Scotland's estate owners resist a pounds 50m queue of buyers: Attracted by political stability and sporting promise, the rich want to move in but few owners want to sell, sensing the market will rise. Anne Spackman reports

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The Independent Online
JUST TWO years ago, buyers of the grand sporting estates were more difficult to spot than pheasants in the woods. It seemed half of Scotland was up for sale. But this week has seen the third large sale of a Scottish estate within a few months and buyers with a combined pounds 50m in their pockets are queuing up to be next.

The most significant sale was of the Tulchan estate at Advie in Morayshire, reckoned to be one of the finest - if not the finest - sporting estate in Scotland. Its 20,000 acres (8,094ha), including seven miles of salmon fishing on the river Spey, were sold to Leon Litchfield, a businessman from the Midlands who already owns a farm in Selkirkshire.

The price is the subject of a confidentiality clause, but it is no secret that it will have cost millions. As well as the salmon fishing, Mr Litchfield has acquired a splendid lodge overlooking the river, several farms, grouse moors and a well-established pheasant shoot.

Colin Strang Steel of Knight Frank & Rutley in Edinburgh sold the estate privately without it coming on to the market. He said: 'We have got several people queuing up to buy estates. I can think of one who has been looking for two years. They have all got a lot of money to spend.

'We have knocked on doors and advertised but we cannot persuade people to sell,' he said. 'I suspect they think the prices will be too low, but I don't think they will, because the demand is there. It's actually been quite a frustrating year.'

Andrew Rettie, the partner in charge of Strutt & Parker in Scotland, paints a similar picture. He has recently sold 12,000 acres in Invernesshire to a syndicate from Milan and 5,000 acres in Perthshire to a Spaniard.

He said: 'We have about 25 people looking for estates with a cumulative total of about pounds 50m to spend. About two-thirds of them are British and one-third offshore - from America, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia.

'They perceive that the market has bottomed out and want to get in while prices are low,' he said. 'They come to Scotland because it is one of the few places where you can buy big tracts of land and have political stability.'

It was thought that with the lifting of the Iron Curtain, sportsmen would take their money to central and eastern Europe, but that has not happened. Mr Rettie said it would take more than a couple of years to convince them it was a safe place to invest their money. 'We are talking of people mainly in their fifties and sixties. Anyone in that age bracket with that kind of money is still going to be suspicious of anywhere associated with Communism,' he said.

This winter, it seems the moors and mountains will be scattered with agents as well as sportsmen, trying to flush any potential sellers out of their hides.

(Photograph omitted)