Scottish estate sale raises fears on flora: Campaigners seek guarantees over unique plant life on former hunting ground of Scottish kings. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
CONSERVATIONISTS are seeking guarantees that the unique flora on a Highland estate owned by a big- game hunter will be preserved when the estate changes hands.

Tulchan of Glenisla in Angus, which is owned by Robin Hurt and was once the hunting grounds of Scottish kings, is for sale at pounds 2.3m.

Mr Hurt, the laird of Tulchan, does most of his hunting in Tanzania where big game, including lions, buffalo, and wild buck, still flourish. Evidently there is a connection between the isolation of a remote Scottish glen and the distant camp of the hunter in the African bush.

Now he has put his 12,500-acre estate on the market and conservationists believe it should be acquired as a National Nature Reserve. Under a previous owner, Lord Inchcape, the estate was designated as a National Nature Reserve but the agreement lapsed.

Much of the estate is still designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the crags in Caenlochan glen are considered to be of international importance for their rare alpine flowers. These unusual species include snow gentian, blue sow thistle, mountain avens, the woolly mountain willow, and Erigeron borealis - a daisy with purple flowers that is so rare it has no common name.

Simon Pepper, director of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Scotland, said: 'Once a place has been designated a National Nature Reserve it should have that status in perpetuity. The Tulchan of Glenisla estate should not be sold without a guarantee that an agreement will be signed making it a nature reserve. The law should be able to protect places like this.'

Despite Tulchan of Glenisla's unique appeal, it is rare for a Highland estate to do more than make ends meet financially. And that is after guests have paid pounds 250 to shoot a stag. Each year about 115 stags and 200 hinds are shot at Tulchan, together with 81 brace of grouse and 22 roe deer. At this time of year a cushion of fine yellow flowers cover parts of the mountain shoulder leading up to Glas Maol, and in the distance the scree-covered slopes of Creag Leacach are a deep purple.

Richard Smith, the estate's head stalker, recently led a party on a day's grouse shoot. Members of the party passed their guns across the burn and jumped from stone to stone. They climbed the hill followed by the setters and the labradors while the pointers hung back reluctant to get their feet wet. Once across, they rushed ahead and quartered the moor, the wind in their faces. Within minutes one of the dogs froze pointing at a grouse. The guns took up their positions and the dog went forward raising a covey of 10 birds. Four shots from the two guns and four birds dropped to be retrieved by the labradors.

It was an archetypal scene - the stalker in his classic tweed suit with plus fours, tweed cap and staghorn staff, the 'guns' with cartridges in loops on jacket and belt, and the dogs straining at the leash.

At the end of the day the party had bagged 15 brace of grouse. In the bottom of the glen a herd of red deer, mostly stags, moved off as they saw our silhouettes against the sky.

The dogs were tired and the guests, three Frenchmen, one Englishman and an American, who paid pounds 240 a day for the sport, were ready to rest. Steve Rothrock, from Charleston, South Carolina, shoots bob-white quail and ducks at home but still comes regularly to Scotland for the shooting.

'I have shot game in Mexico, Argentina and Canada but it is not as beautiful,' he said. 'This is the best . . . It reminds you of God.'

(Photograph omitted)