THE COURIER & ADVERTISER – Friday, June 28, 2013
Interview with Scottish Land & Estates Chairman Luke Borwick
Land issues are never far from the headlines, be they to do with tenancy problems, access to property, rural affordable housing or one hundred and one other matters. Luke Borwick is chairman of Scottish Land and Estates and David Andrews caught up with him to ask how he saw the various issues.
How many members does Scottish Land & Estates have and what area does it cover? We have approximately 2,500 members. They cover all aspects of the rural economy. Everyone from farmers in their own right through to big estates who both farm on their own account and who also let out land. We have members involved in forestry, tourism, sporting estates and many other rural enterprises. Our membership covers the whole rural spectrum.
We cover the whole of Scotland which we break down into five regions; south/west, south/east, central, highland and north/east. These all have their own committees with regional chairmen.
Is there any exclusion on scale of enterprise or land owned? None at all. We have a large number of small scale members.
What type of issue does SL&E deal with? We are here to recognize and represent our membership and the issues they raise from time to time.
For example we recently have been actively engaged in responding to the Land Reform Review Group consultation which was set up by the Scottish Government to look at aspects of land ownership.
We have also been involved with the Tenants Farming Forum dealing with tenancy issues. We also worked with the Rent Review group which was set up to look at improving how farm rents were being dealt with.
Our challenge is to make sure the powers that be understand the amount of huge amount good our members do in the rural economy.
Mostly of the work we do goes unsung and we just get on with it. One example is the amount of community engagement that goes on. That issue is very topical with the LRRG highlighting it.
You claim landowners play an important part in the rural economy. How do you justify that statement? One example is that our membership is the largest single provider of affordable houses in the
rural economy. Up and down the country, there is a huge array of low cost housing available because of the policies of our members.
That is just one part of it as our members are also engaged in fishing, shooting and sporting estates. All of those are multimillion businesses supporting a large number of jobs in rural areas.
Does forestry play an important part in SL&E members’ businesses? Yes. You may recall when Mike Russell was Environment Minister he said Scotland should plant another 15,000 hectares of forestry annually. We supported that proposal as our members have very significant forestry interests. We also work closely with Confor (the Confederation of Forest Industries) as well.
Do you see the various parts of the rural economy being interlocked? Absolutely. I see many SL&E members operating hugely integrated businesses covering all aspects of the rural economy.
There are two issues that seem to get landowners dragged unwillingly into the headlines. One is tenancy problems and the other is wildlife crime. Can you tell us how you are dealing with these? In 2010 SL&E launched its Wildlife Estates Initiative which aims to get members to sign up to a code of practice. Earlier this year, Scottish Government Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse commended landowners for the very good work that was going on in the sporting sector as a whole.
In the State of Nature dialogue which has just been kicked off, the Minister has praised SL&E for its work as far as wildlife crime is concerned. Where there are problems SL&E will, without reservation, condemn any case of wildlife crime.
SL&E chief executive Doug McAdam serves on the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime.
We are also working to understand what causes wildlife crime to take place.
And tenancy issues? On tenancies, the Rural Affairs Minister has indicted there will be a review of the legislation next year.
What would SL&E like to see emerge from this review? The issues have been around for a long time. Our research shows that the vast majority of owners have good relationships with their tenants. I am not saying that, on the odd occasion, things do not go wrong but they go wrong on both sides of equation. The vast majority just get on with it.
There is quite a head of steam over getting more new entrants into farming. How do you see this? It is a very difficult problem as the argument seems to be based on there being vast tracts of unfarmed land. That is not the case. The land is just not there.
There are already a lot of new entrants in the industry. In my own case, some of my tenants are working alongside their fathers and expect to take over in due course.
Following a recent seminar, the consensus was that some owner occupiers might want to let land if they could be assured there were no long term problems.
SL&E seems to spend a lot of its energies dealing with legislation and consultations. Is that just a comment on the times we are in? Yes. We are dealing with a 100% year on year increase in the consultations we have to deal with.
It does seem to me there is a disproportionate focus on rural sector
You mentioned having tenants on your own estate. Can you tell us a little about that? I have a small land holding in Ayrshire. I have sold off a couple of farms in recent years for economic reasons. I have three tenanted farms which are all quite small. Two are dairy farms and the third is based on an equestrian business.
If you had one wish you wanted to fulfill as chairman of SL&E what would that be? My abiding wish would be that the outstanding job landowners do in Scotland and what they contribute to the community and the local economy was recognised.
The vital part is what land is used for not who owns it.----Friday, June 28, 2013 – Farming p41