Outdated playgrounds for the rich or an expensive burden for landowners - many assumed Scotland's sporting estates had had their day.
However, research shows that the estates so beloved of the hunting, shooting and fishing sets are better investments than the stock market. According to the property consultants CKD Galbraith, the value of sporting estates has increased spectacularly over the past 20 years, outperforming the FTSE 100 index in some cases by almost twice as much.
Despite fears the bottom would fall out of the market when the Scottish Executive introduced right-to-buy legislation for crofters and estate tenants under the Land Reform Act, values have continued to rise.
Although there have been a number of community buy-outs in some areas, the "Mugabe-style land grab" predicted by opponents of the Land Reform Act has not materialised.
CKD Galbraith has created a database of statistics that compares returns on rural assets - including grouse shooting, stalking, salmon fishing, sporting lodges and rural holiday property - with more traditional stock-market investments in the FTSE 100, between 1982 and 2006. The returns range from 300 per cent to 1,000 per cent rises in value across a range of sporting investments.
Salmon fishing assets, worth £1,000 per fish in 1982, are now worth an estimated £7,500, an increase of 650 per cent on its original value. Over the same period the stock market rose by 576 per cent. Estates with grouse shooting can expect to have seen a 483 per cent rise on their value compared to 1982, while those with holiday cottages within their grounds can bank on having made an 858 per cent profit.
The greatest investment success has been those estates with hunting lodges, which have seen their value go up by 1,073 per cent.
"It is difficult for estate owners to see short-term returns on their investment and for many of them looking after the land is a labour of love," said John Bound, who leads CKD Galbraith's sales department in the north of Scotland.
"This research, however, gives reassurance that Scottish estates can be phenomenal long-term investments," Mr Bound said. "These figures also underline the fact that Scotland's country sporting assets are world class. The market in estates has always been strong, but this research also confirms that over a period of time investment in the right sporting assets is generally money well spent."
There appears to be a two-tier market, with estates without tenants attracting greater interest. Last month the Balnacoil Estate, near Brora, went on the market for the first time in more than 80 years for more than £2.5m. It is expected to fetch a premium price as it does not have crofters or tenant farmers. Without crofters the new owner will have total control over the 18,000-acre estate and no one would be able to exercise a right to buy.
Not everyone is pleased by the news. "The rise in the value of sporting estates shows yet again that the rich have got richer and richer under New Labour," said Rosemary Byrne, Scottish Socialist MSP for South of Scotland. "Chronic low pay, seasonal work and house prices forced up by holiday home owners already contribute to a widening rich-poor gap in the countryside."Reuse content