Who Owns Scotland? The Rise of the Green Lairds

 January 27, 2022

Climate-savvy millionaires are buying up huge areas of the Scottish Highlands and transforming how it is managed. These “green lairds,” many of them from overseas, are rekindling debates about who owns Scotland’s land and what they’re doing with it.

The main road into Kildrummy, a 5,500-acre estate on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, runs past a ruined castle and across a scaffold-clad bridge to an unloved building that the new American owners, Camille and Christopher Bently, call the manor. It was built in 1901 to accommodate shooting parties held by Colonel James “Soapy” Ogston, who made his fortune from a soap factory in nearby Aberdeen.

Christopher Bently, an American property developer, and his wife Camille bought the former hunting estate of Kildrummy for $15 million.

The Bentlys are restoring the manor as their home. Beyond an entrance hall bristling with deer antlers is a gloomy interior with a grand stairway and extravagantly flowered wallpaper, time-dimmed and peeling. Camille Bently brings out the estate’s old game books, handwritten records of the thousands of grouse, deer, pheasant and duck that were once shot at Kildrummy each year. The game books also note the hunters’ names and the conditions for each day’s shoot. Camille reads one entry – “Birds did not want to fly today” – and snorts: “No shit.”

Camille and Christopher, a multimillionaire property developer from California, bought Kildrummy in 2020 for £11 million, or about $15 million. The estate has dense timber forests, wind-raked moors, a botanical garden and that atmospheric castle. It also has a history that the Bentlys, both avid conservationists, are determined to forget.

A grouse shooting party in Scotland. Critics say rewilders are threatening the hunting industry and the jobs it supports.

Wealthy people have long come to Kildrummy to shoot grouse and other game, an elite pastime that involves intense management of the land. Heather-clad moors are partially burned to improve breeding conditions for the grouse, whose predators are trapped, poisoned and killed. In 2015, a Kildrummy gamekeeper was jailed for four months after he was secretly filmed battering a rare hawk to death.

The Bentlys have banned trapping and sport shooting at Kildrummy and aim to turn the estate into a semi-wilderness where dwindling species are revived and protected. “There’s been too long a history of abuse on this land,” Christopher says. “It’s just got to stop.”…”

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