Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release




The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is alarmed to hear reports of some of Scotland’s largest estates taking steps to bring tenancies to an end to replace tenant farmers with trees. Limited Partnership tenancies on upland units are especially vulnerable and despite the Guidance put in place by Andrew Thin, the former Independent Adviser on Tenant Farming to the Scottish Government, it would seem that these tenancies are being terminated with little consideration of the tenant farming families to be displaced.

Commenting on the situation STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “The trees versus tenants debate is set to reignite. For a few years we have been seeing upland and hill farms coming out of tenancies frequently being planted with trees and to make matters worse, we are now seeing some of the large estates bringing Limited Partnership and Limited Duration Tenancies to an end to make way for trees.

“This trend is not new and six years ago the trees versus sheep debate was instrumental in Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead setting up the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group to manage woodland expansion targets in ways that would complement and integrate with other land uses, especially agriculture, wherever possible. Their report set woodland expansion targets at 10,000ha per year to 2022. It also recommended the type of tree to be planted and where tree planting should take place.  Amongst other things, the report also looked at providing for better consultation with other land users and local communities.

“For a variety of reasons, mainly associated with grant funding, woodland creation targets have not been met. Consequently the Scottish Government has recently announced an increase in targets from 10,000ha in 2020 to reach 15,000ha per year in 2025 and onwards.  There have also been promises of improved funding and greater prospects for the forestry industry post Brexit.  This has obviously given the forestry industry a new boost and is stimulating landowners to plant trees, raising again the dilemma of finding suitable land for trees without conflicting with agricultural production.

“Many landlords now view forestry as an attractive alternative to tenant farming and the losers in this drive towards tree planting are the tenants and their families whose tenancies are being cut short leaving them to find new homes and occupations. In many cases there is evidence of land agents ignoring the industry code of practice, put in place by Andrew Thin, the former Independent Adviser on tenant farming which creates a structured process to agree a mutually beneficial way forward including the use of professional mediation where agreement proves difficult to find.

“Most of these tenants will be in mid-career and many will also have sons or daughters who would like to follow in their footsteps. There are being forced out of their farms with scant consideration of how the loss of home and livelihood will affect their lives.  This is quite callous treatment of tenants most of whom will have farmed the land for well over twenty years.

“STFA has raised this appalling situation with the Cabinet Secretary and the Tenant Farming Commissioner to ensure fair play for this vulnerable group of tenant farmers and to look towards encouraging more integrated land use where tenant farming and forestry can sit side by side and tenant farmers are able to continue farming their holdings through to retirement age. If action is not taken, not only will existing tenants suffer but potential new entrants will be affected as the traditional route into agriculture through upland stock farming becomes even more restricted.”