Rod Rage: Controversial ‘Raider of the Lost Titles’ strikes again as he sparks fishing rights row at premier trout angling loch
- Legal storm over who controls right to fish on Loch Awe
- Now permits could be handed out for FREE
IT is one of Scotland’s largest and most dramatic lochs, legendary for the enormous trout and pike lurking in its depths.
However, Loch Awe is now at the centre of a bizarre legal row over who controls – and can profit from – the fishing.
Rocking the boat is a maverick dealer in ancient title deeds. Notorious for exploiting arcane land laws, he has recently staked his claim to the fishing rights on the basis of documents dating back to 1669.
Brian Hamilton, who previously gained the nickname Raider of the Lost Titles when he set up in business unearthing obscure land assets and selling long-lost heraldic honours, has started selling permits to anglers who wish to try their luck on the loch.
But the move has angered the Loch Awe Improvement Association (LAIA), the community group which, with government backing, has been selling permits and managing the loch for the past 30 years.
The LAIA has challenged Mr Hamilton’s fishing rights, and wardens have even turned away those who have bought permits from him. As a result, the normally placid world of angling has grown stormy with claims and counter-claims and even legal letters.
Expert fisher of feudal titles strikes again
BRIAN Hamilton has made a lucrative career out of exploiting arcane land laws and the decline of once-great aristocratic families.
As successive generations of some noble Scots dynasties have fallen on hard times, their ancestral land-holdings have been broken up and sold off until nothing tangible remains – except the estate as a legal entity.
Hidden within what Hamilton calls ‘the rump’ of these estates, however, may be obscure assets – such as ancient barony titles,
long-forgotten parcels of land or – as in the Loch Awe case – fishing rights.
Realising the potential for profit, Mr Hamilton has spent 40 years painstakingly researching ancient deeds and legacy estates, often acquired from the lawyers of old families for just a few pounds.
Much of his business involves the sale of redundant but prized feudal barony titles, which can go for upwards of £95,000 each. His website, for example, is currently advertising one barony in Aberdeenshire for £140,000.
In the Loch Awe case, Mr Hamilton acquired the estate of the Earls of Breadalbane in 2012 – the tenth and final Earl having died penniless in Somerset in
1995 – and spotted that in the late 1600s the then Duke of Argyll had handed lands and salmon rights on Loch Awe to the then Earl of Breadalbane, apparently in settlement of some long forgotten dispute. To strengthen his claim
he has registered the rights in the Land Register of Scotland, giving him a cast-iron guarantee of ownership.
Mr Hamilton has also profited from residual lands and properties associated with the cut-price estates he has bought.
Although critics have questioned the integrity of his approach, Mr Hamilton has previously justified his actions saying: ‘I only make money from lawyers’ mistakes.’
In a sign of how heated the row has become, Mr Hamilton is now threatening to give away fishing permits on Loch Awe for free – which would deprive the LAIA of its income.
Yesterday Mr Hamilton, 82, insisted his claim to the fishing rights – based on his ownership of all that remains of estates belonging to the Earls of Breadalbane – was entirely legitimate and should be recognised by the LAIA.
He said: ‘It’s just business, like two traders in competition. They need to talk to me. If necessary, I am prepared to play the nuclear card – offer free fishing on the loch unless they come to the table.
‘I have instructed lawyers to write to the LAIA telling them to stop interfering with my business, and ultimately may ask the courts for an interdict to prevent the LAIA instructing their wardens to warn off my permit holders.’ But LAIA secretary Janet Lightbown said: ‘Even if what he’s doing is legal it’s morally questionable.
‘We cannot see what’s in it for him. We don’t have any money. Almost everything we make goes back into looking after the loch.
‘He’s a constant irritant, a thorn in our side. We thought he’d go away. He’s quoting stuff from eighteen-whenever. I think he likes to blind people with his superior knowledge. He’s not making himself very popular.’
Loch Awe, set among Argyll’s spectacular mountain scenery, is the third largest freshwater loch in Scotland and is 27 miles long, up to a mile wide and more than 300ft deep in places.
The British record for the largest rod-caught ferox trout, weighing 31lb 12oz, came from the loch, which is also known for pike weighing up to 35lb, brown trout and arctic char.
The row began when Mr Hamilton, a former North Sea welder with a degree in land economy, discovered that having bought the remnants of the Breadalbane estates, he was also owner of the rights to the salmon and other fish in Loch Awe – rights acquired by a previous Earl from the Duke of Argyll in 1669.
But the LAIA refused to talk to him. Estimating he could make up to £7,000 a year, Mr Hamilton then set up a website called Fish The Awe, selling angling permits for £5 – half the price of the permits being sold by the LAIA.
LAIA wardens have refused to recognise his permits and the group’s Facebook page warns his permits may not be valid.
Last week lawyers for Mr Hamilton sent a letter to the LAIA.
It states: ‘The Facebook post alleges that Mr Hamilton has no legal right to issue permits to fish for salmon, trout or coarse fish, and that the permits issued by him are invalid.
‘This is inaccurate. As a result of your post, Mr Hamilton has suffered loss, as he has been asked to refund customers the cost of their permit.
‘Mr Hamilton also considers the content of the post to be defamatory, as it impugns his honesty and business practices.’
The LAIA said if Mr Hamilton has the rights, ‘there is nothing anyone can do about that – but the thing is he is not putting anything back to help with the upkeep of the loch’. The LAIA pays for wardens, fishery research, rubbish collections and general upkeep from the sale of permits.