Farms and agricultural businesses are facing a ‘generational’ change in their engagement with local communities, Scottish Land & Estates said today.
The organisation has highlighted the need for farming businesses to be ready for new community engagement guidelines that are to be introduced as part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act.
Scottish Land & Estates said that since the legislation was passed in mid-March, it had become clear that many farming owner-occupiers and tenants were unaware of the potential impact on all occupiers of land and their businesses.
Speaking at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston today, David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said it was vital that all land-based businesses – not just estates – are well positioned to embrace the new guidelines and engage with communities.
With the Scottish Government due to hold a consultation later this year over the draft community engagement guidance, the organisation added that it was vital that the farming sector is fully involved with this process.
David Johnstone said: “One of the major conclusions to come from the land reform legislation was the need for landowners and land-based businesses to engage with communities in decisions relating to the use of land.
“It is clear, however, that many businesses are unaware of what that will mean for them. Much of the narrative around land reform centred on how estates would be affected, whilst the debate on agriculture focused on the tenanted sector.
“Many of our members are farmers and all owner-occupier and tenant farmers need to be aware that new community engagement measures will apply to them every bit as much as it will to the larger estates and this will be particularly relevant to farms on urban fringes where there is often a keen interest from community groups regarding leisure and access.
“In time, guidance will be produced by the Scottish Government which will explain what this will mean in practice and we would urge farmers to make their voices heard in this process.”
Scottish Land & Estates said that whilst the new legislation would formalise the process, maintaining positive dialogue with local communities is key to successful engagement and more would be expected from landowners beyond consulting with a community when a planning application or similar project is undertaken.
The organisation added that it was making training and support available – as well as highlighting good practice – to show how farmers can equip themselves for the new engagement guidelines.
David Johnstone continued: “There are many instances of farms enjoying good relationships with the local communities, for example, where farmers open their doors to schools and the public to demonstrate what goes on, or provide opportunities for outdoor learning, skills development and employment. The success of Scotland’s food and drink industry – and local produce – has been a boon in this regard, helping the public understand what takes place on our land.
“There are many farms, however, situated on the outskirts of towns and cities who will believe land reform is more of a Highland or rural issue that it is for them. The message we want to make clear is that communities will be having an ever greater say in how land is managed in the wider public interest and farmers need to be ready to play their part in that conversation.”