FOLLOWING addresses by First Minister Alex Salmond and Dr Alison Elliot at today’s Community Land Scotland annual conference, Scottish Land & Estates Chief Executive Douglas McAdam commented:
“We welcome the First Minister’s announcements on an increased budget for the Scottish Land fund and also the target of one million acres of land in community control by 2020. Our members have always been supportive of community ownership where such an approach leads to the best outcome for communities, and where this is the most cost effective option for achieving such an outcome. We would argue however that in many cases the right outcome may not require ownership but rather another mutually beneficial approach; there are numerous options available. Where purchase is deemed to be the best outcome our firm belief is that this should always be on a ‘willing buyer and willing seller’ basis.
“Alex Salmond made the keynote speech at our own AGM in 2012 and Alison Elliot spoke at our 2013 event last month. What was said by Mr Salmond then remains true today – that private landowners have a key role to play in modern rural Scotland.
“He commended the majority of Scotland’s landowners as being responsible and dedicated and recognised there are a range of key initiatives Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Government are working on closely and successfully together. He also applauded the work being done to stimulate rural economic growth and the strategies being employed by landowners in doing so, be this through farming, tourism, renewable energy or other means, as well as private landowners’ contributions to building strong rural communities. Critically, the First Minister made it clear back in 2012 that any review of land reform would mean everyone working together, and we are hopeful this can happen as the LRRG process continues.
“Our proposals for the future of Scotland’s rural sector have a clear vision - to help build and sustain a healthy economy where private and community enterprises can flourish side by side and in harmony. We believe this is the most productive way forward and would welcome the creation of an environment where this approach is encouraged. Our submission to the Land Reform Review Group consultation reflects this.
“A broad church of land ownership types exists in Scotland and the evidence proves private landowners play a leading role. As key contributors to extremely fragile rural areas modern landowners - our members - are progressive and open to reasoned change. Our submission to the LRRG acknowledged this and far from advocating the status quo as we have been accused of, we have in fact gone well beyond this, offered greater transparency and willingness to engage all relevant bodies and individuals with a view to improving the rural economy and outcomes for rural communities.
“Siren voices have this week referred to land ownership ratios where large parts of the country are owned by few individuals. Such statements on the surface make convenient sound bites, but in reality much of Scotland’s rural land is very difficult to use for any productive purpose - often due to the quality of the land or accessibility. Due to this limited productivity, land use must be managed at a large scale to be economically viable and often requires considerable investment, not least to meet the growing demands on land management in designated areas and to address the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change. Land that is in the ownership of private organisations is overwhelmingly employed productively, and in such a way that it also benefits local communities through tourism, job creation, agriculture, housing and in a whole host of other ways.
“Scottish Land & Estates has put forward progressive proposals to the LRRG to further enhance community engagement amongst many other aspects of rural land management and we are hopeful these will be welcomed. Some excellent examples already exist showing landowners engaging with and enhancing the communities of which they form part. We are working hard to raise awareness of these efforts with the public on a daily basis.”