Monday, August 4, 2014

Snowdon....Vertical real estate at sky high prices!

Clogwyn Du Arddu: Part of the Yr Wyddfa estate to be sold in plots.

There’s nothing like a mountain being put up for sale to attract the headline writers and ratchet up the comments in the outdoor world. No sooner have we been treated to the Blencathra saga then lo and behold, our beloved Cloggy and its environs are being hawked around by a land agent acting for landowner Dafydd Morris, as if it was a Barrett Homes estate in Telford! You see, the farmer who owns this rather beautiful but famished and unproductive land, wants to maximise his profit by selling it in plots of up to 1000 units. By selling it this way he hopes it will bring him in a rather greater profit than by just selling it as one estate. In this case, £7m. Given the National Trust’s track record in paying vastly over the odds for two neighbouring Snowdon estates then I’m not sure why his agent hasn’t offered it directly to them? 

However, the landowner who will retain over 1000 acres of mountain estate, has fired a salvo at those environmentalists who have correctly pointed out that overstocking an ecosystem of limited feed value with sheep is not exactly conducive to maintaining a healthy, diverse ecological balance. The ubiquitous sheep is not known as ‘The Desert maker’ for nothing. Cropping the sallow mountain slopes like an industrial vacuum cleaner; shrubs, trees, wild flowers and other upland vegetation species are hovered up by an animal that boasts an almost unnatural ability to access the most difficult locations. A high, apparently inaccessible mountain ledge is no guarantee that a solitary Rowan sapling will ever mature if a ragged welsh mountain ewe with a lamb in tow is in the vicinity.

Referring back to the first Snowdon purchase by the NT. The landowner in that case pocketed over £4m for what is in fact a vanity project for NT directors who might know something about selling cream teas in a Stately Home but nothing about mountain estate management. Hence their paying vastly over the odds . Not content with this piece of financial ineptitude, they consolidated their portfolio with another over-priced purchase. This time a Nant Gwynant Farm which might have raised £500k if sold as a working farm, but certainly not the £1m+ the Trust paid. 

The landowner is working on the assumption that the ‘Cloggy Estate’ will bring in over £12k an acre when in fact, rough upland pasture will usually only realise between £1k and £3k an acre if marketed by a farm management agency as upland grazing. The marginal uplands offers little in the way of agricultural diversity and it is for this reason that farmers have overstocked the mountains with sheep and milked the EU subsidy pot dry. There is little money to be made in running an estate in a sensitive and ecologically self sustaining manner when you can just drop the tailgate of a lorry and usher out another batch of sheep onto the hillside.

If for environmental purposes we wish to take the animal equivalent to Agent Orange out of the equation, then that leaves just one other option. That is essentially, to leave the land and let nature take its course to a great extent, but in a managed way which will encourage ecological diversification. This is largely what is happening with the Wild Ennerdale project. An environmentally sensitive management of a once beautiful valley which was blighted-much to Wainwright’s chagrin- by extensive conifer plantations.

The latest mountain sale is driven not by altruism but by greed. If the landowner had any interest in seeing the mountain thrive he would give the estate to a sound and experienced mountain management organisation like The John Muir Trust . Given that the JMT have recently indicated an interest in purchasing a Rhinog mountain estate and given their success in managing upland estates in Scotland, then I can’t think of anyone better equipped in this area.

That has to be a far nobler legacy than dying with £7m in the bank!

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