THE couple at the centre of the growing row over tenant farmers in the Borders being evicted to make way for grant-aided forests have spoken of their ordeal at a public meeting.

Alison and David Telfer of Cleuchfoot farm near Langholm told the audience of more than 200 people in the Borders town of their dismay at the way they claim they have been treated by Buccleuch Estates.

Buccleuch manages the giant 70,000 acre Eskdale and Liddesdale Estate on behalf of Scotland’s largest private landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch.

The Duke was at the meeting in person along with his chief executive John Glen, and Dumfriesshire Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell.

According to the Eskdale and Liddlesdale Advertiser, Alison Telfer told the audience they were told last September their lease would probably not be renewed, after which they met Alan Nisbet, the then estate manager.

She said: “He told us our lease was ending at the end of February, that the hill would be planted and the house and the rest of the land sold.

“He said ‘the die is cast, this will happen’. Whatever our retirement plans were, bring them forward four or five years.

“We asked what would happen to our hefted flock of South Country Cheviots. He said they would be cleared and we couldn’t be sentimental about sheep.”

According to Telfer, negotiations continued but they weren’t happy with Buccleuch’s proposals because Buccleuch wouldn’t buy the sheep.

She continued: “Our agent rang us on February 14 to say that Mr Glen had issued a very distressing ultimatum; that if we didn’t agree to their proposals, the next day they would start proceedings to evict us at the end of the month.

“We eventually signed the paperwork on the 22nd but we aren’t happy with what we’ve had to sign. We feel we were bullied and intimidated into it.”

Glen told the meeting: “I regret and I’m sorry if that’s the feeling. It’s not what we’re aiming to do. We want to have professional conversations with our tenants.

“I do take it on board and I’ll look at our processes if that’s the way you think people are behaving.”

Oliver Mundell has spoken out on behalf of the tenant farmers before and he told the Buccleuch representatives: “You have to accept that, if that’s the perception people have of your organisation, that’s not a good position to be in. People aren’t always happy with the outcome of negotiations between a landlord and tenant but this here goes beyond that.

“Tenants feel intimidated and can’t speak out. I’ve lost count of the number of people who can’t believe that it’s come to this.

“We’re now in the very sad position where people don’t trust what you have to say and something seriously needs to be done to address that.

“It’s not a happy position for a community to be in. Of course, there is change but it’s the pace of change which shocked people.”

Local campaigner on the issue, Aenas Nicholson, told The National: “It was standing room only at the meeting such is the strong feeling locally. There is more than just the Telfers being affected.

“They [Buccleuch] tried to end the meeting early, but the people were not having it, proving the massive concern about this issue.”

The National was unable to contact the Buccleuch Estate yesterday, but a spokesman told us earlier this week: “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.”