KINLOCH Castle on Rum, Glenprosen in Angus and Tayvallich in Argyll.

What do these tiny rural communities have in common?

All are potentially being sold to the highest bidder over the head of local communities, already fragile and unnaturally small thanks to centuries of private, absentee and quango ownership. And it’s not at all clear the new Land Reform Bill will fix things.

Happily, the Scottish Government has stepped in at the 11th hour to stop NatureScot selling Kinloch Castle to Jeremy Hosking without community involvement.

But if the quango still wants to sell, who’d be the community rep tasked with negotiating safeguards from the millionaire who’s donated to parties led by Nigel Farage and Laurence Fox?

Why has the community been placed in such a weak position by a community-supporting Scottish Government quango?

Meanwhile, Tayvallich estate in Argyll is on the market for £10.4 million – quite beyond the means of the local community, which is bidding for two of the 13 lots (and developing village land donated by the current owners.)

The community’s aim is to prevent a clear-out of tenants if new owners eye the bigger bucks to be made from tree planting and carbon offsetting.

Half of all long-term lets locally are owned by the estate. So, if 13 new absentee owners order a ‘clear fell’ of locals there’s nowhere else to go.

Indeed, such is the incredible escalation of land prices, few communities will ever be able to muster the cash for buyouts again, on land suitable for mass tree planting.

Consider. Thirty years ago, £2 million would have bought the Assynt Crofters’ land and the island of Eigg.

But the average estate has leapt 87% in value between 2020 and 2021 alone. Soaring land prices have exposed the weakness of expecting community buyouts alone to correct the most concentrated, unregulated and permanently over-heated land market in the developed world, without implementing land taxes and effective planning control.

Now that substantial heat has been further stoked (albeit inadvertently) by the net zero strategies of both the Scottish and UK Governments.

First came cash for onshore wind farms. Now comes mass tree planting – great for Scotland and the planet, but not so good for rural communities and more diverse land ownership.

Every large company wants to be carbon neutral, since a measurable “journey” towards net zero is specified in some government contracts and factored into long-term bank lending and the preferences of green consumers and eco-conscious millennial staff. Again, this is all good – in principle.

But companies will need to offset the carbon they can’t eliminate from their own processes – and that’s where carbon offsetting comes in, with landowners selling carbon credits for forests they’ve registered and validated under the UK Woodland or Peatland Carbon Codes. Yet, if carbon offsetting sounds like a problem for the likes of Amazon, in some very distant universe – think again. The UK Government’s Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) urges every company to have net zero plans by 2025.

Presumably that helped motivate Forestry and Land Scotland (the old government-owned Forest Commission Scotland) to become the first public body to buy an upland estate for the laudable purpose of restoring peatlands and expanding native woodland in Glenprosen. Grand. The Angus estate had been owned by investor Robin Batchelor but the 16,500-acre sporting estate will change hands at the end of November. There’s a £25million asking price though the sale price is expected to be nearer £15million.

Now, apart from the Scottish Government paying over the odds thanks to rocketing land price inflation driven by their own laudable drives for reforestation and net zero – and the small problem that this has been an off-market ‘secret’ sale of the kind the Scottish Government is trying to outlaw, since it precludes rival bids from local farmers and communities – what’s so wrong with it?

Just the small matter that five local tenants have lost their jobs and possibly their homes too. One has already left, one is leaving and whilst the others, I understand, have the possibility of extending their tenancies, without jobs or land, why would they stay?

And how is this any different from the criticism the Duke of Buccleuch has received after long-standing tenant farmers said they were being forced off the land to plant trees for which there can be generous government grants?

True, the numbers involved in Glenprosen are pitifully few. Except it’s happening across Scotland – off-market, small-scale and apparently for the greater good. Yet also the tin lid for many rural, landless communities which have been struggling to survive for decades.

How is this ok? And how does any of it get resolved through the mechanism of community buyouts which are now far beyond the financial and practical means of tiny, laird-dependent communities?

Undoubtedly, it seems hard to promote rural sustainability, net zero and reafforestation at the same time in Scotland. Yet one laudable objective shouldn’t be allowed to trump the others; 432 people own half the private land of Scotland but 100,000 people – members of the Metsäliitto Cooperative – own half the private forests of Finland.

Trees and people go together everywhere else, except Scotland, where land is unaffordable to all but investors, so that people-free, blanket forestry looks like the only game in town. Just as blanket deer forests and sheep parks appeared in centuries past.

Will the new Land Reform Bill remedy this? Probably not. If land has spiralled beyond ‘ordinary’ reach, then pre-emption and prior notification are meaningless. Rural communities help keep Scotland sustainable. Why is that obvious reality so hard to grasp?

Read more by Lesley Riddoch:

What this crisis tells us about the Tory party

Why isn’t there more of a fuss over the housing crisis?