Landless farmer who launched a fight to keep his farm says the pace of land reform is too slow
ANDREW STODDART, a farmer who fought throughout 2015 to hold onto his East Lothian farm of 22 years and who was finally forced to leave in January by his landlord has said that public support for his cause was “vital” in keeping himself and his family afloat.
Stoddart, who is now registered as a ‘landless farmer’ told CommonSpace that had it not been for the public campaign in his defence he would be in a far worse position.
The fight to save Stoddart’s Coulston Mains farm in Haddington became part of the battle for land reform and tenent farmers rights. The movement held demonstrations at the Scottish Parliament, calling for the Scottish Government to intervene on Stoddart’s behalf, and the campaign attracted UK wide media attention.
He said: “If I hadn’t had massive public support I don’t know how it would have turned out. We’ve only been able to stay in the local area because of the public support and the strength of the campaign.”
“The campaign also persuaded the landlord to pay us the money they had no intention of paying us. That money has been vital. It changed our whole situation from terrible to almost bearable.”
Stoddart was forced to leave his farm along with three other adults who also worked there and seven children for whom the farm was home.
Stoddart believes the Coulston Trust, who own the land he worked on, wanted him to leave so they could raise rents for future tenants. He and the other families living and working on the farm accepted a settlement from the trust in an eleventh hour deal in November 2015.
Farming equipment was sold-off piece by piece in a fire sale at Coulston Mairns in January, a low point in Stoddart’s bid to retain his way of life.
He said: “We had our old friends and neighbours swarming over the farm putting in their offers. That was hard to take.
“But we had people from all over Scotland out of the blue, people we had never met, reaching out to help us.
“You find out who your real friends are, let’s put it like that.”
Stoddart now provides for his family by continuing agricultural work for others in East Lothian.
He said: “I’ve managed to keep some sheep, and I’ve managed to hold on to some equipment that I’ve used on a contract basis for other people.
“It’s been hardest on the children.”
“The connection people have with the land is not easy to break. It’s not just a business where you can shut the door and walk away.” Andrew Stoddart
Asked who he blames for the loss of his farm, Stoddart said that though the Scottish Government had not lived up to its ambitions so far with land reform, the primary blame lay with the trust and with the system of landlordism in Scotland.
He said: “The Scottish Government have made a mess of things, but their intentions were good back in 2013. Unfortunately the landed establishment have pulled that all to pieces.
“But the Landlords are the ones who have created the antagonism.
“In my case, they threw me off the farm. They didn’t have to do that. They could have arrived at a reasonable deal with me instead of trying to crucify me.
“The direction of travel with Land reform is right, but it’s going at a very slow pace.”
Stoddart made his comments on the eve of the Our Land festival organised to radicalise demands for land reform.
The festival, which launched today (12 August) will involve a month of activities to reflect on years of intense activism over land reform, which resulted in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, and will also debate the way forward for more radical reform that makes Scotland’s land accessible for ordinary Scots.
Scotland currently has some the most unequal land distribution in Western Europe, with 432 individual owning half of all private land in the country.
Stoddart has not given up on reclaiming his position as a farmer working on his own farm.
He said: “The connection people have with the land is not easy to break. It’s not just a business where you can shut the door and walk away.”
Pictures courtesy of Channel 4 News,CommonSpace
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