The Crown Estate Scotland is trialling the opportunity for tenants on two of their estates to be able to purchase their farms.

The radical move is being piloted at Applegirth Estate in Dumfriesshire and Auchindoun Estate in Moray, and if successful may be extended to the other estates.

Crown Estate Scotland’s corporate plan for 2020 to 2023 commits to raising capital through asset sales for reinvestment, some of which will come from farm sales, and they have sought to take the interests of tenant farmers and local communities into account while developing their farm sales policy.

Eligible tenants on Applegirth and Auchindoun Estates will be asked to express an interest on four options:

  • Purchasing the farm at an agreed price.
  • Relinquishing their tenancy for value along the lines set out in the Land Reform Act 2016.
  • Joint sale of the farm to a third party on an agreed share basis.
  • Maintain the status quo, with the tenant remaining as before with the Crown Estate as landlords.
  • Christopher Nicholson, chairman of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA), said: “Crown Estate Scotland is making history as the first large scale landlord to give tenants such an open range of voluntary options following detailed consultation with tenants and their representatives, including STFA and STFA agents Tom Oates and Hamish Lean.”

    General enthusiasm

    “In general, tenants are enthusiastic about the proposed farm sales and the opportunities they are to be offered. Some have expressed concerns about the future of a fragmented rural estate following farm sales, especially if the majority of the remaining tenants are non-secure tenants with fixed term leases.

    “With the obvious pressures from forestry, fixed term tenants are concerned about their future when the time comes to negotiate new leases to continue farming their holdings.

    “However, reassurances have been given to tenants that Crown Estate Scotland will continue to act as a responsible landlord fulfilling its statutory and traditional obligations to its tenants whatever the type of lease.”


    The SNP-led Scottish government has long called for land ownership to be spread more widely and claimed that too much of Scotland was owned by too few people.

    Historically, the Crown Estates in Scotland were run on a UK level, but following the move for more devolution after the 2014 referendum, control moved to Holyrood.

    This pilot offers the opportunity for the Scottish government to enact their policy of increasing the number of people owning their farms. The move has the potential to see 37,000ha change hands.

    There is also the opportunity for farmers to get a lump sum to give up their farm. New legislation allows incoming tenants to buy tenancies or for the landlord to buy tenancies back.

    This offers retirement opportunities for aging farmers. The legislation is relatively new and few tenancies have been bought so far, but anecdotally, they are being sold for around a quarter of the land’s market value.

    What is the Crown Estate?

    The Crown Estate Scotland is owned by the reigning monarch in right of the Crown. However, the assets are not private property and any surplus is paid to the Scottish Consolidated Fund, which in turn finances the Scottish government.

    Crown Estate Scotland’s £385.8m worth of assets in Scotland are:

  • 37,000ha agricultural tenancies, residential and commercial properties and forestry on four rural estates. Glenlivet and Fochabers cover parts of Aberdeenshire and Moray and include Auchindoun, Applegirth in Dumfries, which runs to 6,000ha and Whitehill just south of Edinburgh, which is 1,300ha. All the land was purchased between 1937 and 1969.
  • Salmon and sea trout fishing rights on many Scottish rivers.
  • Around half the foreshore around Scotland, including 5,800 moorings and some ports and harbours.
  • Leasing of virtually all seabed out to 22km, covering some 750 fish farming sites and agreements with cables and pipeline operators.
  • The rights to offshore renewable energy and gas and carbon storage out to 370km.
  • Mineral rights over naturally occurring gold and silver across Scotland.
  • Retail and office units at 39-41 George Street Edinburgh.
  • 6% rise in GB land price

    Results from the Savills Farmland Values survey show the value of farmland land rose by 6.2% during 2021. This is the sharpest rise since 2014, with pasture land leading growth. Poor livestock land and average livestock land have increased by 8.8% and 8.7% respectively, since December 2020. By comparison, prime arable and Grade 3 arable land grew 4% and 5.5%.

    Regionally, the strongest growth across all land types was recorded in Scotland, where values increased by 31% during 2021. In part, this is as a result of the demand for tree planting land in a buoyant forestry sector, as well as building interest from environmentally motivated buyers. As a result, these buyers are broadening their search criteria beyond poor livestock land and hill land in order to make purchases, which is causing values across all land types to increase.

    The average price of land in GB:

  • East England – £8,410/ac.
  • South East £8,390/ac.
  • South West £7,560/ac.
  • East Midlands £7,350/ac.
  • West Midlands £7,290/ac.
  • Northern England £6,800/ac.
  • Scotland £5,920/ac.
  • Wales £5,460/ac.
  • Savills anticipates real values for poorer quality grassland will climb by on average 6% per year in the short-term. For prime arable land, they expect growth of 2.5% annually excluding inflation. Analysis of Savills transactions in 2021 shows that existing farmers continue to be the largest proportion of buyers in the market, but they fell from 49% of buyers in 2020 to 46% last year. Non-farming buyers were successful in 38% of deals, and there was a second successive strong year for institutional and corporate investment in farmland. Institutional and corporate buyers accounted for 16% of buyers compared to a 10-year average of 10%.

    Overall, 68% of sales were due to retirement or personal reasons, an increase from the 10-year average of 39%. Across the UK, land supply rose by 7% on the year to 122,400ac. This, according to Savills, is still well short of the 10-year average of 150,000ac.

    Scotland saw a much greater rise in area of land sold, with an increase of 63%, but this is still short of the five-year average. Lots of less than 250ac still make up around 80% of market sales. Meanwhile, only 1% of sales were of farms over 1,000ac. Emily Norton, head of rural research, said: “Despite the shift in farm sizes, there is not a clear trend among the farm types being brought to the market, suggesting no single sector is undergoing more significant structural change than others.”

    Second lowest lamb kill on record

    The UK lamb kill was the second lowest since records began in 1979 according to Defra data. For the whole of 2021 recorded UK lamb kill totalled 11.7 million head with only 2001 clocking a lower number. The kill is unlikely to sharply rise in 2021 due the nation flock still recovering for the smallest size on record after for heavy culling in the run up to Brext when sheep prices were wrongly predicted to crash.

    Recorded ewe kill for 2021 topped 1.6 million head making it the lowest year since 1977. Unsurprisingly, this means that 2021 recorded the second lowest production of sheepmeat on records dating back to 1985, at 265,100 tonnes.

    In the UK 886,000 tonnes of beef during 2021, 5% lower than the year before. This marked the lowest level of production and prime cattle kill since 2015. A total of 1.95 million prime cattle were processed in 2021, 5% fewer than 2020. Alongside this, 638,000 cull cows were slaughtered, 6% lower than the year before. Overall, average carcase weights remained relatively stable from 2020.

    Scottish farmers buying tractors

    Scottish farmers bought 1,466 tractors over 50bhp last year, an increase of 17% on the year previous, according to the Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA).

    Scottish buyers made up 12% of the 12,107 UK sales, which rose by 16%. The region experiencing the biggest growth in sales was the East Midlands, with sales up 40.7% to 764 tractors, followed by Northern Ireland, where sales were up 37.4% to 525 tractors.

    Around 19% of tractors were between 161-200hp, with smaller engines between 141-160hp accounting for 17 of all sales. There was a sharp rise in smaller 121-140hp tractors by 37% to 1,389. Only very big tractors over 320hp saw a decline in sales by 0.5%.