Measures to prevent the enforced sale of well-managed land under forthcoming land reform legislation are of paramount importance, landowners have said.
Scottish Land & Estates made the appeal to parliamentarians as the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee began the Stage 2 process of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.
The organisation said it was vital that the impact that the sale of land to communities would have upon owners or current tenants is taken account of. Scottish Land & Estates also said that this process had to recognise the positive contribution of all forms of land-based businesses, not solely farming.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “It is in everyone’s interests to see Scotland’s rural economy flourishing and part of that process includes protecting land-based businesses that are managing their land assets both sustainably and productively.
“We support community ownership where there is a willing buyer and seller, and indeed where the land has been clearly found to be neglected or abandoned. We would appeal for parliamentarians to seek amendments that can protect the interests of landowners and tenants who are clearly fulfilling the aim of managing land well. We frequently hear the mantra that good landowners have nothing to fear and it is only right that the Bill delivers on this sentiment.
“Land that is well managed for legitimate purposes should not be subject to enforced sale to communities. The need to protect productive farm land – that may have been farmed by the same family for generations – is clear. However, these same safeguards need to be extended to recognise the positive contribution of other land uses such as forestry, heritage tourism, outdoor recreation and country sports – all of which provide jobs but require a land asset to be viable.
“We also want to see protection for land managed for environmental purposes, often helping to achieve the targets set out by the Scottish Government in other areas. With a constructive and positive approach, a combination of amendments could help achieve this.”
Mr Johnstone added that Scottish Land & Estates fully supported measures to increase transparency of ownership, as demonstrated by the Landowners’ Commitment published in 2014.
Mr Johnstone continued: “We have seen much rhetoric around the land reform process – both from campaigners and a few political figures – that suggests landowners have been lobbying against transparency of ownership. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Scottish Land & Estates has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that ownership of land is visible and that those who manage land are accessible and contactable.
“Whilst we have no objections to the principle of limiting ownership of land to entities registered in the European Union, we accept the reasons provided by the Scottish Government as to why this has not been progressed. We will continue to work with a number of stakeholders to look at other mechanisms - both voluntary and statutory - which could increase transparency and visibility of ownership.
“It is clear that transparency has become a key theme during the land reform process. However, ownership is only one area where increased transparency and openness would be in the public interest. For example, the sharing of data gathered across Scotland by a variety of bodies and individuals involved in species monitoring should also be looked at in the future, perhaps by the new Land Commission.”
Scottish Land & Estates also welcomed news that the importance of experience in land management would be a key concern in appointing members of the Land Commission.
“We were clear in our evidence that the Land Commission had to have the requisite blend of skills and expertise in order to achieve the government’s stated aims. We are pleased that this has been recognised,” Mr Johnstone added.
“How we use land productively – not simply who owns it – has to be the focus once this legislation has passed. A commission that everyone has confidence in will be significant in reaching that goal.”