Saturday, 1 December 2012

Highland Titles Glencoe Estates in Private Eye - Buy a Title Scam

Thanks to a reader we can report that Highland Titles Glencoe Estates have made it into the pages of the magazine Private Eye, issue number 1328 ....  And again in Private Eye (issue number 1339 page 11) when they were caught using fake newspaper articles.
Meet the Macduffers
WARNINGS from Forestry Commission Scotland that owners of woodland face £5,000 fines if they fail to tackle diseased ash trees present a new problem for the already questionable business of selling tiny parcels of land and telling punters that purchase entitles them to call themselves Laird or Lady.
The gift lairdship industry has been around for a while, despite consumer groups warning that owning patches of land – some as small as a square foot does not really entitle people to a title. According to the Court of the Lord Lyon (in charge of all things heraldic in Scotland), the title “Laird” is “not appropriate for the owner of a normal residential property, far less the owner of a small souvenir plot of land”.
One of the largest lairdship companies, Highland Titles, offers all its buyers the title Laird or Lady of Glencoe and the “right” to wear Glencoe tartan and bear the Glencoe coat of arms -even though the Glencoe Woods where the small plots are for sale aren’t even part of the Glencoe estate, but on the nearby Keil Estate.
As well as looking silly, purchasers who use the Glencoe crest would risk committing an offence under Scottish heraldic law (something Scottish football clubs have recently discovered is very much alive and kicking).
Highland Titles, which is registered in, er, Guernsey and run by self-styled “philanthropist, conservationist, biologist” Peter Bevis, advertises that its woods consist of “native Scottish broadleaf, either oak, ash, rowan, hazel…” A Forestry Commission Scotland spokesman tells the Eye that statutory plant health notices could be served on either the owner or manager of woodland, which would be decided on a case by case basis. Fines are imposed for failure to comply.
Lairdship companies could of course reassure customers that there is no such risk by admitting that since souvenir plots are not registered in the Land Register, buyers don’t actually own the land any more than they do the title (as Registers of Scotland warned in a law journal article earlier this year). But then, what could they claim to be selling?"
Highland Titles have mentioned this article on their own Facebook page, and in typical fashion have put their owns spin on it and as usual their take is - let's just say somewhat misleading. They have even altered the text on the Highland Titles website to support their new story. Lets have a look at what is says on the relevant bits of their Facebook page text.

"Unfortunately the gist of the piece is that all our Lairds might find themselves liable for dealing with Ash Dieback, 
the fungal disease chalara that is sweeping through British ash trees. There are fines for landowners who fail to deal with diseased ash trees. 
Unfortunately for Private Eye, they were so excited with the potentially humorous side of this story that nobody thought to check whether the Mountain Ash that forms a part of the understory of Glencoe Wood is related to the ash trees that suffer from Ash Dieback. 
Forestry Commission state:
Rowan trees are easily mistaken for ash but they are not susceptible to chalara and should not be reported."

Unfortunately for Highland Tiltes, the Private Eye article made no mention of trees which may have been recently planted. Glencoe Wood also consists of MATURE woodland, and some of that woodland has been sold as plots. I'd be very surprised indeed if none of that mature native woodland did not have ash trees susceptible to ash dieback. Highland Titles seem to have forgotten to mention this - ooops!

The have also changed the story about their planting on the Highland Titles website to suit.

From Google cache at 25 November 2012 on the FAQs page.
“The type of tree we plant for you will depend on the type of land we plant it in. It will be a native Scottish broadleaf, probably an oak, ash, rowan, hazel, birch, holly, willow or alder.”
But on 01 December 2012 the same FAQ now reads.
“The type of tree we plant for you will depend on the type of land we plant it in. It will be a native Scottish broadleaf, probably an oak, mountain ash (rowan), hazel, birch, holly, willow or alder.”
Glencoe Wood is mature woodland, long predating Highland Titles. Their argument that MOUNTAIN ASH is not ASH is a classic straw man ploy, they can use it to make the article look ridiculous, even though it wasn't what was said. Highland Titles can not honestly say there are no ash trees in Glencoe Wood, they have not exhaustively catalogued all of trees in the wood, and it is a suitable native species as they acknowledged in their (now amended) planting list.

In fact we have it from Highland Titles own material that Keil Hill does indeed contain native Ash trees, from their own "Interpretive Plan" save a copy before they change it, I have!!.
"Keil Hill has two relict areas of established deciduous woodland, with a mixture of birch, oak, ash, hazel, rowan and holly and willow. The Hill enjoys a damp, humid climate with high rainfall and acidic soils. Salachan as a place name, means "willow"."
Note that Ash and Rowan are mentioned separately!  Oh dear Highalnd Titles caught out fibbing yet again! If you bought a plot and it contains any ash trees, you could indeed be liable if you fail to tackle diseased ash trees as pointed out by Highland Titles own Facebook page. Unless of course you don't really own the land, in which case you have been conned, and you'd have to wonder what you did actually buy?

Highland Titles have made another appearance in Private Eye (issue number 1339 page 11), when they were caught using fake newspaper articles as part of their marketing effort, read about it here.

I have a lot more evidence suggesting dishonest and unethical business practices by several souvenir plot / title vendors which I have not published.. If you are a bona fide journalist or Government department with an interest in investigating this business and would like access to that evidence, please get in touch with me by using the email address on the right or sending me a comment marked "confidential", I will not publish comments so marked.

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