What Will Become of Scotland's Moors?

The future of the nation's signature landscape is murky amid debates over class, culture, and nature.

At exactly 6 p.m. on July 30, 2015, in Kingussie, Scotland, George Pirie, the agent acting on behalf of Eric Heerema, a Dutch entrepreneur, took possession of Balavil Estate from Allan Macpherson-Fletcher, its former owner. The sale, worth about five million pounds ($6.3 million U.S.), meant that the 7,000-acre property—with its gray stone 18th-century manor designed by Robert Adam, rolling moors, three-mile beat of the River Spey, and Sarah the resident ghost—would no longer be part of a family legacy spanning 225 years.

“It was a great way of life, but it was time,” Macpherson-Fletcher said later, sipping a whisky in the sunroom of a renovated crofter’s cottage in a corner of the estate he’d held back for himself and his wife, Marjorie. Macpherson-Fletcher, a warm, genial, white-haired man with round tortoiseshell glasses, dressed in madder-hued trousers and a dark blue cardigan, sounded relieved.

He was 65, ready to retire. His children, “wisely,” Macpherson-Fletcher said, had no interest in taking over. The expense of upkeep was depleting of heart and wallet. “The fastest way to lose money is to own a Highland estate,” he quipped. Finally, the Scottish Parliament was about to push through a land reform bill that threatened to make ownership of such estates more costly and difficult—a plan shaped in part by long-held tensions over class and debates about the future of the moors, Scotland’s signature landscape.

Read This Next

First great apes at U.S. zoo receive COVID-19 vaccine made for animals

The priceless primate fossils found in a garbage dump

Buried for 4,000 years, this ancient culture could expand the 'Cradle of Civilization'

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet