ALMOST 6000 people have signed a petition calling on the Scottish Government to stop giving forestry grants to landowners replacing tenanted farms with trees.

The petition, started by Aeneas Nicolson on the 38 Degrees website, calls on Forestry Commission Scotland and Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, to stop landowners “removing people from farms or demanding they buy or quit” to open the door to being able to claim vast sums of public funding to plant commercial forestry through the Forestry Grant Scheme.

The petition adds: “The Scottish Government is currently promoting the increase of forestry by awarding huge sums of money through the Forestry Grant Scheme.”

The petition names the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate – the peer is believed to be Scotland’s largest private individual landowner – and says it has “reviewed” tenancies and has ended leases or notified tenant farmers of an intention to end their leases across the “vast Buccleuch land holding”.

The petition adds: “Currently, the Duke is legally in a position to evict tenants who are in non-secure leases through no fault of their own, and then obtain large sums of money from the Scottish public purse to plant trees on viable agricultural land.

“Every farm unit that closes means a loss of livelihood to the tenants, a loss of tenant farmers for Scotland, a loss of farming diversity in a country with the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in the developed world, and a loss of people, skills and trade for fragile rural economies.”

Nicolson says on the petition website: “I became aware of this when good friends who had farmed as managers for a previous tenant for eight years, and a further 10 years in their own right, were abruptly told their lease would not be renewed and their ground would be turned over to trees. I have witnessed at first hand how their lives have been devastated.”

Buccleuch has strongly refuted allegations of mistreating its tenants, and has previously pointed out that forestry was not the reason for ending 27 tenancy agreements. The estate says it was demanded by the Government and farming bodies and that the vast majority of the land remains in agricultural use.

A spokesman said: “Buccleuch is considering increased forestry on approximately three per cent of existing agricultural land on the Eskdale and Liddesdale Estate. This will affect three parts of farms, with one additional farm being sold by Buccleuch, and we strongly refute accusations that we have treated tenants unfairly.

“Both farming and forestry are important and legitimate uses of land. We have organised a public exhibition next week to provide the facts on this matter to the local community.”