Landowners across Scotland are being urged to grasp an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ to cut through rhetoric surrounding land reform and demonstrate the benefits they deliver for rural Scotland.
Speaking at a Scottish Land & Estates conference in Edinburgh on delivering public benefit from private land, David Johnstone, chairman of the organisation, which represents landowners across Scotland, said landowners were already meeting the challenges set-down by government head on - but that more needed to be done to cut through timeworn stereotypes to demonstrate the benefits to all of private landownership.
He said: "There is very compelling evidence right across Scotland to demonstrate the public benefit that private landowners deliver. It is there for all to see in tourism, energy, housing, conservation and a host of other sectors, many of which provide no commercial return for landowners.
"The challenge we face is to break down the stereotype image that is so convenient for those who are critical of the very existence of estates. They do not wish to acknowledge what is happening on the ground and what can be achieved in the future."
Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, gave the keynote address at the conference.
Dr McLeod said: “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to address Scottish Land & Estates spring conference on managing land in the public interest. Our vision for land reform is that Scotland’s land delivers the greatest benefit to all the people of Scotland. We fully recognise the expertise and role of land owners in managing land. But we want to see greater collaboration between communities and land owners, with agreement over how priorities and benefits should be delivered from land. I believe that the reforms proposed in the land reform bill will benefit all those with a stake in the future of land ownership and land management in Scotland.”
Mr Johnstone added: "At local level, there is a great deal of recognition of the contribution of landowners and their businesses. However, in the context of a national political debate, that recognition is often overshadowed by arguments rooted in ideology.
“Our members present today are amongst those estates providing social housing in rural locations at affordable rates – often where local housing associations cannot meet demand. Our members are driving tourism, attracting visitors and spending to locations outside Edinburgh. Our members are the ones piloting innovative renewable energy projects – often in direct partnership with local communities – that not only create jobs but help the Scottish Government meet their clean energy targets.
"The ball is in our court to demonstrate as we have never done before what we offer as rural businesses. We will soon see a new land reform bill going through the Scottish Parliament which will bring forward comprehensive new measures.
"There will be measures we support as progressive businesses but others we fundamentally do not favour.
"We know the challenge that lies ahead of us but out of the whole process we would dearly like to see things moving forward where it is easier for decision-makers at local, regional and national level to recognise that private landowners are willing and enthusiastic partners in delivering public benefit.
"There are many examples of where that is happening but our message is that we can do a lot more in terms of helping the Scottish Government achieve its policy ambitions in making rural Scotland a more vibrant place."
NOTES TO EDITORS
Scottish Land & Estates runs ‘Helping it Happen’ - a campaign to highlight how landowners and estates and estates can play a key role in delivering benefit to rural Scotland. The campaign demonstrates that estates are committed to working in support of local communities and businesses across a range of sectors including tourism and leisure, food and drink, energy, agriculture, housing and the environment.
Scottish Land & Estates also published last year a new Landowners’ Charter which sets out a commitment to the principles and responsibilities of modern landownership in Scotland. The four main pillars of the charter form a clear undertaking to be open, inclusive, enabling and responsible. These categories include a wide range of recommendations that will help landowners and businesses achieve their objectives.