Law firm Anderson Strathern has been working with Scottish farmers and land-owners for 270 years. Few firms or indeed brands can make such a claim. But seldom in that time have so many powerful forces converged to change the shape of the country’s rural sector.
On the one hand, the Scottish Government’s land-reform agenda continues to evolve, with the publication of the Scottish Land Commission’s strategic plan for 2018 – 21. This will inform the creation of new legislation, with the aim of supporting increased productivity, diversity and accountability across the sector.
On the other, Brexit’s shockwaves continue to impact rural businesses with uncertainties about the future of market access, production standards and migrant labour persisting. Meanwhile, public interest in the sector is also shifting, moving to include a range of factors such as climate, landscape, water management and biodiversity.
John Mitchell, Head of the Rural Department at Anderson Strathern, has little doubt about the significance of this ‘moment in history’. “It’s rife with complexity,” he says. “Land-owners and occupiers need to make important decisions about their business models and how to build long-term resilience. But, with such uncertainty about the sector’s future, it’s hard to be sure you’re doing the right thing.”
Mitchell leads one of Scotland’s largest legal teams specialising in rural affairs. And he is clearly proud of the role it plays in clarifying the rural agenda for its clients, from Buccleuch and Crown Estate Scotland to many small owner-occupier farms across the country.
The firm is also involved in helping to set the rural agenda and has strong relationships with professional and stakeholder bodies representing the sector. The Chambers UK Guide to the UK’s best law firms notes Anderson Strathern’s “up-to-date knowledge of rural matters, good team and efficient response times”.
What the firm has to offer does not end with its Rural Department. The team also has access to specialists in many other areas of the law, including tax planning and trusts, planning and environment, renewables, construction, litigation, corporate and employment. “This allows us to assemble broad-based project teams to meet the specific needs of each client,” Mitchell continues. “It’s a holistic approach that some Scottish firms would struggle to match.”
Mitchell believes this breadth of experience is helping the firm’s clients to face the future with a positive attitude. “The fact that the landscape is challenging and uncertain does not make the future a negative one. Wherever possible, we are helping clients to embrace the very real opportunities created by reform.”
He is also quick to acknowledge the extent to which clients themselves are looking to the next decade in a positive light. He says: “It’s invigorating to see the sense of purpose, progressive outlook and innovative attitude of clients of all sizes.”
This is one of the reasons why Mitchell is particularly looking forward to attending this year’s Highland Show. “It is always an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas with clients and professional contacts, not to mention the professional and research bodies where the latest thinking rst sees the light of day,” he says.
“This year, the opportunity to talk through the issues facing the rural sector is particularly exciting. We all want the same thing – a vibrant and pro table rural sector, in which agriculture, tour- ism, construction, manufacturing, technology, food and drink and many other industries can participate and flourish.
“I look forward to many stimulating conversations about the issues involved.”