THE family of the Duke of Buccleuch, one of Scotland’s biggest landowners, has made a successful move into self-catering accommodation amid the boom in demand for staycations triggered by the fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

As the MDS Estates business owned by the Duke’s family posted a £64 million annual profit the company declared: “ Our recently launched self-catering accommodation has recognised success in booking figures”.

The business provides holidaymakers with the opportunity to stay in accommodation in what is billed as the historic and picturesque Drumlanrig Castle & Country Estate, in Dumfries and Galloway and in an apartment on the grounds of Bowhill House near Selkirk.

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The success is noted in the latest accounts for MDS Estates. This is the holding company for Buccleuch Estates and other family ventures in areas ranging from commercial property to farming. The accounts show that MDS Estates grew bottom line profits to £64.2m from £45.6m last time.

Writing in the accounts, the chairman of Buccleuch, Benny Higgins, noted that the rise in profits primarily reflected an increase in the book value of the group’s investment property assets. Without the uplift the group recorded a loss of £5m before tax, against £39m profit in the preceding year.

The group’s forestry and farming enterprises benefited from buoyant markets, but operations in areas such as commercial property and tourism and hospitality were impacted by the pandemic.

Mr Higgins added: “Action had to be taken to protect jobs and employees’ rights and a number of staff were placed on furlough leave in keeping with the advice offered to businesses by government.”

A spokesperson for MDS Estates said the group's hospitality and visitor services businesses were effectively shut down early and for a long period in the first lockdown. At one stage approximately 125 employees were placed on furlough to protect their jobs. Only one colleague remains on furlough.

The spokesperson added: "We did access the government furlough scheme for the reasons it was established but the scheme was utilised at different times for different periods and for different people."

He made no comment on the amount of money claimed.

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Mr Higgins reckons the group made progress amid challenging market conditions in the latest year.

He noted: “Throughout the period, our overall business performance showed strength and stability and our business strategy bodes well for the future.”

He said the group had protected rural jobs and worked constructively with residential and commercial property tenants to aid them through the uncertainties presented by the pandemic.

The group noted its estates had been accessible to local communities throughout lockdown as it recognizes the importance of green open spaces both for physical exercise and mental heath and wellbeing.

The accounts show that the average monthly number of employees rose to 435 in the latest financial year, from 419.

Total staff costs increased to £16.4m from £15.3m.

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The group received government grants worth £2.9m in total, down from £3.5m in the preceding year.

It paid £1.075m dividends, down from £2.085m.

The boardroom paybill fell to £1.8m from £2.6m.

The highest paid director earned total emoluments of £0.58m, against £0.76m in the preceding year.

The group recorded a tax charge of £18.7m on its profits in the latest year, up from £1m last time.

Mt Higgins took on the Buccleuch job after holding senior positions with financial services heavyweights in Scotland, such as RBS and Tesco Bank.