Here at Highland Titles, weekend leave has been cancelled. We came into the office on Wednesday morning to find twice as many orders as usual; unusually these extra orders were mainly from the UK. Odd. August is usually a quiet month. We encourage staff to take their main holiday in August. Yesterday sales continued to be up and this morning again, we have a bumper bundle of orders. We have no advertising starting this week, no special offers, no affiliates advertising us.
The penny dropped when we compared the start time with the publication of a blog which was far from complimentary about us. We had to smile. The blog was being advertised far and wide by social media, to a new and untapped market. A percentage of all advertising converts to sales. We love all publicity, good or bad and we seem to be getting better at persuading people to get the message out there. A Highland Titles pack makes a great gift, even if sent tongue in cheek.
The main barrier to sales of souvenir plots of land is simply that most people have no idea that they can purchase a tiny bit of land, for themselves or as a gift. When they discover this simple fact many people simply file the information away. Some rabid nationalists may be outraged that foreigners are able to buy a bit of “their” country. Others are offended by the idea of private enterprise doing things that they believe should be in the public arena. Some love the idea of gifting land, supporting conservation, becoming part of a community. But the odd thing is that any and all of these people are potential customers. When we track where our sales come from, we get sales from hate-sites as well as from sites that love what we do.
At the end of the day, we are pleased to make a sale to anyone, whether they love us or loath us. Nature does not care.
Our new website, now available in beta and only days now from a full roll-out, seeks to address a defect in The Land Registration etc (Scotland) Act 2012, which came into force on 8 December 2014. The new site will include a Land Registry that will be a public record of souvenir plots which we have sold.
The 2012 Act created a new scheme of land registration. The act repealed much of the old land registration statute: the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979, and the Land Registration (Scotland) Rules 2006 made under that act. It also realigned the law of land registration with property law. It also put on a statutory footing many of the policies and practices the keeper had developed since the introduction of the Land Register in 1981. What it singularly failed to address, despite my drawing the matter to their attention during the public consultation process, was the right to register souvenir plots of land.
Highland Titles owns land which it wishes to sell in small plots. The purchasers wish to register their purchase, as is normal for land purchases. Yet the 1979 act and the recent 2012 act specifically forbid landowners from registering their land. It would be a simply matter for the area of land being sold as souvenir plots to be defined in the register and for all purchasers to be recorded. It could easily become a source of income for the Registers of Scotland. Yet the law prevents them from doing so. I think that may be in direct violation of A1P1 of the ECHR.
The right to property is enshrined in article 1 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR. It is known to be the most frequently violated Convention right, after the right to speedy trial and the right to a fair trial. As of 1 January 2010, 15% of all judgment in which the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of the ECHR concerned the right to property.
The text of the article is straightforward:
Protection of property
(1) Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.
(2) The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.
Over the years the European Court of Human Rights has boiled this down to the following three rules:
“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions”
“No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.”
“The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties”
The Court has judged that these three rules should be considered to form one concept of property protection: The enjoyment of possessions is guaranteed, but this guarantee is not without limits. However, when it comes to restricting the right to property it needs to be borne in mind that property is in principle protected under article 1 of protocol 1 and rule 2 and 3 have to be construed in light of this principle (Beyeler v Italy)
The Court has found that any interference with the right to property has to pursue a legitimate aim. According to the second sentence of article 1 of protocol 1 deprivations of property are only allowed if they are in the public interest and the second paragraph provides that the control of use of property has to be in accordance with the general interest. The Court reads these provisions together as establishing one principle that interferences with the right to property have to serve a legitimate aim. It has also inferred the principle of a legitimate aim from article 18 ECHR, which provides that limitations on rights foreseen in the Convention may only be used to the ends for which they are prescribed (Beyeler v Italy, para 111).
Yet what could be more patently in the public interest than that a charity with conservation as its core objective be permitted to purchase land for the purpose of creating a nature reserve which, by being put into community ownership in small plots, becomes impossible to ever develop. The government creates nature reserves, but chooses to legislate to hinder us from achieving a similar objective.
As with the other qualified rights, most of the disputes in Article 1 Protocol 1 claims turn on the test of proportionality since the right to enjoyment of property is subject to many provisos and exceptions “in the public interest”. The Court has judged that there should be a fair balance between the interests of the individual affected by measure interfering with the right to property and the interests of the general public. The interference must not impose an excessive or disproportionate burden on the individual (Valkov v Bulgaria).
Yet this ban on registering souvenir plots seeks to interfere with our use of our property without any benefit to the public. In fact – quite the opposite.
Of course, I am but a humble zoologist, and have no training in the law. To me, it seems clear-cut that the right to register souvenir plots of land is in the public interest. But what do you think?
The Big Butterfly Count is over for another year. Organised by registered charity, Butterfly Conservation, and promoted by Sir David Attenborough, The Big Butterfly Count asks the public to take part in the world’s largest butterfly survey and in so doing, help reverse butterfly declines. Sir David Attenborough, President of Butterfly Conservation, Alan Titchmarsh MBE, Mike Dilger and Nick Baker, Vice Presidents of Butterfly Conservation and the actress Joanna Lumley OBE all support the project.
The Big Butterfly Count encourages people to spot and record common species of butterflies and day-flying moths during three weeks of high summer. This year it was between 15 July – 7 August. Please watch the video, published by Butterfly Conservation, to help you recognise the common species.
To help you put a name to the butterflies you see, you will need to download the chart. Different charts are available, depending on where you live. The chart for Scotland contains 17 species – England has 20 species (below). Click the chart to download your own.
To make it even easier, there is now an option to download a handy free app for iOS and Android to identify and record the butterflies you spot. Full instructions are available here (http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/about).
Early vendors of souvenir plots were restricted to small adverts in printed media, such as Exchange and Mart and Private Eye. The internet transformed to process by which we are able to advertise our project.
What Laura noticed in 2006 was that eBay created a new opportunity to place this unusual offering in front of millions of potential customers. eBay was our number one platform for several years, until we withdrew from selling there in 2010. The reasons for stopping selling on eBay were simply that it proved impossible to explain who we were and why we were selling land, within the constraints of eBay. eBay constantly battled against the risks of sales taking place off their site, which cost them their commission. Increasingly we wanted to encourage our customers to contact us. Increasingly, our website proved to be a better way of engaging with our customers.
Laura built our first website in 2006. I built our second website a few months later. Neither were much of an improvement on eBay, in that they contained simple brochure content and a very simple “shop” linked to PayPal. We recognised that we needed a professional site and we approached Solar Storm Design who created our first site, at lochaberhighlandestates.com in 2007.
At the end of 2009 we realised that we needed to create a new site for our new land offering. We planned to sell a range of sizes of plot from Glencoe Wood, and needed a domain that people could immediately recognise, type into a browser, remember and pronounce. Highland Titles became our new brand. To build that brand we approached Hotscot, the largest web design agency in the Highlands and within easy reach of Glencoe Wood. Hotscot have worked with us now on several versions of highlandtitles.com, plus several other websites, such as wildcathaven.com and highlandtitlesVIP.com.
The first Highland Titles site was a year in development and was launched in the second half of 2010. Its first test was following an appearance on Sunrise television with Lady Julia Morris.
The hosting took quite a pounding, because of the huge surge in interest, and we subsequently contracted all hosting issues to Solar Storm, who have ensured that subsequent peaks in demand following television appearances have caused us no problems.
In 2013 Hotscot rebuilt the database that keeps track of all orders, which is easier said than done, but by late 2014 it was clear that WordPress, which had served us well since 2010, was no longer powerful enough to take us forward and cope with the huge increases in sales that have taken place over the ten years that we have been trading.
So, in 2015, Hotscot presented a radical revision of the Highland Titles site, that would permit valuable flexibility in the way that we sell. Only now, 18 months later, is the beta version of that massive upgrade becoming available. Already, all sales on mobile devices are making use of the new site, and customer landing on our desktop site are given the opportunity to try the new site.
The new site will, once complete, be available in 12 languages. It will display correctly in all screen sizes, from mobile phones to massive desktops. It will integrate seamlessly with our new production processes and be available for use by our customer support team and by our nature reserve volunteer team, who often need to have plot co-ordinates at their fingertips, when visitors forget to bring their documents or want to download the App at the reserve.
The new site will include elements of the App and most importantly will provide an opportunity for customers to register their land on our Highland Titles Land Registry.
At the end of this huge undertaking, we hope and expect that the new site will not require another upgrade for many years to come. we are grateful to Hotscot for such an exceptional achievement and hope that you, our customers, find the new site a pleasure to use. I would welcome your feedback.
Update, October 2016. Our new website is now operational at www.highlandtitles.com. Many thanks to everyone at Hotscot (now Strutt Digital), to Attacat and to all our beta testers. The new website is performing well and is enhancing our customers’ experience, making it even easier and better to support our work. Thank You Everyone.