WE can already be certain this is going to be a bad year for Scotland’s backwaters and backwoods. The problems are largely manmade, though as I look out my window at a boiling burn that buffets its banks I can see Mother Nature is doing her bit too.

I wrote a couple of months ago about the prospects for Scottish farmers who are no longer going to be supported by the Common Agricultural Policy. This is, of course, a system of subsidy, which I would normally disapprove of.

But, long before the CAP, most European countries were already subsidising their farmers to some degree. This was in part defence against the vagaries of the climate blowing in from the wild and windy North Atlantic Ocean.

It was in part because farming failure often affects not just this business or that business, but throws a whole region and its social structure into crisis too. And it was in part because a lot of people have a soft spot for a more old-fashioned Europe, and each nation feels it would lose something more than mere crops if the countryside was covered with industry and housing.

Admittedly there is not a great deal else we can say in favour of the CAP. If we drive across the North European Plain we can see how the system, so far from preserving a peasantry, in fact hands the land over to vast capitalist agribusiness.

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Villages vanish anyway, animals are confined in special concentration camps of their own and the only human beings in view are distant dwarves sitting at the controls of huge combine harvesters. It is unlikely these vistas will change much in the 21st century. Lobbies are too well organised, and governments prefer to keep them onside. Brexit will, however, change British agriculture. Our equivalent of agribusiness is English agriculture, the product of big farmers in a fertile country, specialising in certain crops and again making sure the government is aware of their needs, especially their financial needs. I am sure they will survive.

Scottish agriculture is again another sort of agriculture. Except for the dairy farms, most of our farms run at a loss, in conditions not so favourable as England’s – less fertile, colder, rainier. Recent figures show the average farm earns £149,000 a year, yet bears costs amounting to £168,000 a year. Dairy farming makes a reasonable profit but all the other types lose money, or would lose it without the subsidies they get, especially in remote areas.

That is the unenviable future faced by the relatively fertile parts of our remote countryside. Today, however, I want to add in a picture of the infertile parts, the moor, mountain and rough grazing. They cover two-thirds of the surface of Scotland.

I’ll gratify regular readers by starting with the grouse shooting that delivers economic benefits where little else can. These moors and mountains are of next to no value, except for the shooting that does at least provide some employment as well as entertainment.

An official report published a couple of months ago shows that altogether it delivers high levels of local and regional investment while receiving no public funding. From Scotland’s point of view it’s quite a bargain. Rich sportsmen pay hefty sums for the pursuit of their pleasures, and some of this ends up in the pockets of locals who need it.

Of course, grouse moors are only part of the picture. The same infrastructure is just as good for deer. With stags and hinds, Scotland is overpopulated.

Death often comes by starvation, and shooting the weaker ones can serve the purposes of conservation. So much the better if we get wolves and lynx back into the Highlands too. Estates that can open several flows of income have greater opportunities for more sophisticated tourist development by people who are the best suited to provide it, that is, by Highlanders themselves.

THE Werritty Report published last year pointed to the key role of gamekeepers. It’s a job that tends to run in families down the generations. The men who do it often see it as a vocation rather than a career. They can boss the toffs around (delicious).

They have an incentive to be constantly on the lookout for new activities to sustain the way of life. With today’s wide public interest in conservation, gamekeepers can choose the role of improving habitats for the betterment of wildlife. Nowadays many undertake regular vocational training and few operate without formal qualifications.

Even so, that does not relieve them from another sort of pressure that arises in modern Scotland, the political pressure from campaign groups in one specialised cause or another. It has increased since “the right to roam” (which used to be a part of common law) was put into statute nearly 20 years ago.

Today, activists in the Lowlands want land reforms that would include breaking up the big estates and trying to settle them with incomers (though most of the ground suitable for smallholdings has been redistributed under earlier legislation). SNP governments show sympathy without actually doing much.

Still, it’s good we count land reform as a legitimate public concern. For many of the gamekeepers involved in the Werritty study, there was indeed a “desire to have more open, public dialogue about practical land management options”.

The aim should be to create consensus instead of conflict, between the owners and the users of the land, between natives and white settlers, between Highland traditionalists and Lowland radicals. So that all round there will be “more informed opinions”.

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Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, says: “The report researchers have substantiated what we have always said. Driven grouse shooting has disproportionate employment and economic benefits in the areas where it occurs. It helps to keep the heartbeat in fragile communities and the lights on in the glen houses.

“Gamekeepers play key roles in their communities and their work, which has no drain on public finances, extends beyond their own ground. They are offering unsubsidised deer management, habitat improvement and predator control which also helps protect farm livestock and forestry. This comes at no cost to the public purse.”

I started this column with freshwater and I’ll come back to it at the end. There was a time of social conflicts over lochs and burns that mirrored those of a more hierarchical Scotland.

Nowadays there’s not much. There are still estates that charge a small fortune to fish particular stretches of river. At the same time angling is a popular pastime with a notable proletarian participation.

It would be good if this became a model for the general relationship of Scots, and foreigners, to our wonderful landscapes.