CROWN ESTATE Scotland has been slammed over plans to sell off one of its tenanted farms on the Fochabers Estate with a price tag of over £1,625,000.

While other public agencies in Scotland were "scratching around to find scraps of land" which could be used to help young people to make a start in farming, the Scottish Tenant farmers Association said that it made no sense for another publicly owned body to be selling the 280acre Auchenhalrig Farm.

STFA said the decision to remove Auchenhalrig from the tenanted sector was a 'grave error' considering the scarcity of available land to let, and has written to both Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and CES interim management committee chair Amanda Bryan urging them to reverse the decision.

STFA director Angus McCall said that he appreciated the financial challenges CES faced in meeting its commitment to ensure its tenanted units were fit-for-purpose, but said that selling farms to meet those investment targets was a 'short-term fix'.

“Encouraging new entrants into agriculture has been a key policy of successive Scottish Governments and SNP administrations have been enthusiastic proponents of new entrant initiatives, such as the latest announcement by Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing to make over 1000 hectares of publicly owned land available for new entrants," noted Mr McCall.

"It makes no sense for a publicly owned body such as CES to sell a 280acre tenanted farm while other public agencies are scratching around to find scraps of land which could be used to help young people to make a start in farming."

Mr McCall acknowledged that Auchenhalrig required investment to bring it up to tenantable condition, but suggested that it provided an ideal opportunity to make the land available on a Repairing Tenancy, where the tenant would do improvements and in return be given a 35-year lease based on the productive capacity of the holding in its unimproved state.

Responding, CES head of property Andy Wells said: “We are sorry that some farmers are disappointed about the sale of Auchenhalrig. Unfortunately, the unit requires significant investment which would direct funds away from other projects that will benefit existing tenants, whom we prioritise.

"To ensure we provide and maintain buildings and other infrastructure across our 200 farm tenancies, we sometimes need to sell a farm when a tenancy ends. We only sell when there are no other reasonable alternatives," he insisted.

“We are committed to a significant programme of capital investment in rural properties totalling approximately £6.9m over 2017/18 and 2018/19, ensuring farming units are fit-for-purpose and that they meet our tenants’ needs. This commitment is recognised and supported by the NFUS, STFA and tenants, with whom we liaise."

Commenting, NFUS president Andrew McCornick confirmed that the union had arranged a meeting this week for representatives of the Crown Estate's agricultural tenants to meet with senior civil servants currently working on the Crown Estate Bill, and members of the Crown Estate Management team.