National Student Award winner shares her experience

Winner of our first student award, Alison Martin, a PhD student at Inverness College UHI, used the funding to attend and speak at this year’s Royal Geographical Society International Conference.

In our latest blog, Alison – who is investigating the governance and ownership of rural land in Scotland, focusing on decision-making around rewilding initiatives and species reintroductions – talks about her experience of using the student award funding and the difference that it has made to her academic career.  

In August 2019 I was able to attend the Royal Geographical Society International Conference in London and give a talk about my PhD research – all thanks to the Student Award from the Scottish Land Commission.

The conference spanned three days, over 300 sessions, and was attended by over 1,800 delegates. I was a speaker in one of two sessions organised to explore ‘Trust in Rural Land Governance. I presented findings from a literature review and exploratory interviews and discussed the role of trust and legitimacy in the governance of rewilding in Scotland, folloA Martin Awardwed by a Q&A session.

Rewilding is a very contemporary issue and associated activities – especially species reintroduction – are a significant development in land use, land management and conservation.

Currently in Scotland a range of initiatives are underway which to a greater or lesser extent constitute rewilding but we currently lack a clear structure for how rewilding decisions are made and implemented – and by whom.

This all sits within the very unique context of Scottish land ownership, the Land Reform agenda and a push for greater community involvement based on underlying principles around human rights and land use for common good.

The student award was crucial in allowing me to take this opportunity, not only to attend, but to develop my thinking on a key aspect of rural governance and work on my practical presentation skills. It gave me my first experience of a large international conference and I gained invaluable first-hand experience of talking to an audience about my research, a key stage in my academic development. It also gave me exposure to current research and ideas in rural governance and the chance to meet others working in the field. I was also able to bring back what I learned and feed this into the work of the Land Commission.


Research underpins the Land Commission’s work so that decisions and recommendations are thoroughly evidence based, and we use a wide academic network to provide research on key land reform issues. To encourage involvement in land reform we have launched the Scottish Land Commission National Student Award. Any student studying at a Scottish academic institution who undertakes a land reform-related piece of research is eligible to apply for the £1,000 prize.

Speaking about the award, our CEO Hamish Trench said: “We want to develop new approaches to make the most of Scotland’s land and help to build future research capacity to support land reform. We first offered an award last year through the University of the Highlands and Islands it is great that we can now extend the award nationally so that any students interested in land reform can take the opportunity to work with us and explore issues, gather evidence and spark debate and understanding.”

To apply for the award, a single grant of £1000, students are asked to outline their project and show how it connects to a Scottish Land Commission workstream as well as detailing how it will benefit the applicant’s student experience. Find out more and apply now.

Tenants’ Amnesty – Last Opportunity Beckons

The clock is ticking on the tenants’ improvements amnesty in his latest blog, Tenant Farming Commissioner Bob McIntosh highlights the importance of starting the process now. Bob - portrait NEW

Time is fast running out for those who wish to make use of the amnesty on tenants’ improvements by registering as eligible for compensation at waygo, improvements which may have been carried out without the correct procedures having been followed. Given that the amnesty period expires next June, and that it can take up to nine months to agree a claim, tenants who have not yet begun the process are urged to do so as soon as possible. This is a one-off opportunity to claim eligible improvements where the tenant may not have followed the correct procedure, such as notifying the landlord. The background to the amnesty and the procedures to be followed are set out in the Tenant Farming Commissioner’s Code of Practice.

As well as enabling tenants to maximise their waygo entitlements, agreeing a list of tenants’ improvements now will mean that you are well prepared for the introduction next year of the new rent system. Like the previous system, it is built on the basis that a landlord can only charge rent on fixed equipment provided by him/her so establishing the split of ownership of fixed equipment will be a necessary first step in the new rent system.

The Code of Practice emphasises the importance of a site meeting. Once tenant and landlord have assembled, and shared, information pertaining to the origin and eligibility of claimed improvements, experience has shown that a site meeting is the best way to see and discuss any disputed items and to reach agreement without the need for endless back and forward correspondence. Improvements which were implemented at shared cost can be difficult to resolve if poor records exist as to the relative contributions of landlord and tenant and sensible, pragmatic solutions such as agreeing on a 50:50 split are to be encouraged. It is desirable that all disputed items are resolved but it remains an option, as a last resort, to record the item as a tenant’s improvement but defer the issue of apportionment of ‘ownership’ until waygo takes place.

If you haven’t started the process, please do so as soon as possible or you may lose the valuable opportunity this amnesty provides.

For more information click here.

Urban land and communities – Shaping the future

In this blog, Good Practice Manager Gemma Campbell looks at community engagement in an urban context and sets out what the Commission is doing to support this.

We recently published two reports on community engagement in urban areas, ‘Land and Communities: Beyond the Echo Chambers’ – delivered in partnership with SURF, Scotland’s Regeneration Forum – and a second report delivered in partnership with Young Scot. These reports highlight some of the Gemma Campbell-002challenges faced in urban areas when it comes to getting involved in decisions made about land and considered how we could better understand the specific challenges and identify opportunities for practical change.

The ‘Beyond the Echo Chambers’ report was based on findings from three facilitated stakeholder events, held in Govan, Kirkcaldy and Rothesay, following SURF’s ‘Food for Thought’ model. The research focussed on ‘less well heard’ urban communities – disempowered through poverty, inequality and exclusion – and looked at how to enable them to contribute to land use decision making. Meanwhile, the Young Scot report focussed on the experiences of young people and explored their understanding of, and relationship with, urban land in their communities.

We found similarities in both sets of work, with participants identifying a sense of powerlessness and distrust when it comes to land issues, and many feeling they lacked understanding of who owned land and how decisions were made. This was compounded by a perceived lack of transparency and a sense that there were insufficient resources available to support urban communities to participate. There was, however, a willingness to get involved and a desire from communities to influence what happens in the spaces around them.

The people involved in the studies identified asset maps – seeing what is actually available for community control or ownership, improved transparency, enhanced post-acquisition support and better understanding and promotion of the value of genuine engagement with the community as ways to improve the current situation. They want to know who owns which assets and what their plans are, how those plans will impact their community, and what the opportunities are for getting involved and for making use of or taking on assets.

So, what can we do to support this?

We introduced our first protocol, on Engaging Communities in Decisions Relating to Land, in January this year, and we continue to promote it across the country. It is the first part of our good practice programme, which will be an integral part in effecting the culture change that is required to make the most of Scotland’s land. The protocol sets out practical advice on how landowners, land managers and communities can work together to make better – and fairer – decisions about land use in both rural and urban Scotland. We continue to develop this programme and will be tackling issues around responsible land re-use, transparency in relation to ownership and decision making, and early stage (pre-planning) engagement through the development of further protocols and guidance, and providing training and raising awareness of good practice and the benefits it brings to landowners and communities.

We will be working with communities to get involved in land-use decision making processes at an early stage and we will be encouraging landowners to engage earlier and involve communities in decision making processes.

This approach is reflected in national policy, where there is a focus on the ‘place principle,’ which means that those who are responsible for services and assets in a place should be planning and making decisions in collaboration with the local community. It promotes shared understanding and participative processes to ensure that resources, services and assets are directed and used in ways that best serve the needs of the community. This approach offers a great opportunity for communities to get involved and have their say.

Our urban engagement work links closely to the work of the Vacant and Derelict Taskforce. We have learned from the SURF and Young Scot reports that care needs to be taken to ensure that policies intended to empower communities do not inadvertently increase existing inequalities. In 2018, 58% of people in the most deprived SIMD areas, many of them urban, were estimated to live within 500 metres of vacant and derelict land (compared to 11% of people in the least deprived areas). Our recent work on vacant and derelict land explores the impact of derelict land on communities and proposes a tool for measuring this. We will be working with key urban partners and communities to test and refine this tool.

Ultimately, what is needed is a collaborative approach, backed up by a co-ordinated programme of information and support and effective and open communication from all parties. This will be key to ensuring that urban land is used in a way that is fair, inclusive and productive, and that helps communities to realise their opportunities and ambitions.

We look forward to working closely with key stakeholders, including SURF, Development Trust Associations Scotland and Community Land Scotland, to ensure a co-ordinated approach to engagement in our urban spaces.

Learning from International Experience

James MacKessack-Leitch, Policy Officer, looks at what Scotland can learn from international experience of land use in our latest blog.

At the Scottish Land Commission Conference, Scotland’s Land and Economy, I spoke about some of the international research we’ve done over the past couple of years looking at various land reform issues, and how other countries organise systems of land use, management, and ownership.

My aim was to get the audience – and now you – to think about some of these big issues, and pose some challenging questions about what Scotland can learn and where we should be going on our land reform journey.

There are three elements that shape our relationship with land regardless of country or jurisdiction: use, management, and ownership. Each has its own distinct features and role to play, but all three are intimately linked.

However, looking outwith Scotland, it quickly becomes clear how different patterns of land use, management, and ownership can be. As everyone is doing it differently, there’s no such thing as normal – or perhaps even radical – land reform; it’s a matter of perspective.

Across the breadth of our international research there are three key themes that consistently arise where there is the greatest difference with the Scottish context: governance (ownership) structures; local governance; and land use and planning. From these areas we have, perhaps, the most to learn.

In Scotland there is a tendency to think of land and property ownership as either private, public, or community – and treat each one differently. Elsewhere, however, there are a range of governance models that exist demonstrating a broad spectrum of ownership models that don’t fit neatly into any of these descriptions. Hybrid governance and ownership models are quite common outside of Scotland, and act to bring various parties together in decision making around land use and management – and crucially give them each a stake in the rights and responsibilities. This hybrid approach also tends to increase transparency and accountability in decision making.

Similarly, where a landowner in Scotland would normally expect to own all the rights to resources attached to the land, elsewhere the separation of usage rights and rights to resources is common. This allows multiple parties to benefit from the full scope of what the land can offer, implicitly recognising that it is the ownership of resources, rather than title, and fostering governance arrangements that are more inclusive and productive.

With regard to local governance, unlike in Scotland, the presence of municipalities of a much smaller scale – both in population and geographic terms – is ubiquitous. These local government structures play a key role in local land use, management, and often ownership, and are empowered with tools from taxation to planning to take a leading role in all local land matters.

For a wide range of land reform objectives it is clear that the presence of these types of local governance structures makes achieving change that much easier – which is perhaps somewhat at odds with the prevailing top-down approach in Scotland.

The final common theme is around land use and planning. The vast majority of countries explored take a zoned approach to planning, and will regularly have much more detailed – and often legally enforceable – land use plans.

This allows much greater clarity around development and ensures that the benefits of development are more widely spread. More in-depth land use planning also provides greater clarity for landowners, decision makers, and the public, and can act as an agreed expression of the public interest in land in the local area.

Taking all that on board, there are then three big questions we need to answer.

Firstly, is there a local governance gap? The role of empowered municipalities across the breadth of the research is clear. As it stands, Scotland doesn’t really have a direct equivalent, or any compensating mechanisms. Taking this question a step further, across the country we see pressure on landowners to engage and take responsibility for inclusive decision making. At the same time landowners of all types are often working to provide public goods as diverse as infrastructure and affordable housing to environmental protection. Is this gap being filled by landowners? Should it?

Secondly, is the Land Use Strategy the missing link? Clear land use planning (and a zoned approach) are prerequisites for many land reform objectives, but are useful tools in their own right. How do we make sure we’re making the right decisions, increase clarity for landowners and the public, and improve decision making?

Finally, what should be normal for Scotland?




Interventions to Manage Land Markets and Limit Ownership []

Increasing the Availability of Farmland for New Entrants to Agriculture []

Land Value Tax Policy Options for Scotland []

Local authority land acquisition in Germany and the Netherlands: are there lessons for Scotland? []

The Range, Nature and Applicability of Funding Models to Support Community Land Ownership []

Review of International Experience of Community, Communal and Municipal Ownership of Land (not yet published)

New land matching service to help new entrants into farming

In this blog, Tenant Farming Commissioner Bob McIntosh looks at the newly-introduced Land Matching Service. 

There are matchmakers for love and for business so why not for land and farming?

But how best to bring together those with land who no longer want to farm with those who want to farm but have no land?Bob - portrait NEW

For a long time, the problem has seemed intractable, though the need is clearly there.

New secure tenancies are few and far between because they are seen as low return and high risk by landowners. Meanwhile, fixed duration tenancies have encouraged landowners to let land, but generally on a relatively short-term basis, without the security of tenure which many tenants seek.

There is increased interest in exploring how other joint ventures such as contract farming, share farming and business partnerships can provide opportunities in all sectors of the industry. These joint venture opportunities also apply to people who are thinking about retirement and succession planning.

What seems clear is that we need to provide opportunities to bring landowners, farmers and new entrants together, with a central point of contact for initial guidance and impartial advice.

The Scottish Land Commission has been working alongside National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), Scottish Land & Estates and the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs as part of the Scottish Government’s Farming Opportunities for New Entrants (FONE) group to create a new, dedicated land-matching service.

NFUS will host the service, as an expansion of their current Joint Venture Hub. The FONE group will provide guidance and the service will be supported by funding from the Scottish Land Commission.

The service will provide farmers and new entrants with a one stop shop for advice and guidance and to help initiate discussions between potential new entrants, land owners and farmers. The aim is to bring potential ‘matches’ together, working with them to select an agreement which best suits their needs. It will also appeal to landowners looking to set up a joint business venture with a new entrant.

This is a potentially very helpful initiative which the Land Commission is pleased to have supported and which will enable those seeking a tenancy to be linked up with those thinking of offering a tenancy. It will be important that the service is proactive, as well as reactive, by actively working with landlords and those wishing to farm to encourage and assist them in developing ways of working together to create opportunities that will benefit both parties and by publicising good examples as they occur.

Conventional tenancies is one route to bringing the parties together but a variety of other models such as joint ventures and business partnerships provide other opportunities which are worth exploring. While the focus may often be on identifying new opportunities for new entrants, there is potential to benefit existing secure tenants wishing to retire and who have no eligible successors. Agreements which enable them to bring another person into the business can be a good way of allowing the existing tenant to exit the business gradually and pass it on to the next generation.

The Commission is delighted to be involved in this new service helping to unlock land, increase productivity of farming, introduce new people to the industry and promote innovation, proving a win-win for farmers looking to retire or scale down and those looking to set up in farming.

Keep an eye on the Scottish Land Commission’s website to find out more.