Skip to main content

Long reads shortened

The “green lairds” buying up Scotland

The Quiraing mountains on the Isle of Skye. Getty

With “dense timber forests, wind-raked moors” and a ruined castle, Kildrummy is the quintessential Scottish Highlands estate, says Andrew Marshall in Reuters. Its 5,500 acres have long been used for shooting – the old game books contain “handwritten records of the thousands of grouse, deer, pheasant and duck” that used to be shot there each year. But not any more. In 2020 Kildrummy was bought by Christopher and Camille Bently, a Californian couple who have banned shooting and plan to “rewild” the estate. “There’s been too long a history of abuse on this land,” says Christopher Bently. “It’s just got to stop.”

The Bentlys are part of a growing movement of so-called “green lairds” – wealthy (often foreign) environmentalists who are “transforming how the Scottish Highlands are managed and valued”. Traditional hunting estates are no longer judged on their “bag counts” – the amount of game shot each year – but on their “natural capital”: how much carbon their forests can absorb. With private and corporate investors eager to “meet their climate commitments”, the value of some Highlands countryside has doubled in recent years.

All this is causing friction with traditional hunting and shooting estates. Some accuse the rewilders of undermining their business: culling deer to protect tree-planting projects, for example, reduces numbers for stalking. Others think efforts to reforest vast swathes of Scotland will reduce rural employment and do little to avert climate change. So far, those arguments haven’t been enough to stop the environmentalists’ buying spree.