Introduction   Overview   The shape of the debate   Themes Theme 1 - A National Heritage Collection Theme 2 - Heritage for Communities Theme 3 Making heritage accessible Theme 4 Heritage and Tourism after 2014    
Introduction Connecting with conservation Case study Land Reform
Advocating Community Interests The options for the Trust Video Package Your views 
  Land Reform The National Trust for Scotland and Land Reform Inalienability Conservation Agreements Criticisms and responses Land reform review group report 2014 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill Conservation and communities Alternative models  

As even a brief inspection of the information provided here confirms, the Land Reform debate is complicated and often polarised.

For the Trust, the debate has at its heart a conundrum.  

Changes to land ownership patterns in favour of communities are coming and it would seem foolish to ignore them. However, the Trust has a fundamental obligation to hold its core heritage properties inalienably for the entire nation and ensure their long-term conservation.

The Trust as a charity also has fiduciary duties to ensure revenues are maximised so they can be re-invested in the purposes of conservation.  Giving away property held by the Trust for little or no return is therefore not permissible, even if inalienability does not apply.

It is unclear at this stage if the Land Reform Review Group’s proposal to put a cap on the amount of land any one person or business can own will be accepted by the Scottish Government or if it would be applied to charities like the Trust. If it is, there will have to be a fundamental re-think about how the Trust is organised and conservation is managed.

Although there is no real clamour at present for nearby communities to acquire land or buildings currently owned by the Trust, we have already seen, through the ‘right to buy’ enjoyed by crofters, property held for the nation placed in the ownership of private individuals, albeit up to now with the Trust’s tacit blessing.

However, it is worth reflecting on the potential downsides of community ownership. These are graphically described in an article on the online Scottish Review.   

This a reminder that the long-term, ongoing resourcing of land management is extremely difficult – if the Trust struggles to raise the funds necessary to maintain and conserve its properties, is it realistic to imagine that it would be any easier for individual owners or communities who have acquired land under ‘right to buy’?

There is no dispute that community ownership works in the right circumstances and places but the problem for the Trust is how to respond to emerging aspirations without endangering the long-term wellbeing of Scotland’s heritage.

The Trust already has mutually beneficial relationships with communities like Balmacara and Fair Isle and perhaps these offer pointers towards different options that ensure that communities and conservation can prosper together in harmony.