Established Titles

There has apparently been quite a fuss among so-called YouTubers (folk who run influential YouTube channels) about an outfit called Established Titles. This video by Scott Shafer has been viewed 2.5 million times in 7 days. He calls out Established Titles as a scam and criticises fellow YouTubers (who he claims are being offered $20,000 per month to promote the project) who have been sponsored by the company. I know nothing about this world of YouTube influencers but it is big, it is profitable, and it is influential.

Some YouTubers (eg Holden Hardman) have been sponsored by Established Titles and have now withdrawn.

Established Titles has responded to the fuss here.

Readers will be familiar with Highland Titles and their dubious practice of “selling” square-foot souvenir plots and claiming that this entitles you to call yourself a Lord or Lady of Glencoe. Readers will also be familiar with my own legal battle with Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC, another outfit operating the same business model and (until recently) actively supported by Highland Titles.

Established Titles adopts the same business model. It was founded two years ago years ago by Katerina Yip, a US citizen who lives in Hong Kong. She describes the project in the “About Us” section as follows:-

Ye Olde Established Titles wast setteth up to preserve woodland in Scotland while eke making a unique gift for those looking for something different. T’was started by Katerina Yip who had fallen in loveth with the breathtaking sights of the Scottish countryside on trips madeth during her timeth studying Law at the University of Durham, and subsequently living in the medieval city of York.

The Established Titles website contains an address in the footer – “Lessendrum, Huntly, AB54 6XR, Scotland, UK”. This is not a registered office address and appears to be a reference to one of the parcels of land owned by the company that runs the project. Established Titles is not an incorporated organsiation.

The Established Titles website landing page invites you to “Save the Scottish Woodlands” and “Become a Lord today”. You are invited to “purchase a personal Lordship or Ladyship Title pack with dedicated land in Scotland”. In a footnote it is explained that “This is a purchase for a personal dedication for a souvenir plot of land. You may choose to title yourself with the titles of Lord, Laird or Lady.”

It goes on to claim that “every lordship of ladyship title pack contributes to the preservation and protection of woodland areas in Scotland.” It does not explain what this preservation or protection involves or how much your purchase contributes to that objective.

The certificate claims that Established Titles agrees to sell a plot of land of one square foot in extent.

Fact

1. The acquisition of a square foot plot does not entitle anyone to become a Lord or a Lady

2. The acquisition of a square foot plot does not confer ownership of the land which remains owned by the existing owner.

The Land

In their response to criticism, Established Titles claims that it “has been able to purchase a total of 6 different slots of land, exceeding over 200 acres in total area.

Established Titles owns no land in Scotland. In so far as they claim to, it is all owned by a company called Galton Voysey Ltd. which is a company registered in Hong Kong (No. 2232931).

In a letter to content creators, Established Titles claims to have acquired “over hundreds of acres of land”(sic). They claim to own six parcels of land across Scotland from Aberdeenshire to Wigtonshire. Five of those parcels (totalling 55.7 acres) are owned by Galton Voysey Ltd. The sixth, at Eddleston in Peebleshire is claimed to be owned by Established Titles/Galton Voysey but in fact is owned by a Sara Flynn, is part of an existing tree planting project approved by Scottish Ministers, and part of which is also registered for carbon credits (Carbon Registry No. ID: 104000000026523).

A 25 acre holding at Edleston is registered in the Land Register under the name of Sara Flynn (PBL6578) and a larger part (121 acres) remains in the Register of Sasines. An Advance Notice was registered on 19 August 2022 for a disposition from Sara Flynn to Galton Voysey Ltd. but has now expired and no disposition or sale is recorded either in the Register of Sasines or the Application Register of the Land Register.

Galton Voysey Ltd. thus owns not hundreds of acres of land but 55.7 acres to be precise.

The claim on the home page of Established Titles that “Each Pack contains one square foot of dedicated land on a private estate in Eddleston” is thus open to question.

Finances

No accounts of Galton Voysey Ltd. are available for public inspection. The company claims to plant a tree with every order through a partner project, Trees for the Future. Established Titles claims it has planted over 2,065,630 trees as at 2 December 2022. With the cheapest souvenir plot costing $49.95 (£40), this means that Established Titles must have generated an income of £82,625,200.

However, in its letter to YouTubers, Established Titles claims that Galton Voysey “has made a multi-million dollar loss on Established Titles”. Given that the products being sold are merely downloaded digital files, it is hard to see how this claim is accurate. The land acquired to date has cost £35,000 and, if a tree has been planted through its partner for every plot sold then Establsihed Titles, as explained above, has made revenue of over £82 million.

Questions for Established Titles

How much income have you made since the project started?

Why do you claim to own land at Eddleston when it is owned by someone else?

What is the reason for the multi-million dollar losses?

How much money have you contributed to partners in order to plant trees?


This blog has been supported by donors to my defamation crowdfunder who kindly donated their eligible refunds to my work on land reform.

Pictured – Kinloch Castle

I am just back from four days on the Isle of Rùm.

There have been four phases in the history of Rùm.

The first and longest was the pre-clearance period stretching from pre-history up until 1826 when Maclean of Coll cleared 300 women, men and children off their smallholdings and shipped them off to Nova Scotia aboard two ships, the Dove of Harmony and the Highland Lad. Two years later a further fifty were cleared leaving one family of native islanders.

The second phase was when the island was run exclusively as a sheep farm. That ended in 1839. In 1845 Rùm was sold to the 2nd Marquis of Salisbury to begin the third phase – as a hunting estate along with the introduction of Red Deer.

In 1888 the island was sold to the industrialist, John Bullough whose son, George inherited it in 1891. George Bullough was fabulously wealthy and spent his time living a life of leisure. he commissioned the construction of Kinloch Castle, an opulent holiday home which was completed in 1901.

In February 1957, George Bullough’s widow sold Rùm to the Nature Conservancy (now Scottish Natural Heritage) and so began the fourth phase.

One of the conditions of sale (which was included as a burden in the title) was that the island would be used as a National Nature Reserve and it was subsequently designated five weeks later. The designation statement noted that,

never having been a tourist or mountaineering resort and having no crofters, the island is ideally suited for much field work…”

The stated purpose was the

safeguarding and perpetuating the natural assemblages of plants and animals which they [the reserves] now contain, plant and animal assemblages which might settle there under more favourable conditions, and special features of geological interest.”

There is no mention of people. In September 1957, a request by the farming tenant to renew his lease was refused. Rum was now no longer a producer of food for the first time in millennia.

Official restrictions were placed on public access which led to furious complaints. The Nature Conservancy’s motives were clear in a letter written by the Chair, Max Nicholson to the Bullough’s lawyers in March 1957 which concluded

Perhaps we should consider other ways too of making Rum a model Hebridean Community (without Hebrideans)

So began the fourth phase in Rùm’s history – an island whose only residents would be those employed by the Nature Conservancy.

No crofters, no Hebrideans, no tourists and no mountaineers.

The massive flaw in the whole scheme was the fact that the island was sold lock, stock and barrel (with the sole exception of the Bullough family mausoleum on the west side of the island at Harris).

The castle came with the sale and the Nature Conservancy had undertaken to maintain it “as far as might be practicable” but numerous attempts to secure a sustainable use came and went. It was used for hospitality and accommodation but the fabric deteriorated to the point where it is arguable if it has any future at all.

The fifth phase is in the process of gestation. In 2009, ownership of most of the land in and around the village of Kinloch was transferred to the Isle of Rum Community Trust. For the first time in the island’s modern history, the people who lived on Rùm could look forward to a far greater say in how it was managed.

Today, however, there are doubts as to whether the island’s largest landowner, Scottish Natural Heritage shares the vision they played such a key part in back in 2009. At the heart of the matter is the future of Kinloch Castle. What to do with this bizarre edifice has dogged SNH and its predecessor for over half a century

In June this year, SNH entered an agreement to sell the castle and land surrounding it to a financial speculator, Jeremy Hoskins, a businessman from the north of England and political donor to the Brexit campaign and the Reclaim Party.

The Heads of Terms signed in June 2022 make clear that the proposal is to buy the castle and a large area of land around it (the red shaded area in the map above). The agreement stipulates that Hoskins will own the road or esplanade in front of the castle currently used as the main road to Kinloch and that there shall be no servitude over it. Unfortunately for Mr Hoskins, there is a servitude over it in favour of the Isle of Rùm Community Trust and SNH is in no position to acquiesce to Hoskins demands.

The future of the castle is vital for the island community of 40 or so people only 10% of whom now work for SNH. Children from the island are nowt attending high school for the first time and plans have been developed by Isle of Rum Community Trust for development of the community and facilities.

Despite the Scottish Government’s own commitments under the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, the Community Trust has had no formal involvement in the decisions being taken by SNH. No deal should be struck without the active involvement of the Trust and legally binding agreements about the future of the castle.

The current proposals from Hoskins include the transfer of ownership to a charitable organisation but there is no detail on what its objects or governance will be. There are no agreements of any kind with the local community and no clarity on any business plan, future use or how it fits with the longer term strategy for the island, its residents, the NNR and the wider economy.

SNH understandably want to offload this liability but they don’t have to live with the consequences. Hoskins is enthusiastic about the acquisition but, again, won’t have to live with the consequences. He can sell up and walk away at any time.

Those whose futures are intimately tied up with the project are the local community. Sadly, there are far too many examples of well intentioned wealthy men (it is always men) buying up land and property and promising the earth. When such promises are not fulfilled, they walk away. On most parts of the mainland, the situation can, in time, be recovered. On an island like Rùm with no grid connection, no public roads and a fragile economy, any failure can be terminal.

It is not for me to venture any solutions to the future of Kinloch Castle and there have been plenty suggested. It is not an easy job. But one thing is clear. That future has to be openly discussed and debated with the full participation of local people. Any agreed course of action must identify all of the risks and opportunities and proposed mitigations. Governance, investment, and management must all be tied down and agreed.

The Isle of Rùm Community Trust issued this briefing note yesterday.

Unfortunately the current approach by SNH is hasty, incomplete, lacking in community buy-in and fraught with risk. It is time for Ministers to make their views clear on how the situation can be resolved whist respecting the Scottish Government’s policies on land reform, rural development, net-zero, islands and the economy.

Proposals to conclude the sale on 31 October 2022 must be abandoned.

See also this blog by Dave Morris at parkswatchscotland

This blog is the second in a series of blogs about the Scottish Government’s consultation – Land Reform in a Net Zero Nation (see this page for details). It follows a previous blog that provided an overview of the proposals.

This blog provides a short and preliminary examination of the issue of scale and concentration of landownership and is prompted by discussion in the online meeting last night with the Minister and her team,

In the introduction to the consultation paper, the Minister states in her introduction that “we are driving forward reform to historically iniquitous patterns of landownership.”

On page 6, it is stated that “The first three proposals we put forward are aimed at tackling the issues associated with scale and concentration of land ownership in Scotland.”

As was discussed in my previous blog, these three proposals are focussed on large-scale landholdings. I will blog further on what this might mean but for the moment I want to flag up potential issues with the statistics used by the Scottish Government.

Landholdings over 3000ha

Page 7 of the consultation paper contains the following claim,

As of May 2022, Registers of Scotland data indicates that 386 of the 1.86 million titles in the Land Register of Scotland had a total land area of over 3,000 hectares. These titles cover 1.62 million hectares of land, equating to 20.2% of Scotland’s total land mass.

I asked Registers of Scotland (RoS) what the basis of these figures was.

They replied as follows (Land Reform Team refers to officials in the Scottish Government)

The methodology agreed by the Land Reform Team was:

Methodology
For each Title on the Land Register
Measure the footprint of all rights/extents displayed on the title plan, regardless of the type of interest
where the total footprint is over 3000 hectares.

Limitations:
As non-ownership rights are included, the area figures and title counts may be an over-estimate.
Customer may not be interested in leases

Output:
When programmed and executed, this methodology returned
Number of titles over 3000 ha:        386
Land mass covered:                       1,616,976 ha
Area of Scotland:                            8,007,825 ha
% of Scotland’s land mass:            20.2%

I have analysed the Land Register data and found 231 holdings covering 1,531,640ha. So the extent is in line with the Scottish Government’s figures but the number of holdings is not. This is almost certainly because the RoS exercise included wind farm leases and other types of interest that overlap with ownership.

The number of titles is thus greater (386 compared with 231) and the area is also 6% greater than my own figures. Both datasets include almost all of the National Forest estate and so are also both overestimates of the extent of large-scale landownership on the Land Register.

In any event, the Land Register only covers 48.9% of the land mass of Scotland. The majority of Scotland’s land is still registered in the Register of Sasines. Despite this, a Government official claimed last night that the majority of large-scale holdings are on the Land Register and thus their figure is reliable. In fact the opposite is the case.

I have been researching landownership since 1994 and am currently updating my Who Owns Scotland website and so have analysed a more comprehensive dataset of landholdings that includes those still in the Register of Sasines.

My preliminary analysis is illustrated below where landholdings over 3000ha are coloured blue where they are on the Land Register and red where they are on the Register of Sasines. (this map does NOT include ALL holdings over 3000ha – this is research in progress).


In total the map shows 358 holdings covering 2.86 million ha of Scotland (35.6% of the land mass). Of these, only 30% of the land (covered by 130 landholdings) is on the Land Register with the majority (70%) comprising 228 landholdings still in the Register of Sasines.

So the Scottish Goverment say 386 holdings covering 1,620,000 ha (20.2% of Scotland)

I say 130 holdings covering 872,833ha (10.8% of Scotland) from Land Register

PLUS 228 holdings covering 1,988.939 ha (24.8% of Scotland) from the Register of Sasines

giving a TOTAL of 358 holdings covering 2,861,772 ha (35.6% of Scotland)

(My data remains preliminary and does not include some known large scale holdings. it will be finalised in September.)

Tackling Scale and Concentration

The one substantive policy question I wish to address in this blog is why scale and concentration matters and what to do about it.

As discussed in the consultation paper, it is proposed to define large-scale holdings as those over 3000ha, comprising more than a defined % of an administrative unit (such as a Council ward) or comprising more than a defined % of a permanently inhabited island.

I don’t propose to discuss this definition here but to concentrate instead on the rationale lying behind focussing on large-scale holdings and how this is being defined.

A definition of large-scale being landholdings over 3000ha in extent begs an important question. Is the threshold of 3000ha to apply to a single parcel or to an aggregate of parcels? An aggregate of parcels would arise where, for example, an owner owns five landholdings across the country each of 1000ha thus potentially exceeding the threshold of 3000ha.

In response to my question on this last night, the Scottish Government stated that their proposal is for a single parcel and that an owner who owned 2009ha in Aberdeenshire and 5ha in Lanarkshire would not be covered by the proposals.

The answer was further reinforced by the Chair of the Scottish Land Commission, Andrew Thin who emphasised that their advice was based on local concentrations of power over land.

So as things stand, aggregate ownership is not regarded as large-scale even it exceeds the 3000ha threshold. The Scottish Government takes the view (based on advice from the Scottish Land Commission) that it the key impact of scale and concentration is the potential negative impact that arises from large landholdings in local areas. Where power is concentrated in the hands of one owner over a large area, it can thwart local priorities.

The Scottish Land Commission’s research and subsequent advice was based upon the impact that the concentration of power can have in a local area and in so far as that analysis goes, it is fine.

BUT, consider this.

If Scotland consisted of 100 landholdings of 80,000ha each, that would be a significant issue in terms of scale and concentration.

If Scotland consisted of one million holdings of 8ha each, that would, on the face of it not pose the same issues.

Except that it would if 100 people or entities each owned 10,000 of these 8ha holdings.

The Scottish Land Commission recognises the issues associated with the former but ignores the issues associated with the latter.

And this is where the question of aggregate holdings is important.

This is a live issue with me as I am, on a daily basis, researching and documenting the ownership of land in order to relaunch my Who Owns Scotland website in September. What I am finding (and this is no surprise) is that there are a number of owners who are accumulating landholdings across Scotland, buying more and more land but typically in individuals holdings that fall below the 3000ha threshold.

If (as the Scottish Government states) it wishes to see a more diverse pattern of landownership with more opportunities for citizens and communities to own land (see page 2 of consultation document) then it needs to be just as concerned with the accumulation of landownership and the resulting concentration that arises as it is with the impacts at any particular local level.

If someone already owns 3000ha as an aggregate total of their ownership, then acquiring more will exacerbate the existing inequalities and lead to more concentrated landownership. Yet this phenomenon is absent from both the Scottish Land Commission’s advice and thus the Government’s analysis of the problem.

Over ten years ago I published an analysis of private forest ownership in Scotland (see 5th document on this page). It showed a remarkably concentrated pattern of ownership in this sector and a stark contrast with the rest of Europe (see graph below). Over 44% of private forests in Scotland are over 100ha in size and account for over 94% of the forest area. Across Europe most forests are small-scale and less that 1% are over 100ha in size. Over half of Scotland’s private forests are owned by absentee owners and a third don’t even live in Scotland.


My current research suggests that the situation has got worse (I will publish a final analysis later this year). If it has got worse, then it is because of the rapid accumulation of land by a few individual owners.

Yet, there are no proposals to deal with this.

This blog has been supported by donors to my defamation crowdfunder who kindly donated their eligible refunds to my work on land reform.

Dear Oscar Nominee,

Congratulations on your nomination for an Academy Awards 2022. According to media reports, I understand that as a nominee you have received a gift pack that contains, among other things, a purported gift of a plot of land (perhaps just a square foot) in Scotland from a company called Highland Titles and the right to be styled Lord or Lady of Glencoe.

You may be wondering what this is all about. Let me explain.

First and foremost, you are not the owner of any land in Scotland despite what this company might have led you to believe. See Section 22 of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012. (1)

You have also not been given any right to style yourself Lord or Lady of Glencoe. Highland Titles has no authority or power to bestow such a title on you.

You have a piece of paper (several probably) with impressive sounding claims and illustrations. They remain just pieces of paper, however and provide you with nothing more than that.

Highland Titles Ltd. is not a conservation organisation. It owns some land including part of a National Nature Reserve and it plants some trees and puts up some bird boxes. The company’s purpose, however, is to enrich those involved with it. Highland Titles put up in excess of £100,000 for a company it then supported (Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC) to sue me for defamation claiming £750,000 in damages. I won and in the process learnt quite a bit about Highland Titles business model. Believe me, they appear to be making very substantial sums of money and spending very little of it on any meaningful conservation work.

The plot you purportedly own is not in Glencoe. It is 20 miles away in Duror.

Highland Titles Ltd. is not a Scottish conservation organisation. It is a company based in the secrecy jurisdiction of Guernsey.

The office of Highland Titles in Scotland is located in Lochaber and is part of a larger property owned by Quexus Ltd. a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Highland Titles was a registered trademark to another company called Highland Titles Ltd registered in the British Virgin Islands but transferred in 2019 to Highland Titles Ltd. (Guernsey)

Beware that “Lord of Glencoe” and “Lady of Glencoe” were registered trademarks to a company called Highland Titles Ltd. registered in the British Virgin Islands but transferred in 2020 to Highland Titles OU registered in Estonia.

Highland Titles Ltd., being registered in a secrecy jurisdiction and despite owning land in Scotland is not obliged to publish annual reports or accounts and thus its affairs cannot be scrutinised or challenged.

You can read some more about Highland Titles in a blog I published in 2015 (2)

If you wish to help the conservation of Scottish habitats and species there are a range of organisations that would welcome support. The vast majority of them are members of Scottish Environment Link and you can see them all here.

(1) https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2012/5/section/22/enacted
(2) http://www.andywightman.com/archives/4152

IRS11900106-00001_res

It is an odd state of affairs that it is easier to find out the ownership of land in 1915 than it is in 2018. The Finance Act of 1910 (Lloyd George’s famous People’s Budget”) proposed an increment levy on the increase in value of land. To establish a base-line of values, surveyors mapped out in intricate detail, the ownership, occupation, value and use of virtually all of Great Britain and Ireland, covering 99.7% of the land area of Scotland.

The map above shows the results for the west of Edinburgh around Charlotte Square.

In 2018, with modern technology such as digital mapping, satellite imagery, online technology and smartphones, we have yet to come close to what the Edwardians achieved with paper maps and ink.

Across the world, modern technology and integrated data management has delivered land informations systems that provide comprehensive data on land to citizens. From Scotland, for example, you can find out a wide range of information about land parcels anywhere in the US State of Montana. If you want the same data for Scotland, you will be frustrated at every turn, expend an inordinate amount of time and have to pay for it.

The question of Who Owns Scotland has been perennial one for decades. John McEwen had a go at answering it in 1979 and it was the focus of my first book published in 1996. In the early years of devolution, I tried to persuade the then Scottish Executive to open up land information to the public but there was little appetite. Since then, I made representations to Fergus Ewing and Parliament during the course of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 to persuade them to increase transparency and access to land information.

In a meeting with Fergus Ewing and the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland in December 2011, I made the case for this but the Minister could barely disguise his contempt for my suggestions and later, in the course of the passage of the Bill flatly rejected the idea that the public should have free access to land information (See col 962 8 Feb 2012 Official Report).

He also rejected proposals to reveal the beneficial owners of companies that own land although the Government were eventually persuaded to do so in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, the provisions of which are yet to come into force.

But this blog is not about beneficial ownership. It is about access to information that already exists but is difficult and costly to access. The recent history of attempts to open up access is dismal as the following examples make clear.

PASTMAP

Over the decades I have spent researching landownership, I have developed a range of methods and sources. Although the Register of Sasines and Land Register are the definitive sources, they can be impossible to use in certain circumstances, For example, if you want to know who owns a field at a junction of a country road in Fife, you won’t be able to do so from official sources since you need an address or a name of a person and even the map-based Land Register will often be unhelpful in such circumstances.

Key to success in such cases is to find out some information from other sources to enable interrogation of the Registers. One such source is a very helpful online map called Pastmap [http://pastmap.org.uk] which provides information on various elements of the historic environment. If there is a Scheduled Monument located on or near land whose ownership you wish to establish, then a link is provided to the legal documents that are registered in the Register of Sasines. These provide details of the ownership of the land at the time of scheduling.

In 2012, however, I noticed that Historic Scotland had redacted the ownership information. See the example (second page) of the Bonawe Iron Furnace Schedule before redaction and after redaction.

I wrote to Historic Scotland and asked them why the schedules were now being redacted. They replied that,

Since the publication of the online schedule we have begun to redact the names and the addresses of legal owners from the scheduling documents given the perceived additional risks and sensitivities associated with publication of this information in such a readily and widely accessible format online.”

We are also considering removing legal ownership details from our scheduling certificates completely as part of an overall review of our scheduling documentation.”

These documents are recorded and made available to the public in the Register of Sasines (and made available for public inspection in the National Records of Scotland) with no redactions, so why conceal this information on Pastmap? What exactly are the “sensitivities” over this information? And why is Historic Scotland considering removing these details completely in future? Above all, if the Scottish Government is committed (as it claims it is) to transparency, why is it seeking to conceal this information from the one freely available source to the public?

Such questions remain unanswered.

SCOTLIS

Following a report in July 2015, John Swinney announced in October 2015 the establishment of SCOTLIS (Scottish Land Information Service), an online portal that would enable “citizens, communities, professionals and business to access comprehensive information about any piece of land or property in Scotland” The service was developed by Registers of Scotland and launched in November 2017. Here it is.

It is useless.

There is no map-search facility, there is no comprehensive information (solely landownership) and, as always, any information you do find, you will have to pay for. Contrast it with the online Montana service above. If you are a business, you can sign up as a business user and get access to an enhanced service. But by no stretch of the imagination is this a system allowing easy access to comprehensive information by the citizen. No wonder John Swinney’s successor issued no media release on the day of its launch.

OVERSEAS OWNERSHIP

On 1 March 2018, the Registers of Scotland published an Overseas Company Report and a Statistical Report on the overseas ownership of land in Scotland. Against growing demands for greater transparency in who owns land and property across the world, this is presumably Scotland’s contribution.

The report reveals the companies registered overseas that own land in Scotland. But this is the tip of the iceberg because it only takes account of land in the modern land register and not the older Sasines register. It doesn’t include any information on how much land is owned overseas (my own research shows that 750,000 acres of Scotland is owned in tax havens posing problems for law enforcement and tax authorities).

The Sunday Post published details of the findings on 11 March 2018.

And yet, the public are denied access to this data underlying the Overseas Company report because to obtain the report (see Information Sheet) will cost you an astonishing £1560 (the Statistical report is free to download). Even if you could afford this sum of money, if you wished further details of each of the records, you will need to buy this from Registers of Scotland. It will cost you £30 each and if you wish details of all 1700 companies, that comes to a cool £51,000.

Registers of Scotland claim that the data is being charged out on a cost-recovery basis (i.e. RoS only plans to recoup its costs from sale proceeds). But this merely emphasises why all of this data should be freely available. Were it to have been so over the past decade or so, all sorts of people would have been able to compile all sorts of reports and analysis within their own resources at no cost to the public purse and to the wider public good.

OPEN UP THE REGISTERS

The public deserve access to information about who owns Scotland. It’s time to end the secrecy and the costs and open up all information (environmental, planning, valuation, tenure, ownership) in an accessible manner which is free and easy to use by the citizen.

Over the coming months, I invite those with an interest to join me in campaigning for greater transparency and openness in land information. Contact me at andy.wightman.msp@parliament.scot

Back in March 2016, I published the preliminary results of research in to the offshore interests of the Buccleuch family. Due to my election as an MSP in May 2016, I have had no time to complete this work but thanks to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists publication of the Paradise Papers, we now have one more piece of the jigsaw. The jigsaw being who is the beneficial owner of the shares of Bucleuch estates Ltd.)

Kirkhope Holdings Ltd. (larger version of the above image here) appears to be one strong candidate for the entity that holds the wealth of the Buccleuch family. It was incorporated in the Cayman Islands on 10 July 1987 and shares are owned by Buccleuch Estates Ltd. and members of the Buccleuch family.

Over to whoever wishes to follow this up further.

 

Newspapers including the Daily Telegraph reports excitedly that the Tulchan Estate in Morayshire is on the market for offers £25 million. A closer look at the facts, however, indicates that this is not so. The Press Release published by Savills makes clear that it is the company that owns Tulchan Estate – Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd. – that is being sold.

So who owns Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd. (TESL)?

Savills claims that the principal shareholders are “Gillian and Leon Litchfield”. But a closer look at the facts indicates that this too is not so. They are both Directors of the Company and did, prior to 17 November 2014, own shares in the company but they no longer do so.

The current sole shareholder is Archimedes Private Office (Suisse) Sàrl (as Security Agent), a company incorporated in Switzerland at Route Des Acacias 24, 1227 Les Acacias, Geneva. This company has, in addition, a number of securities over the Tulchan Estate.

The sale of the company by its sole shareholder Archimedes Private Office (Suisse) Sàrl has three notable consequences.

First, since the sale is of a shares in TESL owned by a Swiss company, there will probably be no liability to Capital Gains Tax. The latest accounts of TESL show the assets of the company to be worth £11,462,686. The shareholding is being sold for over £25 million.

Second, since the sale is of the share in the company and not of the property, there will be no liability Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (on a sale of £25 million, that would equate to £1,115,250 lost to Revenue Scotland).

Third, there are four tenant farmers who have a registered interest to buy their farms under the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003. This right to buy is triggered when the owner of the farms decides to sell the farms. But the farms are not being sold and will continue to be owned by TESL. This means of avoiding the right to buy provisions was highlighted by tenant farmers back in 2007 and, more recently, the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group recommended that further consideration should be given to enabling tenant farmers to exercise their right to buy when shareholdings rather than the land is traded (see Section 8.3 and Recommendation 19 here). As far as I am aware, no such consideration has been given to this recommendation.

UPDATE 24 August 0015

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has called for a halt to the sale. See Media Release

PSReaders should note that the author of this blog was elected to the Scottish Parliament in May 2016 and, as evidenced by the fact that this is the first blog since April 2016, anticipates a lower level of blogging activity in future.

UPDATE 29 March 2018

Confirmation in 6 March 2018 Confirmation Statement that Tulchan Sporting Estates is now wholly owned by SF Scottish Properties Ltd., registered in St Peter Port, Guernsey. Further background in Parkwatch blog from 3 April 2017.

Following my previous blog on the offshore interests of the Scott/Buccleuch family, the Panama Papers have emerged. I look forward to interrogating the 2.6 terabytes of data once it is made available for public examination in early May.

Meanwhile, I thought I should publish information sent to me by the Chief Executive of Buccleuch Group on 16 March in response to my blog and coverage of the story by Commonspace and The National.

“In view of media reports and comment on regarding Pentland Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Buccleuch Estates Ltd., and the Stage 3 debate on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill tomorrow, Buccleuch wishes to clarify the position of this company.

1. Pentland Ltd is a UK trading company which is subject to UK taxation. All tax that has been due from Pentland Ltd has been paid in the UK throughout the existence of the company.

2. All directors of Pentland Ltd are UK residents and UK taxpayers and are members of the Buccleuch family.

3. The ‘beneficial’ owners of Pentland have never been concealed and any land holdings owned by the company have been clearly identifiable as ‘Buccleuch’ land holdings.

4. Pentland was originally registered in the Cayman Islands in the 1970s, not for taxation purposes but to accommodate a range of international assets and investments.

5. Since the late 1990s, the assets of Pentland Ltd have been wound down and the company has traded exclusively in the UK. It is not permissible to re-register the company which currently owns a small property development in Canonbie, Dumfries and Galloway.”

This is a very interesting statement and reveals the sophistry at the heart of discussions about the use of secrecy jurisdictions.

Take the first sentence, for example.

Pentland Ltd. is a company registered at HSBC International Trustee Ltd., PO Box 484GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

That is a fact.

This cannot be spun as “Pentland Ltd is a UK trading company”

Two other observations are worth making.

The statement suggests that Pentland Ltd. has had an association with the Buccleuch family since the 1970s and point 4 explicitly claims that Pentland Ltd. was originally registered in the Cayman Islands in the 1970s. In fact, Pentland Ltd. was not incorporated until 1990 as evidenced by its incorporation certificate here. So what was going on between the 1970s and 1990?

There is also some confusion about the relationship between Peatland Ltd. and Buccleuch. In this media statement from 2009, it is stated that “Pentland Ltd is a company under the ownership of the Buccleuch Group” when in fact it did not become a wholly owned subsidiary until 2013. Indeed in 2002, Anderson Strathern had written to the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland in plain terms that “Pentland Ltd is registered in the Cayman Islands and is not part of the Buccleuch Group.” From the statement above, it would appear tat it has always been part of the Buccleuch Group.

Finally..

We know nothing more about Hayes One Ltd., Clifton House, 75 Fort Street, PO Box 1350, Grand Cayman, KY1-1108, Cayman Islands.

And we still do not know who is the beneficial owner of of Buccleuch Estates Ltd.and how this is structured.

by Andy Wightman and Carole Ross

Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

Mr Richard Scott (sometimes referred to as the Duke of Buccleuch) is frequently cited as the owner of the largest extent of private land in the United Kingdom. Yet, this has never been entirely accurate. The 242,000 acres of land in Scotland is owned not by Mr Scott, but mainly by a company called Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

The shares in Buccleuch Estates Ltd. are not owned by Mr Scott and his family but by two companies – Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd and MDS Estates Ltd.

Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd. is a dormant company which is wholly owned by Anderson Strathern Asset Management Ltd. Anderson Strathern Asset Management Ltd. is wholly owned by Anderson Strathern LLP which, in turn is owned by the 53 partners in the law firm.

MS Estates Ltd. is wholly owned by Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd. though the Directors include Mr Scott and other family members

Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd. is ….. (but you know this).

So the ultimate owner of Buccluech Estates Ltd are 53 solicitors?

Well, not quite. Because what the Nominees do is to act on behalf of persons unknown on their behalf. These persons are likely to be members of the Scott family but we can’t know because the arrangements are not made public.

The first inkling I ever got that there was something odd about Buccleuch’s arrangements was 20 years ago in 1995. I was helping Philip Beresford compile the Sunday Times Rich List and he faxed me a copy of a letter he had received from Richard Scott’s father.

Dear Sir,

Much as I would like to be No. 33 in your chart of the richest 500, I fear I am there under false pretences.

As you rightly mention the calculation is based upon a hypothetical valuation of works of art. What you may not realise is that if I were to sell items in the collection, 80% of the proceeds would go straight to the Treasury. This is because 80% was the rate applicable to my father’s estate when he died in 1973. 

My worth on that score should therefore be reduced from £200m to £40m and as I own no shares in Buccleuch Estates Ltd., I might find myself level-pegging with Gordon Baxter and Sean Connery. 

Can you please take this into account next time? 

In recent years the top rate of inheritance tax was reduced to 40% but even this would affect the positioning of many others whose worth is based upon art collections. 

Yours faithfully 

Buccleuch

Two things stood out in this letter which would later become of interest. Buccleuch’s art works were the subject of a heritage tax exemption (meaning that the public could have access at certain times in exchange for a deferral of inheritance tax) and that Buccleuch, despite being regarded as the owner of Buccleuch Estates, admits that he owned no shares in the company.

A few years later and at his request, I had a private meeting with a senior adviser to Buccleuch. In exchange for some intelligence he wanted on the likely impact of land reform, I requested information on who really owns Buccleuch Estates. I was told that it was controlled “by the family”, that there were “firewalls” between different parts of the business and that there were “offshore interests”.

Madonna of the Yarnwinder

Some years passed and my file on the topic lay dormant until in 2003 when the Leonardo da Vinci painting, the Madonna of the Yarnwinder was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle. Given the 80% inheritance liability that was due, I wondered what would happen in the event that the painting was never recovered. In 2007, the painting was recovered and is now on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland.

One thing that did happen was that the ownership of the painting changed hands shortly after the theft and was transferred to a charity, The Buccleuch Heritage Trust by a Deed of Gift on 16 April 2004.

The Buccleuch Heritage Trust transferred a total of £12 million of assets to a new charity, The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust in 2011. The charity’s membership and Board is appointed exclusively by Mr Scott. The assets included Dalkeith House (which was not included in the valuation of £12 million) and title to the Madonna of the Yarnwinder.

The accounts of the Buccleuch Heritage Trust are no longer in the public domain. I asked Anderson Strathern for copies of the 2004 accounts but they demanded a fee of £100 which I could not afford and which I refused to pay. In the 2011 accounts of The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust (2Mb pdf), there is a loan noted in the accounts for £749,692 that had been assigned from the Buccleuch Heritage Trust to finance the purchase of the Leonardo da Vinci painting (page 17). To understand this loan, we need to go back to the original theft of the painting.

In August 2003 the stolen painting was insured by John Scott for a figure of slightly less than £4 million. This seems to have been because, as outlined in Buccleuch’s letter in 1995, there was an 80% tax liability on the painting and that part of the value was never insured. Following the robbery, the insurers settled an insurance claim by Mr Scott of approximately £3.8 million. That settlement gave the insurers a right of ownership in the stolen painting. Around the same time the insurance policy in respect of the stolen painting was varied to enable the Buccleuch family to buy back the insurers’ right of ownership in the stolen painting, in the event that it was ever recovered.

My understanding is that the £749,692 that was loaned to the Trust in around 2004 was to enable this buy back agreement. The loan was fully paid off in 2012.

Pentland Ltd.

The loan to the trust was from a company called Pentland Ltd and the 2011 accounts note that Richard Scott, who is a Trustee of the charity, is also a Director of Pentland Ltd.

And so to the substance of this blog. Who is Pentland Ltd.?

There is only one company called Pentland Ltd. registered in the UK and it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Galliford Try, a UK construction company that has nothing to do with the Scott family.

The Pentland Ltd. that loaned £749,692 to acquire the da Vinci painting is a company registered in Grand Cayman, part of the Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory and notorious secrecy jurisdiction. Its registered office is ar HSBC International Trustee Ltd., PO Box 484GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

Until recently, Pentland Ltd. had no direct links to the Buccleuch Group (the very complex network of companies controlled by Buccleuch Estates Ltd.). Instead it was part of a quite separate (and just as complex) network of companies controlled by the Scott family. Pentland was incorporated in Grand Cayman in 1990. By 2009, it had become a subsidiary of Dabton Investments Ltd. and in 2013, Dabton was acquired by Tarras Park Properties Ltd., a subsidiary of Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

Pentland Ltd. (Grand Cayman), Salters Land Ltd (British Virgin Islands) and Drumcork Ltd. (British Virgin Islands) are now all subsidiary undertakings, joint ventures and associates of Tarras Park Properties Ltd. which is wholly owned by Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

An investigation into the myriad companies associated with Pentland prior to 2013 reveals a series of loans from Pentland Ltd. to other companies in the Buccleuch Group. Some of these loans were repaid in full or in part and others were written off in full or part. Some details are provided in this  dossier.

Lending money to UK companies from companies registered in secrecy jurisdictions is one method of bringing offshore money onshore. Writing off such loans means that the money is never repaid.

Being 100% owned by the Buccleuch Group, loans and other related party transactions are now exempt from disclosure under Financial Reporting Standard 8 on Related Party Disclosures. It is thus no longer possible to identify the loans being made by Pentland Ltd. to other companies in the Buccleuch Group.

Given that Buccleuch Estate Ltd. is itself ultimately owned by a nominee company of solicitors, is Pentland Ltd. one of the offshore family trusts I was told about in the late 1990s?

Dalkeith Estate

Dalkeith Country Park is popularly assumed to be owned by Buccleuch Estates Ltd. But as we have already seen Dalkeith House and surrounding grounds are owned by The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust.

The ownership of the majority of the rest of the Country Park and neighbouring land was revealed in correspondence entered into between Buccleuch Group, Anderson Strathern and the Registers of Scotland in relation to the registration of an agricultural tenant’s interest to buy their farm under Part 2 of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003.

The eastern part of the Country Park is occupied by a tenant of the Home Farm and a further agricultural tenancy exists over Smeaton Farm on the Park’s eastern border, just outside the park

Half of Smeaton Farm was owned in the past by Pentland Ltd. but by 2012, it had transferred its ownership to a company called Hayes One Ltd., Clifton House, 75 Fort Street, PO Box 1350, Grand Cayman, KY1-1108, Cayman Islands.

In correspondence relating to the Home Farm and Smeaton Farm in 2007, Registers of Scotland asked Buccleuch whether Pentland Ltd and Buccleuch Estates Ltd. “were connected  in any way for example with the same beneficial share ownership and whether the tenant did receive notification of the change of ownership and when this took place.”

In reply, Anderson Strathern wrote to RoS to state that ownership of the Home Farm had transferred from Pentland Ltd to Buccleuch Estates Ltd. on 26 November 2002 and this information had not been intimated to the tenant. The letter said nothing about beneficial ownership, merely that “Pentland Ltd is registered in the Cayman Islands and is not part of the Buccleuch Group.”

A search in the Register of Sasines and Land Register for “Pentland Ltd.” in Midlothian returned no results.

In an article in the Sunday Times on 21 July 2013, John Glen, Chief Executive of Buccleuch Estates Ltd. said,

It’s my job to run the Buccleuch companies and I can assure anyone that Buccleuch businesses pay tax where they fall due. All trusts linked with Buccleuch are subject to UK tax and all other family-related trusts are resident in the UK and subject to UK tax.”

It is not clear whether this statement covers the activities of Pentland Ltd., Salters Land Ltd., Drumcork Ltd. and One Hayes Ltd.

In a statement issued yesterday, a spokesman for Buccleuch said:

Pentland Limited is a Cayman Islands incorporated vehicle which is wholly owned by The Buccleuch Estates Limited which is UK registered. The company has always been wholly owned by Buccleuch and members of the Buccleuch family, all of whom are UK resident taxpayers.

“All profits arising in Pentland Limited are subject to UK corporation tax. Pentland Limited has historically owned land in the UK and currently owns an area of land near Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway.”

In the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill debate on Wednesday this week, Patrick Harvie MSP has tabled two amendments that would bar all legal entities registered in British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies from registering title to land in Scotland (Amendments 105 & 106 pages 11 & 12).

This is merely the latest in a long series of attempts in Parliament to crack down on offshore ownership. At First Minister’s Questions on 9 October 2003, Jack McConnell responded to a question from Stewart Stevenson MSP on the topic and concluded that “I am sure that the matter will be discussed in Parliament over a long period.

In 2012, in response to further attempts to amend the Land Registration (Scotland) Bill in 2012, Fergus Ewing MSP, responded to concerns raised by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, by saying that nothing could or would be done. In a meeting with the Minister at the time, I specifically raised the question of the use of secrecy jurisdictions by landowners like Buccleuch. Barely able to disguise his contempt for me, he said that he had visited Buccleuch and that the company had created lots of jobs. On Wednesday, Parliament will once again debate the matter after months of pressure from campaigners for greater openness.

Meanwhile, despite what we have discovered here, we are no closer to being able to determine for sure the real owner of Buccleuch Estates Ltd.

See the story with further comment in The National by Commonspace journalist, Michael Gray and a summary of this blog here.