RELATIONS between tenant farmers and their landlords on Mount Stuart Trust have improved following a well attended meeting in Rothesay.

This was the fifth of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association's 'Planning for the Future' meetings, and encouraged a positive discussion on the future of the island especially in light of the increasing number of vacant farms due to tenants retiring.

The situation is particularly crucial on the island of Bute where there is a lack of young farmers to fill the boots of the older generation and an uncertain milk market, traditionally the bedrock of farming on the island, has proved a disincentive to investment in milk production.

Mount Stuart Trust managing director, Colin Boag, in acknowledging that the Trust had made mistakes in the past, assured those present that a new business strategy for the island was being developed in consultation with the local community. With reference to estates letting policy, Mr Boag gave an assurance that the estate had plans to relet vacant farms, where appropriate, and was considering what could be done to add value to the island’s main products – milk and timber.

In light of the number of vacant farms on the island, Ian Davidson, from the Land Matching Service, outlined the work that he had been carrying out to bring together those looking for land to farm and landowners and land managers who had land which they would like someone else to farm for them. The LMS has already made some successful contacts and it was obvious that there could be opportunities on Bute especially for progressing tenant farmers looking for a second rung on the farming ladder.

Speaking after the meeting, STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “We have been very critical of Bute Estates in the past and it was encouraging to see landlord representatives engaging with their tenants in such a positive manner and to see the value of a cooperative approach being demonstrated by how far advanced the tenants on the island are with their amnesties compared with other estates. There must surely be lessons to be learnt for other landlords here!

“During the discussions, we were keen to stress the importance to the Mount Stuart Trust of a long-term vision in letting farms and recommended consultation with existing tenants when formulating plans for the rural estate. Too often landlords seem only to be prepared to rent out land on the shortest of terms and with the minimum of security. Such a short-term approach ignores the value of security which will attract tenants who will have the confidence to to invest in the land and build their farming businesses. Security of tenure and fair letting conditions will attract tenants and their families who will want to make the island their home which must bring far-reaching benefit to an island like Bute which desperately needs new blood, new ideas and an injection of enthusiasm.”

Much of the changes in attitude by the Mount Stuart trust must be attributed to the influence of the Land Commission whose chairman Andrew Thin said: “Our staff have been working with Mount Stuart Trust to help develop a more collaborative approach to land use planning on Bute. I am pleased with progress so far and was encouraged by what I heard at the meeting."