THE map of land ownership in Scotland is changing. Soon the biggest landowner in Scotland is likely to be a Dane who only started buying up land in Scotland a decade ago. Last month it was reported that clothing magnate Anders Povslen was within 7,000 acres of this “game-changing” feat, and now owned around 1% of Scotland. Meanwhile, in recent times, other landowners, whose estates have been in their families for generations, prompted by Scottish land reform, are talking about selling off land and downsizing.

This is no longer a country owned mainly by the aristocracy. The RSPB and the National Trust are among our biggest landowners, as is other new money. Many of the estates still ostensibly owned by aristocrats are actually owned and run by charitable trusts. Meanwhile, as land reform progresses, more and more communities are attempting to buy out the land they live within. Yet still the picture remains on some level unchanged. When we look at land-owning in Scotland we mostly see men. These are the people that continue to shape the way Scotland's land is used.

Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry

224,972 across four estates

Since the Duke of the Buccleuch is the biggest landowner in Scotland it’s perhaps not surprising that he, or his estates, appear in the news frequently, whether that be because of dogwalkers complaining over charges for access at Dalkeith Country Park, revelations that the duke operates a business in a tax haven, or news that a community trust at the former mining village of Wanlockhead is attempting a buy-out of some of his land.

The duke, Richard Scott, who inherited the title on the death of his father in 2007, owns four major estates: Queensberry, including Drumlanrig Castle, Langholm in Dumfriesshire, Bowhill in Selkirkshire, and some land around Dalkeith palace too. Except he doesn’t quite own them. Rather, it is owned by Buccleuch Estates, which is in turn owned by Anderson Strathern Nominees.

Earlier this year, land reform campaigner, Andy Wightman, uncovered that these companies were making transactions with the shadowy Pentland Ltd, of which Richard Scott is director, based in the Cayman Islands. Buccleuch was using an offshore tax haven to buy and sell land.

Meanwhile, if you want to gain an insight into the kind of strained and troubled relations that can develop between local community and estate, you only have to look as far as Wanlockhead, where the locals, some of whom are involved in an attempt at a community trust buy out, observe that the estate has done little for the village in a century, and complain of the fact that they only found out about Buccleuch’s plan to put one of the largest windfarms in Scotland on their doorstep through this paper.

Last year, in reaction to SNP land reform proposals, the Duke of Buccleuch declared his “absolute dismay”.

"I think I would be surprised," he said, "if in 10 years’ time, we are not noticeably smaller. We are more stimulated and stirred up than ever to look after what we do have as well as we can. I and the management team are determined to carry on rethinking the use of the land, of farms and forestry, to ensure that it delivers the best for the local community.”

Nevertheless, Buccleuch Estates do not want to easily give away the land the trust desires. They have, after all, the plans for the massive wind farm on that part of the estate.

Meanwhile, the villagers have quite a different vision, one that involves community ownership, an eco campsite, anti-pollution measures and possibly a few small wind turbines.

Lincoln Richford, chair of the Wanlockhead Community Trust, said, “Wanlockhead, which long ago left its dependency on the duke behind, is gently trying to encourage Buccleuch to step into the 21st Century. The typical modern villager is no longer content to rely on the hoped-for goodwill of the landowner for families making their own living and making their own decisions.”

Mac Blewer, secretary of the trust, added, "Scotland as a whole does seem to be fighting a dated, nearly Victorian paternalistic attitude held by some of the landed gentry that communities are seen as being unable or incapable of making decisions for themselves. Wanlockhead has tremendously talented and self-reliant folk living here. I have no doubt that we are fully capable of managing the land as well if not better than the current landlord. We know what we need. We can do this.”

The duke is rarely seen at Wanlockhead. Davie Duncan, a local who has lived in the village for the past 28 years, declared, “The duke does nothing for the village. Not a thing.”

He did however, recall that the Duke of Buccleuch had visited it once in recent years to reopen the museum. “He came up. I’ve never seen anyone dressed so poorly in all my life – frayed cuffs on his jacket. He said, ‘I hope you’re not expecting a donation’.

"He’s not very popular. He wants to put up another 40-odd wind turbines right round the village.”

Nor did, Duncan consider the estate management had done much for them. “They removed some asbestos. That’s all they’ve done for the village. Sheep roam the village here – just make a mess. We’re not very friendly with the estate really.”

Buccleuch Estates, however, say that they are willing to sell some fraction of the desired land to them. John Glen, CEO of Buccleuch Estates said, “We made clear there are other areas of land where we could enter into agreements with the community that would help facilitate their ambitions. There is, however, a large area of land where transfer of ownership would conflict with existing farming operations of tenant farmers and our own farming operations.

"The existing tenant farmers – some of whom have farmed the same land for generations – have made clear they do not wish to see a change of ownership.”

For the community, however, the fraction on offer seems too little.

Anders Holch Povlsen

218,364 acres, including the Glenfeshie estate in the Cairngorms

A Danish clothing magnate who only started buying land in Scotland a decade ago is just 7,000 acres away from being the biggest landowner in the country – and his purpose for the most part, is ecological restoration.

Forty-four year-old Povlsen, CEO of Bestseller clothing, which was set up in 1975 by his parents Troels Holch Povlsen and Merete Bech Povlsen, began his collection in 2006 with the 43,000 acre Glenfeshie estate, and with the recent purchase of the 18,000 acre Eriboll estate in Sutherland, has now amassed 11 estates.

Povlsen, who lives with his wife and three children in Denmark, is extremely private and rarely speaks to the press. His family still owns 100 per cent of Bestseller, a retailer which has said that its backbone is its “family feeling”. They say: “We help each other and have unlimited faith in our relatives."

According to Thomas MacDonnell, the head of conservation for Wildland, the company that manages the estates, what Povlsen wants to do is “bring natural environments back to the Highlands.”

At Glenfeshie, the development has been all about rewilding, culling the deer, and expanding native Caledonian pine forest. Some locals complained that he was turning the land into “a jungle”, but the changes on the estate have been lauded by conservationists. Povlsen has even indicated support for the reintroduction of the lynx to keep deer numbers down.

But it’s not all trees and biodiversity. Last year he revealed plans to build a £100 million luxury spa retreat near Tongue, Sutherland.

On many levels Povlsen looks like a good thing, his interest in the environment sincere. However, for those interested in land reform, the very fact that he could just buy up the land and pursue whatever whim he wants, however good, remains a problem.

Campaigner and author, Lesley Riddoch said, "I am sick to of hearing landowners being described as beneficent when whatever decisions they make are whims or personal decisions, yet can affect the livelihood of thousands of people.”

Povlsen is also the one landowner in Scotland to be paying land tax. The only problem is that he isn’t paying it here, where it doesn’t exist. He’s paying it in Denmark, where it’s helping build schools and kindergartens in the municipality in which he lives.

Liz Murray of Global Justice Now included Povlsen in her report on Scotland’s land barons and their connections to global capitalism, observing that Besteller can be linked to concerning corporate behaviour. It is the largest shareholder in online fashion store Asos, which, she reported is, “notorious for poor working conditions” in Britain.

“The GMB union has held demonstrations outside their plants over poor working conditions. Staff have been forced to urinate in water fountains due to lack of toilet breaks,” she claimed.

Hartlepool Labour MP MP Iain Wright, the head of the Commons business committee, last month declared that the contracts used at Asos’s warehouse were exploitative and needed to “be tested in court”.

Duke of Atholl trustees

124,000 acres, around Blair Castle, Perthshire

When the 12th Duke of Atholl, Bruce Murray, comes, once a year, from his home in South Africa to visit his ancestral seat, Blair castle, he’s not strictly speaking returning to land he owns or has any control over. The estates are held in trust, and head trustee is Sarah Troughton, half-sister of the 10th Duke of Atholl, and a woman who has said she has no desire to be a duchess, and prefers just doing the business side of things.

A few years ago the BBC filmed Murray visiting Scotland to preside over the parade of his Atholl Highlanders, the only private army in Europe, for their entertaining documentary, The Last Dukes. Murray, who speaks with a broad South African accent, wasn’t brought up knowing he would become a duke, but rather just had the ceremonial role thrown at him when he became the next male in-line, after the 10th Duke died without heir.

In the film, Murray, who runs a small sign-making shop back in Haenertsburg South Africa, contemplates the title bestowed on him in 2012: “I’m here because of an accident of birth and I didn’t actually do anything to deserve this huge privilege I have. All of this that happens is done for me. It’s a very, very overwhelming sensation that I get to feel that. I haven’t done anything to deserve it.”

Alwyne Farquharson

121,000 acres around Braemer Castle in the Cairngorms

Captain Alwyne Farquharson, the current 16th Laird of Invercauld, is in his nineties and resides at Valley Farm, Norfolk with his second wife. The estate is in fact run by the Invercauld Trust, and Braemar Castle, the clan seat, is on a long lease to the Community of Braemar, a charity which keeps the castle open to the public. For the most part the land is leased out now to shooting syndicates. Earlier this year illegal bird traps, one of which had caught a gull, were found on one of the grouse moors managed by the estate.

Duke of Westminster, 95,000 acres, including the Reay forest, in Sutherland

When earlier this year the billionaire Duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor, third richest person in the UK, died suddenly aged 64, he left his Scottish estates, as well as his land in many other places (including some of the most expensive areas of London) to his son, Hugh Grosvenor, who was then quickly declared Britain’s most eligible bachelor.

The 25-year-old, who had been working for his father’s green technology company bio-bean (corr), grew up at the palatial Eaton Hall but was sent to a state primary school, later going on to attend a private school. According to The Telegraph, his 21st birthday party was rumoured to cost £5 million, and was attended by Prince Harry and around 800 other guests.

The late Gerald Grosvenor was an introspective character who bore his wealth with some difficulty. He once said he was, “Not interested in material things. Honestly. It would drive me bonkers if I thought too deeply about it.”

Willie Elliot, a ghillie on the duke’s Reay Estate for 45 years, recently said of him: “He was very easy to talk to. A very friendly gentleman and very interested in people and the estate. He was a very kind and considerate employer, liked by everybody. He loved it at Kylestrome, where he mainly stayed. He had a boat and sometimes a yacht there.”

But the duke is not without controversy. Again, neither the current nor the last Duke of Westminster actually own their estates. Rather they are held in trust. The result of this is that upon the death of the last duke, there was no great flow of death duties into the state’s coffers. If the Grosvenor estate bequeathed to the new Duke of Westminster been liable for 4 per cent inheritance tax, the amount owed to the Treasury would, according to The Guardian, “have been not far off the government’s entire death duty take for the last financial year”.

But it wasn’t, and, not surprisingly, the duke’s death prompted calls for a “Duke of Westminster tax” and reform of the system which has allowed Britain’s wealthiest families to preserve fortunes through generations by avoiding death duties.