NEW land reform legislation is threatening to have a devastating impact on Scottish estates, according to the country's leading property consultants.
CKD Galbraith has warned of "deep concern"over right-to-buy proposals aimed at promoting community ownership.
The firm said "it is not in Scotland's interests - and especially those communities in fragile rural economies - to create an impression for political purposes where people willing to invest are somehow considered undesirable." While interest in Scottish rural estates remains relatively healthy despite the independence referendum - proposed land reform is having an effect, it said.
In its annual estates review, the property company said prospective buyers were emerging from London, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East, as well as Scotland.
The warnings were echoed by other leading consultants in Savills and Strutt & Parker.
CKD Galbraith said although a slowdown is expected and this will "inevitably become more noticeable around the time of the referendum," to date there has been no compelling evidence that the vote has had a negative effect on estate sales. However is said the impending legislation on land reform, which will be introduced post-referendum and before the next elections in 2016, will have an impact on estate owners and their land-based business activities.
"The huge majority of them are responsible, highly intelligent individuals, sensitive to the needs of the locals who live here and the local communities generally," said John Bound, partner and head of CKD Galbraith's estates division in the Highlands.
"While debates about land reform continue, the message that should resonate across the world is that Scotland is a friendly and progressive country where those willing to invest in responsible land management are welcomed with open arms." Landowners are bracing themselves for a battle to keep their estates intact after Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said it would "fail the people of Scotland" unless vast tracts are more fairly distributed.
Mr Wheelhouse said he would not have designed a system whereby 432 owners have half the private land north of the Border. He told the BBC documentary The Men Who Own Scotland that there were "still some unfairnesses in the system and that's why we are on a journey in this particular parliamentary session to try and deliver radical reform".
Alex Salmond has also said he wants to double the amount of land under community ownership by 2020 to a million acres.
Beth Hocking, associate director of Savills in Scotland said: "Scottish Land Reform was meant to establish a fairer land ownership structure in Scotland. But a proliferation of land policy reviews over recent years has created a climate of uncertainty and confusion, which is potentially stifling investment by landowners in fragile rural communities. What the rural sector needs now is cohesion and confidence."
Robert McCulloch, a partner in Strutt & Parker's Scottish estate and farm sales team, echoed Mr Bound's views and goes further.
"Such is the limelight that the Independence Referendum is attracting that the potentially more damaging limiting factor in this market sector - the forth-coming recommendations of the Land Reform Review Group - is being occluded" says McCulloch whose experience of wealthy Scottish landowners is 'over-whelmingly positive'."