Haddington farming families reach "eleventh hour" deal with land owner over eviction

Farming families fail to secure new lease for their farm but reach compromise settlement which will see them leave in January

FARMING families facing eviction from their lands have reached an "eleventh hour" deal with land owners the Colstoun Trust that will see them leave their farms of their own accord at the end of January 2016.

Four adults and seven children had faced eviction from the Colstoun Mains farm near Haddington after a long legal disagreement over rent levels.

The most vocal farmer, Andrew Stoddart, who has worked at Colstoun Mains for 22 years, has claimed that the owners of the farm land hoped to evict the families in order to charge higher rents to future tenants.

The new settlement reached by Stoddart and the families - the details of which have not been disclosed - will also include a degree of financial compensation.

In a personal statement, farmer Andrew Stoddart said: "Following eleventh hour mediation, we have come to a settlement with Colstoun Trust. This has been done to protect my family from further anxiety. A short period of occupancy has been agreed to allow us to remove our animals and dispose of our equipment to better advantage."

The compromise was reached following a campaign in support of Stoddart, his family and the families of his farm employees, who will also be relocated. 19,000 people signed a petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to intervene so that families would not be evicted or that the Stoddarts at least would be compensated for their 22 years of work and investment into the farm.

A protest was also held at the Scottish Parliament demanding justice for the tenants.

"Surely the kind of Scotland in which we want to live is not one where a hardworking and successful farmer can be thrown off the land." Robin McAlpine

In his statement, Stoddart thanked his family, colleagues and his solicitor for their help. He also praised the solidarity extended to the families by land reform campaigners.

Robin McAlpine, Director of Common Weal said: "This is a victory of sorts. The Stoddart family will not be left destitute and that has to be welcomed. But the family will still be uprooted from their community and it is hard to see how Andrew will ever be able to farm again.

"Surely the kind of Scotland in which we want to live is not one where a hardworking and successful farmer, his family and his employees and their families can be thrown off the land they worked in this way. The intervention of the Scottish Government helped to get this deal and should be welcomed, but it is now essential that they take land reform much more seriously and make sure that this isn't how Scotland treats those who live and work on its land."

Commenting on events, land reform activist and writer Lesley Riddoch said: "Andrew has some compensation for his 22 years of work and improvement at Colstoun Mains Farm and two more months to sell off his farm equipment and find a new job and home.

"Land reform must include some sort of right to buy for tenant farmers." Lesley Riddoch

"He also knows that his neighbours and Scots he has never even met care deeply about himself, his wife, three daughters and the families of his staff. Once his domestic situation is sorted, I hope Andrew will become a strong voice in the growing movement for effective land reform which must include some sort of right to buy for tenant farmers and I hope other tenant farmers in similar circumstances take comfort from the campaign to get a better deal for the Stoddarts."

The case of the Haddington farmers has raised the profile of campaigns for a more radical land reform than that currently proposed by the Scottish Government, and which includes the right of tenants to purchase the land they live on. The campaign is being spearheaded by groups such as Our Land , which worked in solidarity with the farmers at Colstoun Mains.

At the SNP conference in Aberdeen in October, SNP members voted to reject the SNP's land reform proposal for being too conservative in its proposed reforms.

Picture Courtesy of Channel 4 News