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IN MY OPINION: Fairer balance of rights required in Scotland’s land

By Hector MacKenzie

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Megan MacInnes.
Megan MacInnes.

Building connections between land stewardship and wider efforts to strengthen rights and transparency are needed if we are going to ensure that local interests are kept at the centre of land reform. Members of the public are now being given the power to influence this in the upcoming Land Reform Bill.

Over the last five years, the Scottish Land Commission has been working to provide a robust evidence base to support recommendations for making land work better in the public interest, and to highlight the opportunities that land reform can bring to Scotland and its people.

Now everyone in the Highlands can make a meaningful contribution to the debate, helping to improve the management of land and natural environment around them by taking part in the consultation on the upcoming Land Reform Bill, launched by the Scottish Government.

Not only is this Bill the next step in Scotland’s land reform journey, it’s also a move towards a fairer balance of human rights and property rights while putting a bigger emphasis on community ambitions.

By managing land use responsibly with communities, the environment, and local economies as the focus, financial and wider benefits will be shared to support local priorities and aspirations.

The Scottish Land Commission’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Protocols provide the best possible starting line for those responsible for land around the country, setting out practical advice to land owners, land managers and their advisors on topics such as managing natural capital.

Mixed use landscape of trees and moorland in the northern Highlands.
Mixed use landscape of trees and moorland in the northern Highlands.

The protocols apply to everyone and responsible practice in following these should work in everybody’s interest in ensuring land is used to the Highlands’ – and Scotland’s – benefit.

One of the recommendations to be considered for inclusion in the Land Reform Bill is to strengthen the Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and to make it a legal duty for large-scale landowners to comply with the associated protocols.

There are also long-standing concerns about the highly concentrated pattern of land ownership in rural areas of Scotland, including the Highlands, and the monopoly of power this creates. In response, proposals in the Bill’s consultation include the introduction of a public interest test for the transfer of large-scale landholdings and a requirement on owners to give prior notice to community bodies if they intend to sell. These proposals will also improve the transparency of who owns Scotland’s land, requiring those benefiting from public funding and seeking subsidies to have their land listed in the Land Register.

The way we own, manage and use our land can rise to today’s challenges around net zero, nature restoration and a just transition. The Scottish Land Commission has pulled together all of the Commission's research and evidence, proposals and quick guides to provide the background information to the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill consultation and this can be found on our website: landcommission.gov.scot.

To get the balance right, it is important that Scottish Government hears a wide range of views, and I would urge everyone to make their own contribution to the consultation by visiting the online portal, Land Reform in a Net Zero Nation, which remains open until October 30.

To find out more about the Scottish Land Commission, visit: landcommission.gov.scot.

  • Megan MacInnes is Land Commissioner at the Scottish Land Commission

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