodness of her heart, she dog sat for a total stranger, even coming down to Perth to pick up and drop off little Daphne. That is the kind of person she is.
Not only that, but she is an incredibly talented writer – as you can see from her blog.
And now? Where does she go from here?
Can you imagine having to pack up your belongings and move into a B&B because your landlord would rather build houses on his land than allow you to farm on it.
This is not an isolated case of an unfortunate family with an unscrupulous landlord. Â This is happening all over Scotland, as Rog WoodÂ explains.
Generations of tenants had only limited security of tenure until the 1949 Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act that granted lifetime security to tenants and their successors. That enlightened piece of legislation was designed to encourage tenants to make long term investments in their farms, as well as freeing them from the fear of being evicted on a whim of their landlord â€“ but it also led to the supply of farms to rent drying up.
By the 1970s Scottish landlords had devised a method of circumventing the law by letting their farms to limited partnerships. Thatâ€™s where the tenancy is granted to a partnership formed between the tenant and the landlord, or a subsidiary company of his, for a limited period of time â€“ usually between five and 10 years â€“ with the landlordâ€™s share of the capital limited to a nominal sum. At the end of that period the partnership does not have to be renewed and the â€œtenantâ€ partner can be evicted on its dissolution.
That legal loophole became the norm until the 2003 Agricultural (Scotland) Holdings Act established Short Term Duration Tenancies (STDT), that last for five years, and Long Term Duration Tenancies, that endured a minimum of 15 years until this was changed to 10 years in March this year. In effect, Scottish lairds had won the day and Scotland has now reverted back to where it was prior to 1949.
Tenant farmers are too frightened to speak up and no one is speaking up for them.
What can GentleOtter do? She can write again to Alex Salmond and hope that he reads her plea. She can blog and tweet about her situation. She can call on the press.
Will it help? I don’t know.
What I do know is, that she is not alone.
Please. Click on the links, read her story and support her and other tenant farmers in Scotland by leaving a comment. Thank you.