A NEW company supported by Boris Johnson’s dad Stanley has sparked widespread anger over its plans to buy huge tracts of land in Scotland and the rest of the UK “to make nature pay”.

The Real Wild Estate Company has been branded as “the latest in a long line of land speculators” by land reform campaigner Andy Wightman, while ecologist and author Alastair McIntosh has described its plans as “a rich man’s solution for a rich man’s world”.

Now the board of Community Land Scotland has written to the company offering a meeting to explain why its proposal is “so disconcerting and out of touch” with Scottish plans for land reform and community ownership.

The company was launched at the Somerset farm owned by Ben Goldsmith, whose brother Zac’s gift of a free holiday to Boris Johnson has caused controversy. Johnson’s father, Stanley, was pictured at the launch of the company which has also been criticised by Magnus Davidson of the University of the Highlands and Island’s Environmental Research Unit.

The National: Magnus Davidson.

The company calls itself “the UK’s first ecosystem and species restoration business offering sustainable financial returns” and says it has millions of pounds already committed to buy land for rewilding, restoring biodiversity and storing carbon. It plans to buy more than 100,000 acres of land in the next 10 years – “predominantly, marginal land, forestry sector land and hunting estates”.

Its launch was announced by Rebirding author Benedict Macdonald and it is headed by Julian Matthews, who is described as an “eco-entrepreneur”.

Macdonald said the fundamental model of Real Wild Estates was “to make nature pay, by delivering sustainable business returns”.

READ MORE: Chris Packham and 100k Brits tell royals to 'walk the walk' and rewild estates

He said: “We will work with landowners, and investors acquiring land, to deliver significantly better returns on ecological restoration than conventional land uses. In doing so, we hope to significantly increase rural jobs on larger holdings, especially in areas like the Highlands.”

Backers of the company include make-up giant L’Oreal.

However, Davidson said that what has been billed as a new, exciting, innovative rewilding company appeared to be “effectively estate agents which put a green spin on things, which some might call greenwash”.

He continued: “It is exactly what we have seen in the last couple of hundred years with the exploitation of Scotland’s land and inequality for the benefit of the few – in this case investors in the market trying to be spun as environmental.

“We do desperately need to restore landscapes and offset emissions, restore peatlands and regenerate woodland, but I advocate that communities do this rather than estate agents and big landlords.”

Davidson said that while the company might talk about consulting communities and increasing employment, people would rather have “cash for the assets that are under their feet”.

He added: “There is no discussion around what price per tonne of carbon goes to the community and no suggestion of what structures will be put in place for communities to benefit from this. I don’t think it has crossed their minds that communities should get a share of the profit.”

Davidson said that while he would like to see restored, renatured and repopulated land in Scotland, the way to do it was through more regulation, land reform, community empowerment and community wealth building.

Ailsa Raeburn, chair of Community Land Scotland and chair of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, said the company’s proposal arose from a lack of understanding of land reform and community ownership in Scotland.

She said: “When you look at their proposals the number-one outcome is return on financial investment.

“There is no talk about communities or engaging local people so it is very much commodifying land in Scotland for financial return.

“This is a story that has happened in Scotland over the last few

hundred years and we really don’t want more of that sort of ‘improvement’. We have been subject to that form of ‘improvement’ for a very long time and look at the mess we are in.

“We have a really degraded environment, we have lost biodiversity, we have got huge depopulation, we have really concentrated land ownership and this proposal would only worsen all of those.”

Raeburn said it was “egregious” to describe what the company intends to do as private investment as it appeared to be largely driven by

the public subsidies expected to be given through the UK Government’s post-Brexit land management schemes.

“They are all expecting the government will be putting a lot of money into achieving our net-zero targets and they want to be at the front of the queue with their hands out,” she said.

​READ MORE: Rewilding scheme to cover half a million acres of the Scottish Highlands

Richard Bunting, spokesperson for Rewilding Britain, said rewilding needed to be as much about people as about tackling the nature and climate emergencies.

He said: “For us, a guiding principle is that projects be locally led, while offering social and economic opportunities for communities.

“We know that community-driven rewilding projects can ensure nature’s recovery and climate action while boosting the number and diversity of rural and coastal jobs, and supporting repeopling of rural areas.

“Projects such as Coast in Arran and the community buyout of Langholm Moor to create the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve are inspiring examples of what can be done.”

The National: Scottish Land Commission chief executive Hamish Trench

Hamish Trench (above), chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission, said that while private investment in Scotland was needed to deliver on climate and nature goals, it had to work in ways that benefited local communities.

“For people looking to buy land in Scotland, as in this case, we would encourage them to look carefully and understand the context of the land they wish to invest in and look at ways that investment is going to work with the interest of local communities,” he said.

“It is not just about engaging with communities but making sure that the actual benefit is felt within them.”

McIntosh cautioned that any development of the land must have the respective community’s agreement and there was a danger that land would become even more expensive if government money became available for rewilding and carbon offsetting.

He said: “Unless there is a community arrangement to hold private investors at bay, then communities could be excluded from reclaiming the land.”