20 Mar, 2009 @ 18:16
2 mins read

Romantic writer dies after stressful battle with developers


‘Gentleman scholar’ Alastair Boyd became the victim of a “mafia-style” campaign by golf developers after opposing the controversial Los Merinos scheme

By Jon Clarke

SPANISH environmentalists will lead the tributes to Lord Kilmarnock – ‘one of the last breed of Gentlemanly scholars’ – who died this week.

Alastair Boyd, 81, who lived in Ronda for many years, was closely involved in a number of important campaigns to protect the local environment.

The author of countless books on Spain had was well known among environmental circles as someone principled and thoughtful.

Friend Juan Terroba, spokesman for local green group Silvema, said: “He was a very principled, noble man. A real fighter for the environment and charming with it.”

But it was this belief in conservation, which led to a vicious “mafia-style” court case launched against him two years ago.

As reported in the Olive Press, Boyd was sued by developers for publicly criticising the controversial Los Merinos golf course development built on UNESCO-protected land near Ronda.

The stress of the seven million euro lawsuit two years ago was, according to friends, the start of the ill health that led to his death.

“It hit him like a hammer and it was the origin of his ill health,” insisted Terroba, who had worked with him on a number of campaigns.

“It was a disgrace to put a pensioner of his age into a massive storm like that.”

Boyd – who was chief of the Clan Boyd, one of Scotland’s greatest noble families – got increasingly unwell as developers behind the scheme took him and two other expatriates to court for a total of 22 million euros.

The trio had merely signed petitions and given their views that the project was not good for the environment.

He was quoted as saying: “The scheme is completely unsustainable. The high demand for scarce water in a period of increasing drought will inevitably degrade the environment.

“The plague of buildings on green and protected land is threatening the long term interest of the region.”

The Spanish Green Party claimed the group had been subject to “mafia-style harassment that has come out of the alliance between politicians and developers”.

His health deteriorated rapidly as the Spanish courts started investigating his opposition to the £100 million double golf course scheme with 800 houses and two luxury hotels.

Boyd – who wrote a trilogy of books about Ronda – was particularly worried about losing the historic smallholding he shared with wife Hilary Bardwell, the mother of writer Martin Amis.

Eventually the case was thrown out of court on the basis of freedom of speech.

“But it went on for over a year and was a particularly vicious attack,” Terroba told the Olive Press. “All he did was express his opinion in a few phrases. It was very unfair.”

Terroba, who was also taken to court by developers JM Legion Espanola, added: “Upper class people and foreigners often keep a low profile. He was always getting involved.”

Other campaigns, such as a long 15-year campaign to have a sewage works installed in Ronda, were more successful.

Finally – after lobbying in Brussels, using contacts he had made sitting in the House of Lords for 20 years – a sewage works began working last year.

Another friend, writer Michael Jacobs, said: “He was one of the last breed of gentlemanly scholars on Spain.

“He perpetuated the idea of Romanticism in Spain, spoke impeccable Spanish and was very knowledgeable on the country and its history.”

The author of Spanish bestseller A Factory of Light added: “One might have expected him to have been stuffy and dry, but he was the complete opposite. A truly lovely man who will be sorely missed.”

His funeral was on Friday, while a memorial service has been called for next Thursday (March 26) at 7pm at a school near his home in La Indiana, Ronda.


  1. Wow, this is sad news. I hope the Olive Press covers his memorial service. He deserves a great send-off.

    His “Road to Ronda” book, trekking through Andalucia in 1960s on horseback, was one of my favorite travel books about Spain. Picked it up in a used book bin many years ago. What an underrated piece of story-telling. There was great joy, discovery and soulfulness in his writing. I am sorry I never got a chance to buy him a cup of coffee and a glass of brandy to say thank you.

  2. “…controversial Los Merinos golf course development built on UNESCO-protected land”

    Sounds like an oxymoron. Not another UNESCO protected land area. What just does this title mean? Nothing, obviously, to the Spanish.

    We need expats to look after Spain; the natives are destroying it and even when they do care about it, the political system is corrupt and so the locals are powerless to act.

    Dig down and doubtless one will find a corrupt mayor, a corrupt architect, and corrupt builders, lawyers and other hangers on all cashing in. May they go bankrupt and destitute!

  3. I agree Fred… so I understand it, like in marbella and estepona, Ronda has exactly the same problem with corruption, and only time will tell before it all comes back to haunt its politicians.

    It is sad that someone who should have been cherished and championed by Andalucia ended up being harangued and victimised by shameless property developers in a futile bid to stifle freedom of speech and steamroller their illegal project.

    the tragedy is it just shows how some echelons of society here literally think they can do exactly what they please and feel above the law.

  4. What do the Spanish find so difficult to understand? Malaga is still in a drought, even after massive rainfall. Desertification is spreading and water is a scarce commodity. And yet we still need more Golf courses according to devleopers! Golf is, of course, an excuse to build more hotels and houses – and do we need more of them in the current economic climate? NO way.

    Spain’s legal and planning systems are an absolute mess and need a complete overhaul; how on earth can developers be in a position to “sue” a mayor for such a ill conceived project? There should already be a regional plan in place that says “Golf courses are the lowest priority in the scheme of things because of water shortages.”

    It is true that golf courses can apply reusable water (grey water) systems, but they are not totally self sufficient I would wager. Also, if there is a new hotel and housing complex as well, then that all requires massive water usage.

    Personally, I would ban ALL golf courses that involve building or developing on any UNESCO area, and which involves cutting down any trees of a certain age and/or intefering with any resident nature, and which are not self-sufficient in water usage, and which involve new houses or hotel complexes. A golf course can be a nice addition if all of these rules are obeyed.

    At the end of the day if all these mad schemes go ahead, it is ultimately the electorates fault. I really don’t think the average Spanish person cares much for their environment. This weekend I did my monthly litter pick in my own area and as I was cleaning up (8 bin liners) the Spanish were throwing more empty bottles and rubbish around as they were picknicking…

    Changing the political process will be very diffucult when dealing with morons who cannot even use a bin. This behaviour then perpetuates to their children, and then the future is doomed. We may as well give up now.

  5. What a sadness to read the above and to see history perpetuate itself. Yet whilst there is a sense of ‘nothing changes and the desecration goes on’ I believe there is a groundswell of change happening.

    In July 2008 The Olive Press carried an article I submitted on Citizens’ Advocacy recommending the need for all anti-abuse organisations to pull together under one banner and boycott the things we lovers of Spain deplore.

    Perhaps as a small token of gratitude for his fight for all of us we might, in Mr. Boyd’s name
    proceed to honour him by the continuity of his struggle under the banner of
    ‘Citizens’ Advocacy’ and dedicate our efforts to a man who set such an enduring example of concern and action. Feel free to make contact with me if you find the notion agreeable.

    Living in Argyll, Scotland, for many years one of my father’s most admired associates was one ‘Guy’ Boyd of Blairmore. He conforms almost exactly to Mr.Alistair Boyd’s description. Gentlemanly, scholarly, quiet, elegant and, as my childhood memory recalls, not dissimilar in appearance to Omar Sharif. How kind can memory be! It would be seeming to do something long-term in Alistair Boyd’s memory. It seems his sacrifice was the ultimate one.

    Christine A. Ferguson

    (Another Advocate for the preservation and enhancement of A Beloved Spain)

    Tel 951321400 M 620102850

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