Families in the Highlands face eviction orders: James Cusick and Catherine Deveney look at a Scottish estate where times have changed

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The Independent Online
MUSIC from a Celtic harp drifts through Ian Campbell's farmhouse at Ardenkeith, Ross-shire. There is a sleepy contentment as his young daughter Morven plucks the strings. Two ginger cats are curled at her feet, warmed by the old Rayburn kitchen range. It is like a scene out of The Waltons, except that Ian, his partner Karen and their three children have been served with an eviction notice. They have until Wednesday to leave.

'I've no idea where we'll go,' Mr Campbell says. 'There are simply no local authority houses to move into.'

The farmhouse is part of the Rosehaugh and Kilcoy estate, on the Black Isle peninsula north of Inverness, bought by Broadland Properties, an English company, a year ago for pounds 7m. The previous owners, Eagle Star, turned a blind eye to the practice of farmers sub-letting cottages to non- agricultural workers. However the new owners are insisting that these informal agreements, some going back 30 years, have to be terminated. Eight families fear they will have to move in what is known locally as the 'New Clearances'. The methods that Broadland is using to manage the estate have caused alarm and distrust. Half the 14,500 acre estate has been sold to existing tenants, but in the remaining areas, Broadland initially wanted to raise some rents by over 200 per cent. Arbitration brought the increases down to around 30 per cent.

One tenant farmer said: 'We used to have an annual dinner with the old owners. We spoke to them. It was like a family. Now we're watching our backs.'

The old owners, Eagle Star, bought the estate in the early 1950s from James Douglas Fletcher, in whose family it had been since the late 19th century. Local people still regard the family's ownership as the patriarchal heyday of the estate where tenants worked amicably with their feudal superiors.

Now farmers fear that a costly combination of arbitration - which can cost pounds 8,000 even for the first stage - and rent increases, will lead to the loss of farms that have been in Black Isle families for generations.

John Wood, a director of Broadland, based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, thinks the company's 'bad guys' label is unjustified. 'Things are being manipulated to show us as the English company with no concern about the community.' He adds, however: 'We didn't buy the estate with the intention of losing money.'

Broadland proposed that the annual rent on an old garage road sign should be increased from 5p to pounds 30. Such imported commercialism is unwelcome. Mr Campbell, a drum-maker, says: 'This is a classic clash between those who simply value money and those who have other values. People here are being thrown aside. They are in the way.'

For pounds 105 a month, Mr Campbell and his family rent a small farmhouse and extensive steadings that include a workshop and massive storage areas. 'I'll never find another place like this,' he says.

Mr Campbell will also have nowhere to keep the double-decker bus that he drives and runs as a mobile art gallery for Ross and Crom arty District Council. Broad land says that getting Mr Campbell out of his cottage is the responsibil ity of the tenant farmer, Alisdair McIntyre. It was from Mr McIntyre that the eviction notice came. Mr Wood said: 'We have issued eviction notices to no one. We are only asking that those who have breached their tenancy agreements remedy this.'

However Karl Heiland, an oil worker, says he was evicted directly by Broadland from his cottage in Rosehaugh Mains. He returned from a holiday in Scandinavia to discover he had a week to get out. He is now in temporary accommodation.

The episode has brought calls for a reform of the way large estates are operated in Scotland. Brian Wilson MP, a Labour environment spokesman, says Scotland is the only area of Europe where feudalism is still thriving.

The Scottish National Party, evoking the 18th and 19th century when Highlanders were cleared out of their crofts to make way for sheep, cites the evictions as evidence of Scotland's impotence in controlling its affairs.

Seven years ago Ian Campbell thought he had found a home in which he would live out the rest of his life.

Not now. 'Since Broadland came here I've felt the roots that I've put down slowly being ripped out.'

(Photograph omitted)