FACED WITH allegations of bullying and intimidation of agricultural tenants, aired at a public meeting in Langholm this week, Buccleuch estate has called in the Scottish Tenant Farming Commissioner to examine its negotiations over farm leases.

The meeting had been held to discuss Buccleuch’s forestry proposals on the Eskdale and Liddesdale Estate, but became a flashpoint for tensions between the estate and its tenants.

One farming couple who leased land on a five-year fixed term ‘short limited duration tenancy’ claimed they had been bullied as their tenancy came to an end. There were other accusations that tenants had been unhappy with the way Buccleuch had dealt with the ending of Limited Partnership Agreements.

At the meeting, the Duke of Buccleuch invited all tenants on the estate to face to face meetings on March 19 to discuss any concerns.

Buccleuch chief executive John Glen said: “We deeply regret that any tenant feels they have been treated unfairly or have been bullied in any way. We take our responsibilities very seriously and always try to reach amicable agreements with tenants. However, sometimes that does not happen. Even if there is disagreement it should not give rise to accusations of bad professional practice.

“I have contacted Bob McIntosh, the Tenant Farming Commissioner, this morning to ask him to look into these accusations as a matter of urgency. We hope that tenants will make contact with and speak to him on a confidential basis so these matters can be addressed properly. The commissioner has said he will visit the estate and we will give him every assistance in this matter.”

Buccleuch announced in the summer of last year that it was holding discussions with tenant farmers on limited partnership agreements. These tenants were offered the opportunity to buy their farms and sale discussions are now proceeding with 11 tenants, while 10 tenants have been offered new medium or long-term tenancy agreements to replace their limited partnerships.

In one case, Buccleuch admits that a limited partnership agreement was ended against the tenant’s wishes. Part of that farm is being sold to the tenant who had previously bought a neighbouring farm from Buccleuch. One short limited duration tenancy (a five-year agreement) ended and was not renewed. The tenants, who have complained of being bullied, have been offered an additional year to stay on the farm and Buccleuch is in discussions with them on other potential solutions.

Buccleuch has also offered secure 1991 Act tenants on Eskdale and Liddesdale Estate the opportunity to buy their farms.

The Scottish Land Commission has welcomed the 'open approach' adopted by Buccleuch Estates.

SLC chair Andrew Thin, said: “We welcome the decision by Buccleuch Estates to hold a public meeting setting out more information about their plans and to respond to the feedback and views received. The issues and context will vary widely across Scotland but we encourage all land owners to consider a similarly proactive approach to engage people in future plans and address issues where they arise.

“The Commission has a clear objective to increase the accountability of land ownership and land use decision making and we see this as a vital part of modernising our system of land ownership. To support this we will be developing codes and guidance as well as providing practical advice to land owners and communities encouraging improved engagement and accountability.”

The Land Commission’s Tenant Farming Commissioner, Bob McIntosh said: “The primary purpose of the Tenant Farming Commissioner is to promote good relations between landlords and tenants in the agricultural holdings sector.

“The Chief Executive of Buccleuch Estates has asked me to review how Buccleuch Estates staff have acted when dealing with some recent end of tenancy situations. I will look into these cases to consider whether they were handled in accordance with good practice and relevant published codes and guides. I am assured that I will have full access to estate staff and records.

“My role is entirely independent and impartial," stressed Mr McIntosh. "I would encourage those tenants who are unhappy with the way their situation was handled to contact me so that I can arrange to meet with them in order to fully understand their concerns. All discussions will be in confidence.”