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February 25, 2020

Some way to go

One of the big achievements of the Land Reform Act 2016, was the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. This not only put human rights to the fore of the land reform debate but also made explicit some of the hitherto unspoken assumptions about how land should be owned, used and managed going forward. One of these, the expectation that communities should be involved in decisions relating to land, has recently been the subject of some scrutiny. On the evidence gathered so far, it’s clear there’s still some way to go before this becomes normal behaviour for all landowners. 

Scottish Land Commission

For full report see here

The Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS) sets out a vision
and principles for land use, management and ownership in Scotland. Principle 6 states:
“There should be greater collaboration and community engagement in decisions about land”.
To support this principle, in April 2018, the Scottish Government published Guidance on Engaging
Communities in Decisions Relating to Land. This was followed by the launch of a Protocol for
Community Engagement by the Scottish Land Commission in January 2019.
The effectiveness of the Scottish Government guidance must be assessed three years after
publication. The Commission has carried out two surveys, one for landowners and one for
communities, to establish a baseline understanding of the level of awareness and participation in
engagement activities.
The survey for landowners and managers was launched in April 2019 and ran until mid-July, while
the communities survey ran from mid-July to the end of September. Both surveys were promoted
widely across our social media channels and with key stakeholders and membership
Summary of Key Findings
Response Levels and Context
The landowners’ survey was completed by 64 people, with responses coming mainly from rural
areas, and just over a third of respondents from the Highlands. There was a low level of responses
from community landowners and no responses from private developers.
By comparison, the community survey received 260 responses, from a wide range of individuals
and community organisations representing both urban and rural areas. 41% were from urban
areas and responses related to 30 of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas.
Current Experiences
We asked landowners and managers whether they currently have a plan in place for how they
engage with their local community. 53% of respondents reported that they did or were planning to
produce one. Those without a plan were mainly smallholdings and farms who did not believe it
necessary to create a plan.
Benefits and barriers
73% of landowners and managers who responded indicated that they believe there are benefits to
engaging with local communities. On describing the benefits, respondents stated that engagement:
• Helps the public to understand what’s happening better
• Promotes better understanding of other perspectives and builds relationships
• Provides a chance for landowners to explain proposals and reduce misinformation
• Can provide valuable local support for planned changes, reducing controversy and opposition
• Promotes more open-minded views and makes those who own or manage land more aware of
local opinions
• Allows people to comment, express views and make suggestions, and provides an opportunity
for these to be responded to and incorporated into decision making.
Just over half (53%) of landowners and managers responding thought there could be barriers to
engaging with local communities. Issues identified include:
• Community groups can be fractured or dormant or lack clear focus which can make
engagement difficult
• Difficulty managing strong or dominant opinions and ensuring a balanced input
• Overcoming lack of interest or consultation fatigue within communities
• Creating trust and openness between all parties
• Managing pre-set hostility / ‘them & us’ attitudes
• Unrealistic expectations of landowner resources
• General lack of understanding of land management practices and constraints.
Knowing who to speak to
Communities were asked whether they knew who landowners were in their area and how to
contact them. This varied considerably. Community members responding from accessible or
remote rural areas were much more likely to know all or some of the owners than those from urban
areas. Around half of respondents from urban areas did not know who landowners were or how to
contact them, compared to around only 15% in rural areas. In comparison, almost 97% of
respondents to the landowners and managers survey knew who the community organisations in
their area were and how to contact them.