What do you buy the wealthy Hongkonger who has it all? How about land and a ‘lord’ title in the Scottish Highlands?
The catch? You can’t build on the plot and can’t sell it on. The exercise by a nature reserve in the far-flung corner of Britain is part of efforts to protect the land and draw high-end tourists
In Hong Kong, the world’s priciest property market, buying a home at under HK$300 per square foot is nigh on impossible, but your money will go a lot further in Scotland, not only earning you a handsome slab of land but an aristocratic-sounding title to boot.
The offer by a company managing nature reserves in the Scottish Highlands comes with a catch, however – buyers are not allowed to build any permanent structures on the small plots and the title is more wordplay than any official bestowment of nobility.
Despite this, it has become increasingly popular worldwide as a “novelty gift” for the person “who has everything”, according to Stephen Rossiter, promoter for the company.
He added that the money made from selling the plots would help to fund plans to conserve the nature reserves.
Rossiter, who visited Hong Kong earlier this month as part of a promotional trip around Asia, said he wanted the concept to reach more people in this part of the world.
“Tourism in Scotland is on the increase,” he said. “We know that a lot of people from Asia come to Scotland, and we want to encourage them to come to ... the Highlands. And what better reason to come than you actually owning a little parcel of land?
“There are many, many Chinese people. We want them to be a part of it.”
Rossiter’s employer, Highland Titles, is based on Alderney, one of the islands in the English Channel off the south coast of Britain. It manages two nature reserves in the Scottish Highlands owned by a charitable trust of the same name.
By selling the reserves one square foot at a time for £30 (HK$310), the company has been able to fund conservation programmes without any government help over the past decade, as all proceeds go to the upkeep of the reserves and company operations, Rossiter said.
A total of 202 hectares are up for grabs near Loch Ness, the body of water famed for the mythical Loch Ness Monster.
Work to protect and nurture the land and its wildlife has included planting native Scottish broadleaf trees and relaunching into the wild once-native animal species, he said.
The company has also funded a charity to conserve the elusive and endangered Scottish wildcat.
“It’s a little bit like crowd funding,” Rossiter said.
Donors are assigned a square footage of the reserves, which are not to be sold on, and they get to style themselves as a “lord” or “lady”.
Any person who owns land in Scotland is called a “laird”, which translates as “lord” or “lady” in plain English, but that does not mean the title is officially recognised.
Buyers cannot put the title on their passports or driving licences, Rossiter said, although some banks might allow them to use it on credit cards.
They receive a certificate of sale bearing their name and the title to certify which plot of land is theirs.
But transactions of the land, legally called “souvenir plots” in Scotland, cannot be registered in the local land registry, which means buyers cannot build any permanent structures.
Rossiter said many were happy to just visit their plots in the reserves and have their photos taken, or might want to impress family and friends with the title.
“Just use it in a fun way,” he said.
According to Rossiter, some 100,000 people from more than 100 countries had bought plots, with most from France, America, Australia and Britain.
But fewer than 50 were from Hong Kong and mainland China, he said.
The reserves still had enough land to keep sales going for another 10 to 15 years, Rossiter said, so there was plenty of time for Chinese to get in on the act. The trust also planned to buy more sites to turn into nature reserves.
To boost sales in China, Rossiter said the company had set up a Chinese-language website. The site only had simplified Chinese but Rossiter said a traditional version was in the works.