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British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe faces a revolt from Icelandic farmers over salmon rivers

British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is facing a revolt from Icelandic farmers after he bought up vast tracts of the country’s pristine wilderness to secure fishing rights to rivers there.

Accounts for the British holding company for his Icelandic operations, Halicilla, reveal how he has spent £36.2 million on farms in Iceland since 2016 as part of his project to conserve the North Atlantic salmon.

But new laws introduced amid concerns over Ratcliffe’s spending spree means he could be banned from making further land purchases there.

British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is facing a revolt from Icelandic farmers after he bought up vast tracts of the country’s pristine wilderness to secure fishing rights to rivers there

The 68-year-old, Britain’s fifth- richest person and worth an estimated £12.2 billion, now owns or part-owns 39 Icelandic farms.

They include land adjoining the River Hofsá, where the young Prince Charles once fished – as seen in the most recent season of Netflix series The Crown. Another river, the Selá, has been fished by the late US President George H. W. Bush, who described it as ‘astoundingly beautiful’. 

Ratcliffe also owns angling rights on four other of the main rivers in north-east Iceland: the Hafralonsa, Svalbardsa, Miofjaroara and Vesturdalsa.

Ratcliffe, a leading Brexiteer who is now based in Monaco, is the chief executive and majority owner of the petrochemical giant Ineos.

Icelandic financial journalist Sigrun Davidsdottir said there had been a lack of transparency over the purchases from farmers who had been on the land for generations.

She said: ‘Ratcliffe is now the biggest private landowner in Iceland by far. He has no connections to the community and it has caused a lot of public concern over the land’s future use. Our rivers are a valuable asset and are well taken care of, so what Jim Ratcliffe is offering is good, but not essential, and it means the farmers lose control of the land, the rivers and the profits from the fishing rights.’

She said the tycoon’s commitment to conserving the environment felt like ‘greenwashing’ when he presided over one of the world’s biggest petrochemicals giants.

Johannes Sigfusson, 67, whose 7,400-acre sheep farm bordering the River Hafralonsa has been farmed by his family since 1880, said last week: ‘I don’t know [Sir Jim Ratcliffe], but it’s not good for one man to buy so much land.’

Ratcliffe’s ‘Six Rivers Conservation Project’ in Iceland aims to ensure the sustainability of North Atlantic salmon stocks in the rivers.

The legislation aimed at restricting land sales, which was passed by the Icelandic parliament last July, requires landowners who own 10,000 hectares or more to get a ministerial exemption for further purchases.

Gisli Asgeirsson, director of Strengur Angling Club, controlled by Ratcliffe, said there had been some ‘ludicrous’ suspicions about the billionaire’s reasons for buying farms, and his sole mission was conservation.

Ineos did not respond to a request for comment.

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