The Angry Corrie 35: Jan-Mar 98

TAC 35 Index

and they call it democracy ...

Fashions change, but not those in the decadent world of estate management; here it's a perennial retro look, with flannel forever in vogue. This is very much the case in Glenfeshie, where attempts to stitch together a conservation consortium were overtaken by the undue haste with which Will Woodland Trust, heavily criticised for their brief and feckless tenure, passed the buck (and the stag, and the hind) to Klaus Helmersen, a Danish multi-millionaire clothes designer. His company, Danstrup Lund Holdings (formerly Carli Gry) has assets of #200 million. The exact figure paid for Feshie is unclear, but reports speak of "substantially more" than the #6 million price tag (which means a swift #2 million mark-up for WWT). This was an off-the-rail purchase for Helmersen, whose only other land, in Denmark, consists of two small estates, Danstrup and Nyrup, plus the island of Langų. These give him little grounding in landownership issues (and none in the Scottish context), yet he should be allowed the benefit of the doubt for now at least. But it's worrying to hear he's a tiller boy, a yacht-owner, a fan of sailing and hunting. Indeed, a Danstrup spokesperson said of the deal, "We are mostly involved in good old-fashioned farming and forestry ... interested in Glenfeshie from a forestry point of view, and have bought the property as a going concern." The Danish press have, unsurprisingly, expressed wonderment at all this: not so much at Helmersen himself, but at Scotland for allowing a non-national with little track record to waltz in waving his wad and walk off with a prime tract of eco-sensitive land. Helmersen "has stuck his hand into a wasp's nest" said one Danish paper; and, already, the wires of protest/concern have been buzzing loudly, with drones and groans of dismay from such as Simon Pepper of the WWF, Roger Crofts at SNH, Dave Morris of the Ramblers - and, ironically, from Brian Wilson of some non-interventionist ruling party or other.

The Government has also been trying on the clothes of the absentee landlord in Knoydart, and is finding that they fit very comfortably, thank you. Here, the Knoydart Foundation (a locally-based and long-established consortium latterly inspired by the success of similar groupings in Assynt and on Eigg) has bid to take over the famous estate - a move akin to the workers' buyouts occasionally seen in the coal and car industries. No real chance here though, since hopes of seeing the fund boosted by central money were quickly scotched when the National Heritage Lottery Fund (bigwig: Chris Smith MP and Munroist) turned its back, preferring to splash out instead on such essentials as the Mandelson Dome and all manner of other Londoncentric japes and junkets.

But another Munroist has wearied of waiting for the gravy train which never arrives, and has set out to do things differently. When Irvine Butterfield attempted to raise #200 for the fund at the recent Dundee Mountain Film Festival, he was so struck by the speed at which this was achieved that he decided to tackle the matter head-on, by starting a grassroots appeal to buy Beinn na Caillich, the wonderful 785m Corbett in Knoydart. This obviously needs vast support from hill folk, but such is the concern at (and disaffection with) Government inaction, Irvine feels it's a goer. He's not doing this in his role as trustee of the JMT, rather in a loose coalition with the Knoydart Foundation. It's very early days as yet, but two methods of fundraising have already been established: there are collecting tins in the Munros shops in Aberfeldy and Pitlochry (see Outlets on p2 for addresses); and a bank account has been made available under the name of The Knoydart Foundation, a/c number 01956737 at the Bank of Scotland in Mallaig, sort code 80-08-94. More details available from an office on the estate itself, tel 01687-462906, or fax 01687-462905. Since every penny counts, and to avoid wastage on needless bureaucracy, donors are asked not to request formal receipts, rather just to keep an eye on account details to confirm any pay-ins. Letters of support/encouragement to Irvine and/or the Foundation can be forward via TAC. Maybe this marks the start of a whole new groundswell of public action in crucial land issues; certainly something needs doing, since those in power, for all their fine words, are proving to be little more than wittering timewasters.

TAC 35 Index