A Square Foot of Old Scotland: Ownership of Souvenir Plots

In the most recent edition of the Edinburgh Law Review, you will find a short article by Dr Jill Robbie (of the University of Glasgow) and me on souvenir plots in Scots (and English) law. An open access version of the article is here.

I sometimes link to publications in my blog, just to signpost what I have been doing to those who may not be paying attention to legal journals. I did not bother doing that for this short article, but recent news coverage has encouraged me to do so now.

On 29 September 2015, a number of outlets carried a story about a conservation oriented activity for the Scottish wildcat.

The National: Become a laird – and help save the wildcat

STV: Bid to create Highland reservations for endangered Scottish wildcat

Further press is also available on the Wildcat Haven website.

This activity has been described as “crowdfunding”, a fundraising route that is increasingly common. Wildcat Haven is perhaps not an orthodox crowdfunder, in that it invites participants to purchase a square foot of land, together with a certificate, a “glossy booklet” and a DVD for £30. There is then a sliding scale of optional extra purchases, helping to pay for a lure stick, a radio collar or a camera trap.

A square foot of land,” eh?

So what else does that “Buy a Plot” bit of the Wildcat Haven website say?

Supporters obtain a personal right to a souvenir plot of land in Wildernesse Wood and may change John Smith to Lord John Smith of Wildernesse by using documentation we provide.

I offer no comment on how John Smith may decide to style himself after this purchase, and good luck to him: for all I care he can call himself Lady Nancy, whether he buys a gift pack or not.

From a property law perspective, note the lack of assertion about the acquisition of ownership. You “obtain a personal right“. You have a contract. You do not have a real right of ownership. That statement made about a personal right does not wind me up quite as much as a statement printed in the National, namely:

Wildcat Haven has borrowed a model from commercial sponsor Highland Titles, a gift company that sells micro plots of land in its nature reserves allowing any landowner to style themselves as a laird or lady.

Sorry, what? Landowner?

Yes, we have thrashed this out before, at length and sometimes in an entertaining fashion.

Dr Robbie and I tried to draw a line under it in our Edinburgh Law Review article, when we built up to a straight-forward final sentence including the words “sellers of souvenir plots are not providing their customers with ownership of land.

Do we need to have this chat again?

As for the Wildcat Haven scheme as a whole, Andy Wightman has blogged about that.

UPDATE: 1 October. The Wildcat Haven FAQ has some slightly familiar wording within it. Here is a comparison of the opening paragraph of the Edinburgh Law Review article and some text from the FAQ. The earlier FAQ text was even more familiar, as this comparison with 30 September‘s content shows (i.e. there was originally no extra sentence about pole squatting).

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About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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9 Responses to A Square Foot of Old Scotland: Ownership of Souvenir Plots

  1. Pingback: #HighlandTitlesDay | basedrones

  2. Angela Hewitt says:

    so how can I get my money back? I bought my ‘piece of land’ several years ago. I’m horrified to learn I’ve been scammed, embarrassed and horrified.

  3. Angela Hewitt says:

    sure, thank you very much.

  4. Pingback: A model for transparency of landownership in Scotland, drawing on letting agent registration | basedrones

  5. Pingback: A Story about Highland Titles, a DMCA Notice and US Copyright Law | basedrones

  6. Steve Webster says:

    Angela, have you ever been to visit your “estate” ? They’ll take you to the very spot if you ask. Then look around, talk to them, then decide whether you want to be part of what they’re doing. They have an annual gathering in May you as an investor can attend. Last year there were talks by Mark Avery, who’d been leading the push to ban driven grouse shooting, which Highland Titles support, Alan Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, lead scientist of Wildcat Haven, who would also be delighted to welcome you to join the volunteer team in their winter work in and around Ardnamurchan, and others. It’s a convivial occasion over three days, a chance to meet other investors who come from many countries, who tend to be far more interested in the work than the faux nobility bullshit. It’s a marketing come-on. You weren’t really expecting to build a wee house and retire in your wee highland estate, were you ? One sad aspect of the witch hunt against Highland Titles and Wildcat Haven is that a smart idea to fund conservation projects (pioneered actually by Laphroaig) is now a no-go area, for example for the Woodland Trust now engaged in trying to raise half a million to buy the forests around Loch Arkaig, something Highland Titles earlier wanted to invest some big money in for Wildcat Haven until Arkaig Community Trust were put off by the smear stories. Wildcat Haven itself has been going now approaching a decade, and operated on a shoestring and a lot of volunteer time for years before Highland Titles began to give it money, and land to launch its own mini-estate funding scheme, which in turn was some time before SNH started up its Wildcat Action Plan. Wildcat Haven was invited to participate but refused when they learned the Plan involves taking wildcats out of the wild into a captive breeding program which Wildcat Haven considers unnecessary, cruel, and likely to benefit the zoo industry more than wildcats or wildcat habitat. The Haven team has as far it can tell cleared 800 square miles of feral and hybrid cats, starting from Ardnamurchan, through winter trapping, neutering, vaccinating and release of those cats, and believes the benefit to wildcats in the Haven area is becoming apparent. Th eventual ambition is to make the entire Highlands and Islands northwest of Glen More wildcat territory free of fertile ferals. They’ve also been offering a free neutering service in Ardnamurchan and now beyond for domestic cats, getting a good uptake as locals turn on to what they’re doing and local schools welcome them. They won an award from Humane Society International for the way they’re going about it all.

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