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Scottish farmers warn against second Highland Clearance in report being screened on BBC ALBA tonight

By Tom Ramage

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BBC ALBA’s Eorpa will tonight (8.30pm) investigate the issue of tree planting in Scotland and Wales as both countries strive to reduce carbon emissions

Farmers feel they are being priced out of land by private investors, often from London, while the Welsh Government’s ‘National Forest’ plans and The Scottish Government’s ‘Just Transition Commission’ goes under the microscope.

Reporter Anna Macleod
Reporter Anna Macleod

The 30-minute programme will remain available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

Anna MacLeod reports that Government schemes to encourage ‘reforestation’ through tree planting have sparked confrontation between communities and companies.

Farmers are accusing private investors, often from London, of buying up good agricultural land to plant trees for financial gain as they access lucrative grants.

The Scottish and Welsh governments are encouraging schemes that aim for a net zero future.

Wales have a target to be 95 per cent carbon neutral by 2050 and plan to reach their goal by planting millions of trees to create a ‘national forest’ the length of the country.

Over the past three years, the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) say 75% of the biggest plans for planting trees on Welsh land came from outside the country.

While in Scotland, the Just Transition Commission aims to create “a fairer, greener future for all” through achieving net zero.

Groups including Foresight and Gresham House are adamant the reasoning behind their approach is to offset their carbon footprint and also stress that the transition to trees will create valuable employment in these, often vulnerable, communities.

However, family farms feel they are being squeezed out of their homes as private investors plough millions of pounds into buying up tracts of land.

Given Scotland’s turbulent history with land reform, local farmers in Perthshire and Speyside, who appeared in the programme, took a grim view of the current climate.

Alastair Nairn, who is a tenant farmer in Glenlivet set to lose one third of his land to Gresham House, warned: “I would say that this is a second Highland Clearance, but it's worse this time round because the land that we lost is gone forever because it's going to

go under trees.

Farmer Alastair Nairn
Farmer Alastair Nairn

“And there's no way back from that.”

He added: “(There is) a huge effect on people, a huge effect on the community.

“In fact this is happening on many of the most fragile communities we have in Scotland where everybody is really important because when when the people who work on the land go, the school closes, the local garage goes, the pub shuts and it has a huge impact on the the rural community.”

Calum MacLeod, policy director at Community Land Scotland, echoes Nairn’s sentiments that farmers are being forced off their land, warning of a ‘generation of green lairds’.

And it is not only a problem in Scotland, with Welsh farmer Ian O’Connor losing out on an opportunity to buy his own farm, to Foresight, who bought a local farm in what was thought to be a seven-figure deal.

Land policy director Calum Macleod
Land policy director Calum Macleod

He too is concerned about his people losing their connection to the area as he now rents the remaining land from the group.

He said: “My dream is to own my own farm. We want to buy a farm so we have somewhere for ourselves.

“We’ve got three boys and the hope is that they will get the opportunity to carry on as they want or at least that we will have our own place going forward and that will give us security as a family to stay in the area.

“After the deal fell through, I went to the company and asked them to spare the bottom land that is too good for trees, in my opinion.

“And in the end I bought some 30 acres and the farmhouse with the small sheds and farmyard.

“I would have preferred to have bought it all, but if we get the chance to rent it that keeps us in the area and means we can grow our business and some sort of security if the children want to come back.

“But it’s not as good as owning your own land.”

Mairi McAllan MSP, Minister for Environment and Land Reform, stressed the Scottish government’s position on the issue.

She said: “This is an existential threat to human life across the planet and our communities. And the science is very clear and screaming at us and has been screaming at us for decades.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that our ability and the world’s ability to stop, and to start absorbing carbon and support biodiversity is going to help us protect life on the planet.

“That’s obviously got opportunities for rural communities, but there are risks and we need to work to mitigate them and one of the risks is that as people start to understand the value of that land as part of climate change and tackling it, the more the value of it goes up.

“We need private investment in this, we cannot do with the public purse alone, everything that we have to do, but investment must be responsible and it must have community engagement at its heart.”

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