Scottish Land & Estates has been working alongside other stakeholders to help deliver 1 million acres of land in community ownership on a willing seller basis by 2020. Last week the spotlight turned on progress to-date as Scotland’s Chief Statistician published the Estimate of Community Owned Land in Scotland 2017 report. The report outlines the area of land now in community ownership, the number of land parcels/assets in community ownership and the number of community groups that own those parcels/assets.
According to the publication as at June 2017 there were 562,230 acres in community ownership, which is 2.9% of the total land area of Scotland. There were 492 land parcels/assets in community ownership owned by 403 community groups. An additional 437,770 acres has to come into community ownership to achieve the target of having one million acres of land in community ownership by the end of 2020.
These figures show that the half-way mark of the one million acre target has been surpassed and clearly demonstrates that land owners (whether private or otherwise) are willing to transfer assets to community ownership under the right circumstances. We welcome this progress but as an organisation we continue to assert that changing ownership is only part of the story and is not necessarily a panacea when it comes to increasing the sustainability of our rural communities.
Several other options are open to community groups such as leasing land or assets, or entering into joint business ventures with farms, estates and land-based businesses. All can deliver the same benefits to a community and can reduce risk as well as sharing the burden of responsibility. This joint approach may also open up avenues for funding and investment.
Take for example, Braemar Castle which is now run by the local community group on a 50-year lease from the Farquharsons of Invercauld, or The Scrib Tree emporium – a setup which provides local entrepreneurs with the tools to establish a business and provide a service for the wider community whilst enabling the estate to increase the productive use of a property. Both of these examples demonstrate how mutually beneficial arrangements between the community and an estate can have ‘win-win’ benefits for all involved.
We also encourage members to look at ways in which the ownership aspirations of local businesses, residents and communities could be considered as part of wider estate planning.
To achieve the successful results like those mentioned above, all parties must be willing to participate in meaningful engagement right from the very start.
Under Part 4 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, the Scottish Government is required to produce guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land. Consultation on the guidance has been undertaken and final publication is due at the beginning of 2018. Its purpose is to encourage land owners and land managers to develop positive working relationships with local communities that can lead to mutually beneficial solutions to land-related problems and better local outcomes for economic, environmental, social or cultural issues.
Because we realise that opportunities for community involvement in land or assets on an estate can have advantages to both parties, we intend to use this guidance as a starting point to create a community engagement toolkit for land owners and land managers looking to more effectively engage with their wider community. Accompanying this toolkit, we will host as series of training events to give practical support to those looking to step up community engagement efforts.
While the spotlight remains firmly on the role communities can play in owning or operating assets or land, it is imperative that our members have the confidence and resources to effectively engage when making decisions that could affect the local community. In the coming months Scottish Land & Estates will provide appropriate support for its members to do just that.
Gavin Mowat, Policy Officer (Communities & Rural Development)