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Socio-economic impacts of ‘green’ land investment in rural Scotland

A hillside with grassland and trees in foreground and buildings in the distance.
Estate in the Scottish uplands. Picture credit: Annie McKee (2022)
The project plans to make practical recommendations regarding best practice approaches for ‘green’ land investors and landowners in engaging rural communities in decisions relating to land.

What is this project about?

This project will explore the social and economic impacts of new forms of ‘green’ land investment that are occurring across rural Scotland. The Scottish Government has committed to becoming a net-zero society by 2045. This has implications for land value and use, and it has led to a notable recent rise in companies and individuals seeking to buy land in Scotland to benefit from the carbon sequestration potential of the land. These owners range from multi-national corporations seeking to offset (or ‘inset’) the carbon emissions from their business activities (or provide a return to investors), to individuals and companies wishing to undertake regenerative land management, nature conservation or ‘rewilding’. This project aims to understand more about the lived experiences of the rural communities who live and/or work near to landholdings with some form of ‘green’ land investment. The project will also seek to learn more about the experiences of the ‘green’ land investors and landowners, as well as their approach and motivations.

The research questions to be addressed are:

  1. What are the different types of “green” land investment activities and the differing motivations of landowners?

  2. What are the social and economic impacts of “green” land investment?

  3. How does it affect different groups within communities, e.g. the impact on housing or access to land for housing and land prices, those in local employment, local businesses owners those in communities and businesses reliant on tourism that could be affected by change of land use in the vicinity, those working on the land including tenanted farmers, small landholdings and rented crofts, tenants in tied housing on rural estates, owner/occupier farmers?

  4. What are the potential benefits and / or negative impacts of these types of “green” land investment activities, for rural communities within lands under new private ownership?

  5. To what extent do private-sector interests support or conflict with the needs of rural communities and their interests e.g. the responsibilities of rural land ownership, from land rights to agricultural tenancies?

  6. What are the wider and long-term implications of changes in rural land use and ownership for rural communities, as a result of new forms of “green” land investment?

An additional key task within this project is to create a formal definition for 'rewilding' that can be used by the Scottish Government, recognising that not all ‘green’ land investments are explicitly about rewilding.

The project plans to make practical recommendations regarding best practice approaches for ‘green’ land investors/landowners in engaging rural communities in decisions relating to land. This will support the Scottish Government’s goal of a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy. The project started in December 2022 and will conclude in December 2023.

How will information be gathered?

This project involves three key stages:

  1. An evidence and literature review to develop definitions of the key concepts and a typology of ‘green’ land investments. Stakeholder input to this phase will involve engagement with the project’s Research Advisory Group and members of the Stakeholder Advisory Group of the ‘Scotland’s Land Reform Futures’ project.

  2. An online, deliberative workshop designed to identify a formal definition of ‘rewilding’ for use by the Scottish Government. This workshop will convene public sector representatives, academics, representatives of both conservation and community organisations, and ‘rewilding’ landowners. A transdisciplinary report will be co-authored with the workshop participants, detailing the deliberative process and final definition of ‘rewilding’, highlighting points of convergence and reasoned disagreement between participants, and future research questions. Update: This report has now been published on the Scottish Government's website and is available here.

  3. The exploration of six in-depth case studies of rural communities located on or adjacent to land owned or managed for the purposes of defined ‘green’ land investments.  The case study locations will be identified through a critical process based on stratified GIS of landownership, land use, and community wellbeing spatial data. In-person, semi-structured interviews (8-10 per case study) will be undertaken with case study residents, estate employees (or ex- employees), community leaders, local land managers (including managing agents, farmers, crofters, and gamekeepers), and other key voices identified through stakeholder mapping and purposive sampling. Where possible, interviews will also be sought with the landowner, to verify their motivations for purchase and landownership, to understand their land management approach, and their awareness of the impacts of their ownership on both rural communities of place and of practice.

In conjunction, focus groups will be held in the case study communities of place, and advertised widely, to encourage wider community views to be gathered. Efforts will be made to ensure those who are ‘hard to reach’ are invited to participate, and that measures to mitigate barriers to participation are enacted (noting also that the landowners may also be ‘hard to reach’). The purpose of the focus groups will be to develop a timeline of historic, current, and anticipated future impacts to the rural communities of changing land use and landownership as a result of ‘green’ land investments. The focus groups will also arrive at options for partnership working, collaboration, and effective engagement between the rural community and local ‘green’ landowners and investors.

Please note that all case study locations and participants will remain anonymous, as far as possible. All efforts will be made to ensure that people and places are not identifiable in the final report. Participants will receive a full consent form and participant information sheet, prior to participating in this research.  We will adopt the ‘Chatham House rule’ for the focus groups and encourage participants not to share details of who participated, or the views shared, outwith the focus group discussion. Data will be treated with full confidentiality and stored on restricted-access, password protected secure systems through the James Hutton Institute.

If you are invited to participate in this research, you can find copies of the participant information sheets and consent forms available here: 


You can find details of the Data Protection Impact Assessment here and the joint data controller agreement between Hutton and the Scottish Government here

How can I find out about the research findings?

The project final report will be published in December 2023. It will present the qualitative data analysis from the interview and focus groups undertaken in the case study communities. The final report will also detail the typology of ‘green’ land investments, incorporating the evidence review with the views and motivations derived from the interviews with landowners and green land investors. The report conclusions will provide evidence-based recommendations for policy makers and mitigation strategies for green land investment landowners and land managers to reduce negative and enhance positive impacts for rural communities. The final report will also include a stand-alone visual summary that will present the key themes and narratives. If you take part in the research, we will contact you directly when the final report is published.

A report detailing the formal definition of ‘rewilding’ was published on the Scottish Government's website on 4th July 2023.

Staff involved and key contacts

The Hutton research team are: Dr Annie McKee (Project lead),  Dr Margaret Currie, Dr Naomi Beingessner, Dr Kerry Waylen, Dr Annabel Pinker, and Dr Jonathan Hopkins. Project management will be provided by Ms Antonia Boyce and research assistance by Ms Acacia Marshall.

If you have any questions about this project, please contact: Annie McKee ( – Tel. 01224 395294

This project is funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS).

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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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.