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Rural land managers ahead of the game on land reform


By David G Scott

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Rural land managers are ahead of the game on positive engagement with land reform guidance, Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) said today.

After a review was published by the Scottish Government regarding the Guidance on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land, SLE said it was clear that rural land managers had taken a lead in engaging with land reform guidance, which wasn’t matched by urban property owners or the general public.

The review found that 65 per cent of landowners or land managers had read or used the government’s guidance on engaging communities. More than half of the same group had read or were aware of the Scottish Land Commission’s protocol on community engagement.

Caithness rural scene overlooking Yarrows. Picture: Catherine Macleod
Caithness rural scene overlooking Yarrows. Picture: Catherine Macleod

In the Community Engagement Baseline Surveys, 23 per cent of community survey respondents reported awareness of the guidance. However, the review found the awareness levels of the guidance and protocol are likely to be significantly lower in the general population and it also points towards the recent Ipsos MORI research which found the awareness of land reform issues in Scotland is low, and generally associated with rural environments.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of SLE, said: “Land managers in rural Scotland have embraced guidance produced as part of the land reform process. Significant strides have been made on engaging communities in decisions relating to land over the past decade and this will continue into the future.

“Landowners have willingly endorsed change and through SLE’s own Landowners’ Commitment, and guidance and protocols produced by government and the Scottish Land Commission, we see good knowledge of the documents that map out how estates and rural businesses should interact with the communities they are part of.

“However, what the government review does highlight is the disparity in engagement between land managers and the public and also between those who live in rural Scotland and the majority who stay in urban areas.

“Those who are aware of land reform and community engagement guidance are those who are already involved in the process. There is little awareness from those who aren’t involved in decisions on land and there remains a widely held perception that land reform only looks at what happens with rural land.

"Despite messaging that land reform is also a topic for land in our urban communities, this appears to be having very little cut-through with those who live in our cities and towns. We have seen some very positive examples of community ownership and involvement in urban areas but the majority of the political and media narrative still seems to be stuck in a slightly historic space and focused on rural land.

“Many rural businesses are now producing community engagement plans as part of their regular planning but this review highlights that whilst farms and estates are supporting this process, there is a significant gap beyond this group where little is known or recorded about community engagement. More focus needs to be placed on ensuring community engagement is not simply a one sided and sometimes costly activity for rural businesses in Scotland.”

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