Greening The Glen

Spring 2024

The Greening of the Glen: A New Era in Scottish Estate Ownership

The rolling hills and rugged landscapes of Scotland have long been the canvas for tales of history and tradition. Integral to this narrative are the large Estates, often spanning many thousands of acres. For generations, these estates have been the bastions of the wealthy who sought them for both leisure and as a status symbol.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Evelyn Channing, the wonderful Head of Rural at Savills who has an almost unparalleled 35 years of experience living, working, and playing amongst this magnificent landscape. During her recent Shoot Room Sessions podcast interview, when asked how the market for large Scottish Estates had changed in recent years she said; “Extraordinarily!………it is the biggest change I’ve seen……estates are being repurposed. During the 90s and 00s the fund manager with their city bonus was prevalent in the market. Perhaps some questioned the merits of owning an estate with all the complexities of its management when they could rent the sport as an alternative and sun themselves in the Caribbean! The world has become a much smaller place in which to spend one’s leisure time.”

Adding that… “to have a new style of buyer in the market with different motives has been transformational. We used to joke about valuing rock and fresh air – now there is value attached to that rock and fresh air! It is exciting – land potentially is one of the solutions to the climate crisis and biodiversity loss”.

But, as the world enters a new era of climate consciousness and environmental awareness, the profile of Scottish Estate ownership is undergoing a significant transformation.

Traditional Scottish Estates: A Legacy of Leisure and Perceived Luxury

Historically, Scottish Estates have been synonymous with luxury, decadence, and blood sports. Purchased by the affluent, these lands served as retreats where the elite engaged in hunting, shooting, and fishing. They symbolised a blend of wealth, tradition, and social status. The typical owner was often a high-profile banker or businessperson, using their substantial annual bonuses to invest in these vast tracts of land as little more than a plaything. In the words of Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin”.

The Turning Tide: Environmental Awareness and Land Stewardship

The 21st century has ushered in a heightened consciousness not only about the climate but more generally, an ever-growing awareness of the environment and our role in preserving it. This global shift in perspective is increasingly evident in the way large estates are viewed and managed. Where once the emphasis was on sport, now there is a growing focus on conservation, biodiversity, and sustainable land use.

Traditional sporting activities and associated land management practices are no longer considered appropriate or acceptable to many – killing for fun is increasingly viewed as brutal, barbaric, and backwards.

The New Guardians: Conservationists and Environmentalists

The demographic of Scottish estate owners is changing rapidly and in the last few years has become markedly different. It includes the next generation, more concerned with the future of their lands and its impact on people and wildlife, conservation groups, environmental NGOs, individuals committed to ecological causes, and exciting new businesses focused on growing and protecting natural capital. Their objectives are to protect and restore natural habitats including peatlands, reintroduce native wildlife, and promote ecological diversity. Many of these groups recognise the complexity of these landscapes seeking to help rewild the land alongside helping make Scotland the Natural Capital, Capital of the World. This approach marks a significant departure from the traditional management of these estates.

Transforming Landscapes: From Hunting Grounds to Havens of Biodiversity

This shift in ownership is transforming the Scottish countryside. Estates that were once manicured, manipulated, and mutilated for shooting parties are now being rewilded. Native broadleaf woodlands are being created, peatlands restored, and native wildlife species reintroduced. The transformation is not just ecological; it is reshaping the cultural and social landscape of rural Scotland, helping it realise its potential to become the Natural Capital, Capital of the World.

For too many years Scotland’s rural communities have seen an incredible exodus of talents as the brightest young people have been forced away by the absence of opportunity, investment, and ambition – a problem exacerbated by the loudest, protectionist few seeking to stop any form of progress or development, instead seeking to enjoy their vision of the slowly decaying communities and rapidly decaying landscape.

This was very much the sentiment of the incredibly talented Chief Creative Officer of the leading Natural Capital Marketplace Platform Kana, Chloe Finlayson. Born and raised minutes away from our incredible Invergeldie Estate in Perthshire, Chloe moved away for university and since then, found herself relocating to London for career advancement and opportunity. Chloe shared how she felt it was impossible to maintain the status quo and also ensure young people both wanted to, and were able to, remain part of small rural communities.

Chloe was however much more positive when stating that a shift to a Natural Capital Economy could provide the aspiration, inspiration, and opportunity these places and communities require.

Visiting Invergeldie recently for her own Shoot Room Sessions podcast interview Chloe said; “I think in a modern-day world you need change. Everything isn’t the same anymore. There are new industries, new ways of farming. I think people need to be open to that change to get younger people to stay. Everyone young thinks they have to move away to the city. They think they must move to London or to Glasgow. To keep them, there must be more industry and that requires change”. 

Adding that, “We need change, the way we have been growing businesses as usual isn’t working anymore. The climate is changing right in front of us. Even in my lifetime, which doesn’t seem that long. it has changed!”

In Scotland, a remarkable transformation is underway as traditional estates evolve to embrace ecological conservation and community-focused initiatives. This shift is not just about land management; it represents a profound change in values and a reimagining of the role these vast tracts of land can play in the 21st century.

The Next Generation of Owners

One of the most notable examples of this transformation is the Alladale Wilderness Reserve. Once a typical hunting estate spread across 23,000 acres in the Scottish Highlands, it has been re-envisioned by owner Paul Lister as a haven for wildlife and a centre for ecological restoration. The Reserve’s ambitious plans include reintroducing native species such as wolves and bears, long absent from the landscape. Beyond this, Alladale is actively engaged in habitat restoration, including regenerating native forests and revitalising peatlands and river systems. The estate also serves as a hub for research and education, hosting various scientific studies and educational programs focusing on conservation.

Another inspiring story comes from Langholm Moor, where a community group successfully purchased a large area from the Buccleuch Estate. This initiative marked a significant shift in land ownership from private hands to community stewardship. The community’s primary goal is to manage the land for the benefit of both the local population and wildlife, emphasising sustainable practices like peatland restoration and woodland creation. This move towards a community-led approach to managing and benefiting from natural resources is a testament to the changing perception and value of land in Scotland.

Another wonderful example of community-led land purchase is The Carrifran Wildwood near Moffat. In 1993 this was conceived by the Wildwood Group, primarily local volunteers, and later became the Borders Forest Trust with a land purchase complete in January 2000. Now Carrifran is a leap back in time, trees thrive from the valley floor to the sub-montane zone, flowers have moved downhill from crags and scree without the pressure of grazing, and the valley breathes with new life. It is a staggering achievement in so short a time, led and driven by a few people with vision and an attitude that yes, we can do this.

The Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in the Highlands offers a different perspective on ecological restoration. This estate is being transformed into one of Scotland’s most significant rewilding projects. The focus here is on restoring the Caledonian Forest, which once covered much of Scotland but now is limited to fragmented remnants. Trees for Life is actively involved in planting native trees, restoring natural habitats, and reintroducing native species.  The estate not only serves as a conservation area but also as an educational resource, offering volunteer opportunities and educational programs to involve the community and visitors in the rewilding process.

These cases reflect a broader trend in Scotland, where large estates, traditionally seen as symbols of sporting decadence, are increasingly recognised as vital resources for conservation and community development.

This shift has significant economic and social implications. Economically, it opens up avenues for regenerative revenue through ecotourism, rewilding, and renewable energy initiatives. Socially, it fosters a deeper sense of shared ownership and stewardship of the land. The movement towards eco-focused estates in Scotland is a pioneering example of how private land can contribute to the public good, blending tradition with a vision for a regenerative and more inclusive future.

This Paradigm Shift is Not Without Its Critics

Traditional estate activities, especially game shooting, are often reported to provide significant revenue generation in rural communities, albeit with further analysis this is often challenged. Many local communities argue that the only people that benefit are the Estates themselves, with limited economic spill-over into the local economy. Critics point out that while estates may employ local staff and contribute to certain local businesses, the overall impact is frequently less substantial than portrayed. Moreover, the seasonal nature of these activities often results in inconsistent and unreliable income streams for the local workforce. There’s also the contention that large estates, focused on game shooting, can monopolise land use, restricting opportunities for broader community-based economic activities such as ecotourism, agriculture, or renewable energy projects, which might offer more sustainable and widespread benefits to the local population. This debate highlights the complex and multifaceted impact of traditional estate activities on rural economies and communities, suggesting the need for a more nuanced understanding and balanced approach to land use and economic development in these areas.

Moreover, the concept of land ownership for ecological stewardship is often at odds with traditional views on land use, sparking debates over land rights and management practices. There are a very vocal few who want to see the land continue to be bent to their will, grazed, beaten, and burnt to produce the patchwork landscape they want to see for hunting, giving little thought to the environmental, ecological, or economic cost of doing so. When asked why, the two most prevalent answers I’ve personally heard are; “because we’ve always done it” and “because I don’t want things to change”. What we’ve always done, and not wanting to change at a greater scale are also the reasons why our climate is in chaos and biodiversity is collapsing! 

The future buyers of Scottish estates are likely to be even more diverse, encompassing not only conservationists and environmental NGOs but also a new wave of entrepreneurs and investors who understand the intrinsic value of natural capital. This new breed of owners is expected to prioritise sustainability, ecological restoration, and community involvement.

Technological Innovators and Eco-Entrepreneurs – We are likely to see a rise in interest from technology entrepreneurs and green innovators. These individuals and groups, driven by a passion for sustainable living and ecological innovation, may view Scottish estates as ideal grounds for experimenting with and demonstrating green technologies, such as renewable energy sources, sustainable agriculture, and ecological monitoring systems.

Global Investors with a Green Focus – The increasing global focus on environmental issues will likely attract international investors interested in contributing to global conservation efforts. These buyers might see Scottish estates as opportunities to invest in large-scale rewilding projects or carbon offset initiatives, aligning their financial interests with global environmental goals.

Community Cooperatives and Collaborative Ownership – A significant shift might occur towards more communal forms of ownership. Community cooperatives, where local residents collectively own and manage estate lands, could become more prevalent. This model promotes local engagement, ensuring that the benefits of land stewardship directly impact the surrounding communities.

Educational and Research Institutions – There may be an increase in ownership by educational and research institutions seeking living laboratories for studying environmental science, conservation, and sustainable land management practices. These institutions could use the estates as sites for ground-breaking research and as educational resources for students and the public.

A Sustainable Legacy for Scottish Estates

In summary, the future of Scottish estate ownership is set to be dynamic and diverse, reflecting broader global shifts towards sustainability and environmental responsibility. The estates of tomorrow will likely be managed with a keen awareness of their role in ecological preservation, carbon sequestration, and community engagement.

Rewilding & Rewriting the Narrative of Scottish Estates

The changing profile of Scottish estate owners is more than just a shift in property deeds. It represents a deeper change in values and priorities, reflecting a growing global consciousness about our relationship with the environment. As this trend continues, Scottish estates are poised to become exemplars of how private land can contribute to the holistic public good helping Scotland become the Natural Capital Capital of the World.


Rich Stockdale
Founder & Managing Director