Understanding International Experiences of Community, Communal and Municipal Ownership of Land: a knowledge exchange webinar

Guest bloggers Annie McKee (The James Hutton Institute) and Jane Atterton (SRUC) look at understanding international experiences of community ownership of land for an upcoming knowledge exchange webinar.   This is part of a review commissioned by the Scottish Land Commission of international experience of community, communal and municipal land ownership.  The project will explore relevant forms of community, communal and municipal land ownership outside Scotland, particularly focusing on the interaction between governance structures, management objectives, the distribution of land rights and cultural perceptions. Lessons for Scotland will be provided from this international experience.  

The community ownership of land in Scotland represents an important and currently active agenda. In many countries around the world, community engagement and involvement in landownership and management is well established. Critically, legal ownership is often not the defining characteristic of what can be loosely termed communal, municipal or community ownership at a global level. Reviewing indigenous rights and communal ownership also highlights the importance of specific rights over resources, which may be separate to ownership, and which may represent key aspects of community development and self-determination. Bundles of land rights and/or strong local governance structures can result in a community-led approach to land management and decision-making related to land, despite the outright ownership of the land lying with another body (e.g. a State-owned company or local municipality administration).

Other institutions (including the public and private sector organisations) can play important roles in delivering asset-based community development in some contexts (for example, community land trusts in the United States).  Reviewing indigenous rights and communal ownership also highlights the importance of specific rights over resources, which may be separate to ownership and can represent key aspects of community development and self-determination. Critically, due to the complexity of ownership formats internationally and the varying emphasis of the importance of property ownership, understanding community ownership in an international context requires consideration of governance structures for managing land and associated rights (as opposed to who ‘owns the land’ in a legal sense) as well as the historical evolution of community-based ownership.

In Scotland, what constitutes ‘community landownership’ is arguably reasonably well agreed upon i.e. ownership (legal title and exclusive right of possession) of land and/or assets by a community body that is locally-led and linked to a defined geographic community (Scottish Government, 2017). Community ownership in Scotland is therefore predominantly ‘place-based’ and based on the acquisition of ‘full’ property rights (although it is recognised that various partnership and lease arrangements exist between communities and landowners). In this sense, ‘community ownership’ in Scotland is a relatively distinct form of landownership and generally seen as distinct from public ownership of land (e.g. by Forestry Commission Scotland, a state agency and the largest single landowning entity in Scotland). In contrast, the interpretation and conceptualisation of ‘community’ or ‘communal’ ownership of land varies considerably across Europe and further afield and is often less clearly distinguished from ‘public ownership’. Understanding these global perspectives

A webinar will be held on 5th March from 1.30-3.30pm to discuss emerging findings from ongoing research commissioned by the Scottish Land Commission, led by Dr Jane Atterton at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) that seeks to understand international experiences of community, communal and municipal ownership of land. The webinar will connect people with knowledge and expertise in the field of community land ownership internationally, to build new understandings and identify key themes relevant to the ongoing research.

The research team (including researchers from SRUC, the James Hutton Institute, and Universities of Aberdeen and Sheffield) will outline the main themes from the desk-based evidence review and in-depth international case studies during this webinar, which will be chaired by Malcolm Combe, Senior Lecturer in Rural Law from the University of Aberdeen. The international case studies to be discussed include and exploration of state and community-owned common land management in Norway, the community land trust model as developed in the United States, common forest management and ‘access to land’ initiatives in France, amongst others.

The focus of the webinar discussion will be to identify the key lessons relevant to the ongoing processes of changing landownership in Scotland. This online meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss the research findings and the emerging lessons with an expert group of international academics, practitioners, stakeholders, and interested members of the public (although places are limited). In summary, the webinar aims to:

  • Draw out implications for Scotland from international experiences of community, communal and municipal land ownership.
  • Interrogate international project advisors, representatives of case studies, and key informants to incorporate their knowledge and experience of other contexts, e.g. regarding the potential barriers/challenges experienced elsewhere.
  • Link practitioners and researchers working on community, communal and municipal ownership of land internationally, for the purposes of transdisciplinary knowledge exchange.

Participants in the webinar will include the Scottish Land Commission staff and Commissioners, relevant Scottish stakeholders (including representatives from the Scottish Government, Community Land Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, and others), the international advisers to the ongoing research project, and representatives from the case studies featured in the project. The webinar will be recorded and subject to participants’ agreement, will be made publicly available. The webinar report will form part of the research report to be submitted to the Scottish Land Commission in mid-March 2019. The report will collate the webinar messages and present lessons that Scotland could learn from international experiences, as it seeks to develop and support the model of community land ownership.

Any interested individuals who wish to participate in the webinar are requested to contact either Jane Atterton (SRUC) or Annie McKee (The James Hutton Institute) by 5pm on 4th March, to request a space and joining instructions (although please note that spaces are limited). The webinar recording will be uploaded to the project webpage shortly after the event, and the final project report is anticipated for publication by the Scottish Land Commission in late Spring/early Summer 2019.

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Community Engagement in decisions relating to land

Scottish Land Commissioner, Sally Reynolds looks at the importance of community engagement in decisions relating to land following the recent publication of a protocol and supporting toolkit by the Scottish Land Commission.

Land Commission board portraits

Early and open engagement by those who own or manage land with the local community should be part of normal business practice in Scotland.

While there are plenty of examples of good practice, there are also occasions when communities feel they’ve been ignored or only lip service has been paid to engaging them.

But, genuine and open engagement is good for land owners because it can reduce potential conflict, help make businesses more resilient and promote innovation.

On the flip side, communities will be better informed and people will have a greater opportunity to engage, understand and influence potential change and opportunities.

By working together and engaging in a process, it is often easier to make constructive progress.

That’s why we, at the Scottish Land Commission have this week launched a new Protocol and toolkit about community engagement in decisions about land.

This sets out in really practical terms how landowners, land managers and communities can work together to make better – and fairer – decisions about land use, especially when changes are on the agenda.

The toolkit will help landowners in engaging with communities. It includes a ‘decision map’ with ideas for engagement methods and what is expected of landowners and managers in different situations.

We believe it will promote an open approach to decision making, all of which is a vital part of increasing the accountability of land ownership and making the most of opportunities.

The Protocol defines standard good practice for engagement over land use and management.

I live and work on community owned estates and I have seen first-hand the positive outcomes engagement can have for both the community and land owner. I also know how daunting it can be for organisations who would like to engage with the community but don’t know how to get started. That’s why I am really excited about this new protocol and toolkit as I think it will help all parties work and move forward together.

This Protocol is the first in what will become a series of Land Rights and Responsibilities Protocols on different subjects that we will produce over the coming years to encourage practical implementation of the principles set out in the Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS).

The Protocols will be short, clear, practical and fair to all parties, setting out clear expectations of what ought to happen in normal circumstances and provide guidance and practical advice to land owners, land managers and communities, to make more of Scotland’s land.

One initiative that illustrates good practice in terms of the principles of community engagement is the East Neuk Community Action Plan (ENCAP) Steering Group in Fife, which has successfully brought together landowners, community groups and others in to community-led planning. Partners include the East Neuk Estates Group which forged strong relationships with community groups, responded to the priorities they identified and integrated these into their own estate and land-use plans.

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