DATE: 16th August 1996
As I am sure you are well aware, most estate owners, knowing little about land
management themselves, let their factors (known in England as "land agents") manage their estates on their behalf. At the end of the day it could be argued that it is
factors who are responsible for the plethora of hill tracks, forestry plantations, and the unfriendly signs that litter our hills.
However, factors, who all train at Cirencester and can be identified by being the only class of people to wear a tie when out on the hill, are not always seen as the most competent and enlightened of people.
What has often puzzled me is why factors generally lack the necessary competence. Enlightenment dawned when reading TAC26, where you report that, during a conference at Battleby, "one 'practising land agent' stood up and said he had no problem with the Access Concordat." This explains all: factors, or land agents, are only ever practising, and never quite get good enough - they have never quite mastered anything!
Presumably the estate owners themselves, many of whom must be reasonably intelligent to have amassed (or kept) a fortune, must be aware of the situation. This then poses a question: why do they continue to employ factors? Maybe it is in the hope that one day a factor will finish practising and actually master the art of estate management.
However, this does raise a serious concern: if a factor did ever finish practising and actually master estate management, what would he then be capable of? For example, if Patrick Sellar was only practising when he evicted all the Sutherland crofters, what would have happened if he had actually mastered evicting? A planned eviction of all the people of Scotland, or even the UK?
If all the problems associated with the management of Highland estates are caused by people merely practising, think what havoc would be caused if, through some quirk, a factor finished practising and managed his estate for real. Hence I thought I would raise this issue with your readers, and ask everyone to be on the lookout for a competent factor: if one is ever found, then we all would need to be on the alert.