Exclusive: Land reformers launch 19th March protest to target Duke of Buccleuch's estate

Scotland's largest aristocratic landowner faces backlash from charging policy

CAMPAIGNERS will gather in Dalkeith Country Park on Saturday 19 March at 1pm for a mass walk to challenge attempts to restrict public access by the country's largest aristocratic landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch.

Estate managers are attempting to block access to the park unless the public pay an 'access charge' to walk or cycle in the park, which may breach the 2003 Land Reform Act .

The protest brings Scotland's movement for land reform in direct conflict with anti-reform Duke Richard Scott, who owns the park, as part of his ancient 240,000 acre inheritance.

Supporters from all political parties and community organisations are welcome to join the event to strengthen the pro-land reform message, according to organisers.

Stephen Paton, an activist organising the event, said a march will take place with the aim of igniting demands for more radical land reform.

"This is a way to take something that is an abuse of power and make something good from it," Paton told CommonSpace.

"The land reform issue is something we need to continuously bring attention to and getting cross party support would be important to push this issue."

Supporters from all political parties and community organisations are welcome to join the event to strength the pro-land reform message, according to organisers.

"Newly politicised since the referendum, Scotland's people are no longer in the mood to be dictated to by the aristocracy." Cat Boyd

Lead candidate for socialist coalition Rise in the upcoming Scottish parliamentary elections, Cat Boyd, has also backed a "campaign of protest" to target the estate - which is one of the leading aristocratic families most entrenched in its opposition to land reform.

Boyd told CommonSpace: "Rise condemns the latest moves by the Duke of Buccleuch to restrict the right of the people to access Scotland's land. As a hereditary Lord and the UK's largest private landowner, Richard Scott has fought land reform every stage of the way, decrying even the government's current watered down plans.

"He claims these charges, fences and CCTV are about protecting the land from 'anti-social behaviour and vandalism', and yet this is the same man that faced massive protest over his plans to allow fracking on his estates. It's hard to think of worse vandalism than that.

Key moments in a movement: The path to the current #LandReformBill debate

"Newly politicised since the referendum, Scotland's people are no longer in the mood to be dictated to by the aristocracy. Rise sees the charges on Dalkeith Country Park as yet another way of restricting access and excluding people, which is of questionable legality under existing land laws.

"We suggest that if the Duke will insist on excluding people in this way he should face a campaign of protest by those who will not recognise his right to keep them from land that belongs to us all. We will not allow men like Richard Scott to exclude us, or to destroy the land with fracking. Rise MSP's will ensure that the next parliament faces renewed demand for far more radical land reform."

Local SNP Colin Beattie MSP has called for the charging decision to be reserved , to avert "resentment" or "hostility".

The history of Buccleuch estate is mired in the scandal of land grabs from 1500-1800 which formed the feudal-style system of land ownership that remains in Scotland.

"Buccleuch's decision smacks of feudalism and flies in the face of the spirit of land reform legislation." Sarah Beattie-Smith

432 interests own 50 per cent of all private land, a more unequal system than any other developed nation in Europe.

More recently the Buccleuch estate faced a community backlash in Canonbie over plans for coal bed methane extraction. Its tax affairs have also been criticised.

South of Scotland Green Party candidate Sarah Beattie-Smith, who is campaigning in the region that includes Buccleuch's 90,000 acre Queensberry estate, the 61,000 acre Bowhill estate and the 75,000 acre Eskdale and Liddesdale estate, also condemned the Buccleuch estate.

Beattie-Smith told CommonSpace: "This is a cynical move by one of Scotland's richest people and the UK's biggest landowner. Regardless of the legal basis, Buccleuch's decision smacks of feudalism and flies in the face of the spirit of land reform legislation. As Greens, we will continue to push to unlock the power in our communities and significantly strengthen the laws around land ownership and use."

Campaigners consider the protest a significant moment to challenge unequal land ownership in Scotland a month and a half before Scotland elects a new parliament.

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Picture courtesy of Carolyn Scott


Christopher Reay's picture

Christopher Reay

Sun, 03/13/2016 - 15:03

The tool of "fences" and generally enforcing controlled access to a large open space is inherently inefficient, ineffective, and ugly.

the "Duke of Buccleuch" chooses not to fund "better facilities" from his own massive income (derived partially no doubt from the income from land which wasacquired outside of the choice of the previous occupiers), and decides to try to make the park "self sufficient",
the way to do it is to make the costs of the park transparent, and invite the users to cover the costs. Placing fencing around the park will simply lead to vandalism of whAt is perceived as a public space, or a reduction in usage, "gentrfying" the parc to people who can afford entry. The likelyhood that "kids from the area" will stop using the park for "free" is zero. Where are these "kids" supposed to go?

In the end, this is just a cynical move to "attack is the best form of defenSe" towards land reform, taking up people's energy with "redressing the balance". IMO the best reponse to this would be to occupy the park in a way which the "Duke of Buccleugch" would find distasteful, just as I find his plans

Gordon Wright (not verified)

Fri, 03/11/2016 - 15:49

What a poorly researched article that clearly doesn't bother to check even the basic facts of this case nor the accurate position with regard to access legislation. This appears nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to have yet another swipe at landowners in Scotland. The estate here are investing significantly to improve the visitor experience for all and to help promote local development and regeneration. What a pity that cannot be recognised and appreciated. A small annual fee to help this work and to prevent an ongoing problem of vandalism and anti social behaviour should be welcomed and not twisted and misrepresented for political ends.

Seumas's picture


Fri, 03/11/2016 - 16:42

Sorry I don't see what is poorly researched about this article. perhaps you would like to point out the mistakes.
The point is that it is only if the people demonstrate to the Landowners our distress at what they are doing that they will back off.
I am so sorry for the Duke having to charge for people going into his grounds especially as the Duke of Buccleuch promised to walk away from Dalkeith after the Midlothian Campaign in 1878 - 80. In any case how did the Duke get his land?

Gordon Wright (not verified)

Sat, 03/12/2016 - 09:01

It is poorly researched because it has not reflected the fact that this is not about keeping people out by rapacious landlordism and all that emotive guff, it is about providing enhanced facilities to be enjoyed by people. As I understand it the estate have invested quite a lot of money to improve the facilities and amenity in the area. I'm guessing the objective is to provide an area that is safe and attractive for locals and visitors alike. Such a facility could really help local regeneration. It annoys me when people hijack and twist stories to suit their own agenda - in this case the leftie land reform radicals. This isn't open hill - it is essentially a park in an urban setting and it needs management and that costs. There has also been a problem of vandalism and anti-social behaviour and that has to be dealt with for the majority of other folk that want to enjoy the park. Is PS10 a year really excessive - equivalent of a few pints of beer!. I note that the NTS - a really well loved charity in Scotland - also suggested similar for folk wanting to come onto their properties. I for one would be all in favour of such small contribution to improve and maintain facilities that so many can benefit from. I'm guessing from your "back off" comment above that you would prefer no investment in facilities in the park and to let the burden fall on the local council tax payers.

Amanda Baker (not verified)

Sat, 03/12/2016 - 10:19

The real question is not why are people to be charged to 'enter' - but why aren't the 'owners' being charged for the 100s of years that they have commandeered land that belongs to the whole of Scotland? Unless you think we are all living in Downton Abbey Land this is all total absolute b-----ks

Jonathan Dawes (not verified)

Sat, 03/12/2016 - 10:42

Gordon Wright you certainly spend a lot of time bitching and moaning about the legitimacy and rigour of the research done by Commonspace. Why don't you get off your armchair arse and write something, rather than criticising and attempt to challenge the hegemony of mainstream media? Troll somewhere else.

Gordon Wright (not verified)

Sat, 03/12/2016 - 20:29

Clearly Jonathan has an issue with people saying anything that contradicts his view of the world. Anyway - all is now clear - this appears now to be a fundraiser for land reform activist Andy Wightman who is now trying to get into Holyrood as a Green Party candidate and he is trying to raise funds. Pretty shoddy way of doing it. Create a story, vilify someone and then try and capitalise on it.

Amanda Baker (not verified)

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 07:37

ok but lets occupy the park when its sunny and warm and we can have a picnic

Jonathan Dawes (not verified)

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 10:32

Actually Gordon, the issue (or one of them, at least) is that folks take time out of their busy lives to troll around and post critical comments on sites they don't like in the first place. What is the agenda behind such behaviour? My suggestion was actually quite practical: if you don't like what you read here, *you* write something that forwards your particular perspective. The issue is systemic, structural inequality in Scotland's land use and ownership that gives it a huge black eye; it is shameful. For any party (SNP, Tory, Labour, Green, RISE [is it a party?]) to claim anything else it is obscuring the truth.

Amanda Baker (not verified)

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 15:08

Don't upset Gordon. In his second comment I think he promised to buy us all a pint. I don't drink so could mine be a bar of chocolate please?

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