Geographical aspects of the ownership, management and use of rural land on landed estates in the northern Highlands
The estate is the basic land-use management unit in the Scottish Highlands and estate owners the de facto rural planners. However, little is known of how the estate functions and how it has changed over recent years. Focusing attention on larger (over 2000 ha), multi-land use estates in the mainland Highland Region, this study attempts a systematic outline of (a) the system of landownership; (b) the characteristics of estates; and (c) the functioning of estates (policy-making and land use changes). In the absence of published information, the study is based on details supplied directly by landowners, officials and other land-related figures by means of questionnaire, interview and correspondence. The structure of private landownership (covering 85% of total land area) remains highly concentrated but dynamic through high levels of ownership turnover and continued fragmentation and regrouping of property. A wide diversity of estate types and proprietors, ranging from intensively-managed estate businesses to sporting preserves, prohibits generalisation. Broadly, estate proprietors are wealthy, middle-aged to elderly, from 'elite' backgrounds and possess other active business interests and rural landholdings. Although half are absentee, they exhibit an increasingly professional background and increased involvement in estate management. Sport and holiday homes are major landowning motives among one-third, livelihood among one-fifth and family continuity and investment among half those examined. Extensive game management and marginal livestock farming are staple activities on their estates, most of which depend heavily on proprietors' and state subsidies. Despite strong environmental and financial constraints, increasing variation has been recently introduced through commercial afforestation and establishment of tourist and other ventures. Recent stimuli for change - low profitability, capital taxation and new incoming owners - have encouraged inter alia, estate consolidation (through land sales, reduction in tenanted holdings), formation of corporate ownerships, greater integration of estate enterprises and adoption of outside management agencies, alongside further labour shedding and fuller commercial development of new and existing land uses. The vigorous expansion of state and semi-public landholdings over the past fifty years has passed its peak. The Highland estate of public sector agencies (totalling 15% of overall land area) comprises a widely dispersed holding concentrated in the poorer environmental areas. Estate management is closely relate to each agency's primary function (e.g. forestry) but objectives range from developmental to preservationist. Generally, a formal regional management structure and specialised planning process operates in each agency. Besides inhibiting land acquisition, increased budgetary constraints and policy changes have encouraged similar moves to integrate and develop existing and new land use activities (often commercially-oriented) and to reduce staffing. Public sector agencies have encouraged important innovations in regional land use - tnrough afforestation of poor upland in remoter areas, development of deer farming and integrated deer forest management, improved public access and tourist facilities.