Huge swathes of land in Scotland have been lost to forestry, rewilding or carbon credits, but instead of being enriched with new species of plant and wildlife, such ground is bereft of the very bees, bugs and birds the schemes were supposed to attract.

While much of southern Scotland has been polluted by huge conifer plantations which provide little if any light for plants, small mammals and birds to live in, numerous large estates in the northern half have been bought by wealthy businessmen looking to offset carbon emissions by rewilding or nature recovery.

According to a Scottish Land Commission report, the value of Scotland’s rural estates saw record increases in 2021, fuelled by increased demand.

The report, conducted by Scotland’s Rural College in partnership with land agents Savills and Strutt and Parker, with support from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), found that opportunities in natural capital were one of the main reasons for buying estates with investors interested in carbon offsetting, planting forestry, renewables and rewilding.

There has also been a rise in corporate buyers due to the potential to carbon offset with the land and increasing government support for environmental measures. Hence, there was a 119% increase in purchase prices in 2021 compared to 2020, with 60% of those estates bought off market.

Overall, 50% of the estates sold in 2021 were purchased by corporate bodies, investment funds, or charitable trusts, with a third of estates selling to overseas buyers.

Furthermore, Scotland provided 76% of the UK commercial forestry land market in 2021 and accounted for 62% of plantable land sales that year. Notably, there was a 54% increase in the value of land planted in 2020, with 32% of those sales happening off market compared to 11% in 2019.

As a result of this increased demand for tree planting and the competitive grants available, poor grazing or grassland farm values increased by 60% in 2021.

The vast majority of these areas have already sold off sheep and cattle, with 100s of 1000s of acres now described by many as a ‘playground for the rich and bereft of all wildlife’.

Grantown farmer and president of the North Country Cheviot Sheep Society, Robert MacDonald, Castle Grant, said: “What they have done to rural Scotland is worse than what happened in the Highland Clearances.

“There used to be 12-14 shepherds attending to 6000-7000 ewes on farms within a 40-mile stretch of Thurso and now there are no shepherds, no kids, no schools and less than 100 ewes.”

Commenting on estates further south that are rewilding, he said: “Much of the ground is like an environmental desert. The people who have bought the estates don’t understand that you need sheep and cattle to boost biodiversity. You can’t have one without the other.

“When you remove the sheep and the cattle, you get rid of so many other habitats for insects and smaller mammals that other animals feed on. At this time of year we should be seeing a return of skylarks, oystercatchers, curlews and peewits but they’ve disappeared on these estates because their habitats have become overgrown when there’s nothing for the bugs, insects, to feed on.”

Another hill sheep farmer who wished to remain anonymous pointed out that the blanket cover of forestry in many parts of Scotland now had not only reduced biodiversity in the area but also increased the amount of predators looking to prey on what sheep and lambs are left.

Meanwhile, a crofter from Aberdeenshire highlighted the increased risk of wildfires when the countryside is left abandoned.

“There is a total imbalance in the countryside with too many people advising government who have no practical knowledge of the interaction between livestock, wildlife and the land,” he said.

Of more concern is the fact that Scotland’s largest private land owner, Danish billionaire Anders Povlson. is in the process of rewilding the 220,000 acres he owns over 13 estates. These include the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie estate in the Cairngorms in five neighbouring country sports estates between Ben Loyal and Eriboll, close to the town of Tongue, Sutherland.

Such moves have already seen the removal of all sheep and the intensive culling of red deer to allow native woodland and species to regenerate and flourish.

However, at Killiehuntly, near Inverness, they have planted 1.5m native trees.

Scotland’s other major landowner Buccleuch Estates, based in the south, is another that has sold off large numbers of farms for forestry with their demise not only seeing the loss of family farms, local communities and businesses, but also bound sheep stocks.

Eskdale and Liddesdale Estate, which is just one of Buccleuch’s large estates, sold off Albierigg, Greenburn Glencartholm, Old Irving, the Bush, Glendiven Cleughfoot, Mouldyhills, and Hartsgarth farms with the loss of almost 6000 head of breeding ewes. Furthermore, some of the trees have been planted on Region One ground and some of the farms in Canonbie that were former dairy farms.

Elsewhere, most of the hill farms in Cowal, in Argyllshire, have sold off their sheep either for forestry, or because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find shepherds to work and gather in such difficult conditions and for little return.

In Aberdeenshire, the former shooting estates of Kildrummy and Glenkindie, totalling 13,000 acres, have been purchased by multi-millionaires Christopher and Camille Bently, from San Francisco, again for rewilding.

Some good cattle and sheep ground totalling 2500 acres within a five-mile radius of the Borders town of Lauder is also about to be planted with trees.

These are just a few of the farms and estates The Scottish Farmer has discovered have been lost for food production – and there will be many, many others in the future.