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Will policy changes facilitate community engagement in Scottish land management?

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In May this year, Aileen McLeod MSP, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform gave keynote speeches at the annual conferences of both Scottish Land & Estates, the representative body of the private landowning sector, and Community Land Scotland, whose membership comprises a range of community landowners.

Despite her different audiences, the Minister's message was clear: the Scottish Government see a need for greater collaboration between communities and landowners, in order to agree how priorities and benefits should be delivered from land. She highlighted the role of;productive partnershipsbetween landowners and communities, and the responsibility of all landowners to the communities who live and work on their land.

I think that this government goal raises questions of how to ensure that such collaboration takes place, and how to empower communities to develop partnerships with landowners. Issues of control and the power of ownership are critical; for example, collaboration may be difficult if rural community representatives are fearful of the consequences were they to speak out about land management practices and landowner decision making, or if community bodies are reluctant to engage with landowners over proposed changes in land use. Arguably the first step to constructive collaboration is a process of trust-building and openness.

There are already numerous examples of positive processes of community engagement, collaboration and partnership working: see for example, SLE's 'Helping it Happen' campaign. However, without adequate guidance, incentivisation or recognition of good practice, landowners may not see the benefit of their efforts in community engagement and vice versa, especially given necessary time and resource costs.

The need to tackle these challenges was recognised in the much anticipated Land Reform (Scotland) Bill that was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 22nd June. Crucially, the Bill’s proposals include the provision of guidance by Scottish Ministers for landowners and tenants on engaging with communities on land-based decisions. Guidance exists already within the academic and practitioner literature – see for example my recently published paper in the Journal of Rural Studies for evidence-based recommendations for landowner- community engagement, and the handbook produced by the 'Sustainable Estates for the 21st Century' project, Working Together for Sustainable Estate Communities. This could inform and supplement the guidance from Scottish Ministers. The policy memorandum that accompanied this Bill also details some potential consequences for landowners if they fail to consider the guidance and engage, e.g. affecting access to grant funding, as well as measures with significant implications for private property rights. The establishment of sustainable land management ‘stewardship schemes’ and mutually-beneficial partnerships were suggested as actions necessary to develop integrated measures on land use and land reform by workshop participants at the first Scottish Rural Parliament (discussed in my previous blog post).

Taken together, I think that the measures in the new Bill, combined with existing examples and guidance, could help to motivate and enable collaboration in Scottish land management. However, it is an open question as to whether or not these new measures represent the appropriate 'carrot and stick' necessary to ensure sustainable community development and empowerment. Measures that affect private property rights are inevitably controversial. Will a legislative requirement for community engagement lead to genuine and open dialogue and productive partnerships, or will it lead to processes that ensure only landowner compliance?

I will follow the forthcoming debates surrounding the Bill with interest.

Photo: Mutually-beneficial partnerships as small business tenancies on Alvie Estate (c) A. McKee

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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Comments

Thank you for the interesting post!

The website 'Land Matters' by Andy Wrightman might be of use as an additional source of information on this issue:

http://www.andywightman.com/archives/4300

Also: http://www.andywightman.com/briefings/docs/briefing_8.pdf

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.