Hutton’s director of science becomes Land Commissioner

The James Hutton Institute’s Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Science Professor Deb Roberts has been appointed to the board of the Scottish Land Commission(SLC).

The Commission’s role is to stimulate fresh thinking and change in how Scotland, as a nation, owns and uses land, and to advise the Scottish Government on an ongoing programme of land reform.

Professor Roberts trained as an agricultural economist and, prior to moving into her current role at the Hutton, her research focussed on understanding how agricultural and environmental policies affect economic development and social wellbeing in rural areas. She holds an Honorary Chair in Real Estate at the University of Aberdeen.

“It is a huge honour and privilege to be joining the Scottish Land Commission as a commissioner and to have the opportunity to build on the progress made by my predecessors,” says Professor Roberts.

“The importance of land for Scotland’s economy, environment and society has never been clearer and we are at a critical stage in the Land Reform process. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in shaping Scotland’s land policies for the benefit of all.”

Professor Roberts joins new SLC chair Michael Russell and Dr Craig Mackenzie on the board as new Land Commissioners.

They were appointed by Scottish Ministers and replace outgoing Chair, Andrew Thin, and Commissioners Megan MacInnes and Professor David Adams.

“It is a huge honour and privilege to be joining the Scottish Land Commission as a commissioner and to have the opportunity to build on the progress made by my predecessors”

Professor Deb Roberts, Deputy Chief Executive
Professor Deb Roberts, Deputy Chief Executive

Incoming Chair, Michael Russell, served as a Scottish Government Minister and Member of the Scottish Parliament at various times between 1999 and 2021. Michael has had long term involvement with land reform having been Environment Minister from 2007-2009. Michael was a member of the Scottish Parliament Committee which scrutinised the Land Reform Bill in 2015, and an MSP for the South of Scotland Region for two terms before being elected in 2011 to serve the constituency of Argyll and Bute.

Russell retired from representational politics in 2021 but remained SNP President until 2023. He is the author of seven books and has worked as a columnist and commentator as well as a television producer and director and founded the Celtic Music Festival. Michael was part time Professor in Scottish Culture and Governance at the University of Glasgow and is the trustee of several charities.

He says: “Land is a vital resource for every citizen of our country and how we share it, care for it, and use it is a key issue at the heart of Scotland’s continuing story. I am strongly committed to a process of land reform which ensures that all communities benefit from this national asset and that it contributes to our sustainable well-being as a vital part of the process of building a fair and equitable Scotland.” 

“The first Chair and Commissioners, appointed as a result of the 2016 Act, have done a superb job and created a huge resource in terms of research and positive practice and helped to develop a strong staffing base with an enviable reputation for openness and fair dealing. Andrew Thin has led the organisation with dedication and enthusiasm and I am very aware of the legacy to which I and the new Commissioners will have to live up as they learn from those still in office.”

Dr Craig Mackenzie is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Business School with more than 20 years of experience in investment management, combining financial and sustainable investment roles. In his most recent position, Dr Mackenzie led strategic asset allocation and developed climate solutions and natural capital investment funds.

Over his career Dr Mackenzie has shaped good practice standards on corporate environmental and social responsibility, serving on advisory boards for the Global Reporting Initiative, the PRI and FTSE. As an academic, he founded the Centre for Business and Climate Change (now BCCaS) at the University of Edinburgh and helped launch carbon management and climate finance MSc programs. Dr Mackenzie has a PhD in behavioural finance and has published on sustainability and corporate responsibility.

The commission thanked outgoing chair, Andrew Thin and members of the board, Megan MacInnes and Professor David Adams for their significant leadership contributions over the last seven years. Thin was appointed as the first chair of the SLC in 2016 and led the organisation through its establishment as a new public body and since.

Thin’s leadership has brought challenge and openness to the commission’s approach, developing clear recommendations for changes in law and policy as well as a strong focus on culture change in responsible land ownership.

The commission’s current focus will see it continue to advise on opportunities for reforms in how land is owned and used, including the forthcoming land reform bill, as well as providing leadership to shape responsible land ownership in practice. 

Elaine Maslin, Media Officer, The James Hutton Institute, tel: +44 (0)1224 395076 or +44 (0)7977 805808