Booming demand for hunting, shooting and fishing estates has effectively pushed the price of catching a single salmon to £10,000 and shooting a stag to £45,000.
The value of salmon rivers, trout chalk streams, grouse moors and Scottish red deer stalking estates, which slumped after the 2008 financial crash, has soared to a new peak this year, according to a sporting property index from the estate agents Knight Frank.
Prime grouse moors are now changing hands at a price equivalent to £5,500 per brace, while the best "double-bank beats" for trout fishing are fetching £800 per metre – up a third from pre financial-crash levels.
Knight Frank says the average value of Scottish salmon river sales equated to just over £6,500 per salmon in 2007/8. By 2009 the average was down to just over £4,000 per fish, but it is now more than £7,000, with the best stretches of water fetching more than £10,000.
The primary category, says the report, includes "trophy" properties – "the ones that if money were no object any sportsman would want to own". For chalk streams, these would include the best double-bank beats on the Test and Itchen. For salmon, the best spots on the Spey, Dee, Tweed and Tay.
Andrew Shirley, rural property researcher at Knight Frank, said: "If the Junction Pool on the Tweed, probably the most famous salmon fishing beat in the world, was ever put up for sale, it would make far more than £10,000 per fish."
The most valuable grouse shooting moors, the report says, are in the north Pennines, while "the most desirable deer forests will be those with exhilarating scenery, where the stalking is largely uninterrupted by other land uses and a sense of isolation is balanced by good transport links". Estates on the west coast with sea views, say the agents, are particularly highly regarded.
The average value of hunting, shooting and fishing assets is up 32% over the past decade, with grouse moors up 49%. The report says: "Although this may not sound high when compared with some of the other property classes … it is actually evidence of a very robust market."
Clive Hopkins, who heads Knight Frank's farms and estates business, said: "We had a ripper of a recession that tore the heart out of the market in 2008 and 2009. The first thing that suffers during an economic crisis is this kind of very expensive and very discretionary purchase. The fact that growth is positive at all shows how resilient an asset a specialist sporting estate is."
Organisers of luxury hunting and shooting trips – which cost as much as £15,000 a day – say demand has never been stronger. George Goldsmith, who runs a company that offers "the ultimate Scottish holiday, sporting week or shooting weekend," said that earlier this month he had welcomed the "largest private jet ever to land at Inverness airport" before whisking its owners off to an exclusive Highland hunting lodge.
A study carried out in 2006 estimated that deer stalking was worth £105m per year to the Scottish economy, and supported the equivalent of 2,520 full time jobs, often in fragile and remote communities.
Behind talk of a Victorian-style romantic revival in Scottish sporting estates, however, lie rather more prosaic financial facts. The soaring values of vast Scottish estates are also being driven by large taxpayer-funded agricultural subsidies and payments for renewable power, such as wind farms.
A 28,300-acre Highland estate recently sold for above its £11m price tag, and the buyer bagged not just sporting rights but also £12,000-a-week in agricultural subsidies and £256,000 a year from a single hydroelectric scheme – with the potential for 11 more.
Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Glasgow South West, has called Scottish landowners "the greediest benefit claimants in the country". According to a report for the House of Commons Scottish affairs committee, 0.025% of the population owns 67% of the privately-owned rural land in Scotland, with the largest landowners expected to net around £1bn over the next few years from rental charges levied on windfarms.
International buyers have flocked to Scottish estates in recent years, and the Danish billionaire fashion magnate Anders Holch Povlsen is now Scotland's second biggest landowner, with more than 150,000 acres.
The environmentalist and Guardian columnist George Monbiot last year argued that many of the foreign buyers may pay no taxes in the UK but receive millions in farm subsidies. But Povlsen's spokesman told the Sunday Times earlier this year that while his land does benefit from subsidies, his underlying plan is to acquire a string of neighbouring Highland estates to create a vast uninterrupted wilderness.
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