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  

Criticism of the National Trust for Scotland’s approach to land ownership and the application of inalienable status has come from different quarters.

The table below summarises some of these concerns and the responses given to them:

  Criticisms Responses  

Differences in opinion about land management – as to whether the Trust’s ecological objectives, such as woodland regeneration, conflict with others’ commercial land use needs.

Conservation needs are perceived to be ‘trumping’ social and economic development by blocking industrial, commercial and residential projects that might encourage population growth in the Highlands and Islands.

It is wrong to assume that conservation landscapes inhibit the national or local economies: A study conducted in 2007 found that the historic environment alone contributed in excess of £2.3 billion (2.6 per cent) to Scotland’s national gross value added, and accounted for 2.5 per cent of total employment. Using 2012 figures, we can compare this to a £758 million contribution from agriculture and £255m from fisheries. We also know from VisitScotland that domestic and international tourism generated £4.3bn in direct spending – and VisitBritain’s figures show that the bait for tourism spend in Scotland was twice as much because of our outstanding historic and natural landscapes as compared with the rest of the UK.  The Trust’s properties undoubtedly make a significant contribution to these totals and attract visitors who will spend money in local communities.

The national Trust for Scotland owns around 1% of land in Scotland, compared to Forestry Commission Scotland’s 9%.  The bulk of the Trust’s land is in mountain properties, with only limited alterative uses. Therefore, while the Trust can make a contribution  to conserving what makes Scotland special, putting these charitable assets into private ownership would not make a significant difference to economic or social development.


The quality of the Trust’s land management is questionable and would be better in the hands of others, including local communities.

The core purpose of the Trust is to conserve Scotland’s most important natural and cultural heritage for the entire nation for all time – it is difficult to see how breaking up Trust land holdings would benefit more than a few at the expense of everyone else, particularly if individual plots are passed to private ownership. This may in time dilute conservation obligations to the extent the property becomes another absentee holiday home or is subject to development that obliterates its natural or historic significance.


As a landlord that will not sell tenanted properties or offer long-term leases, the Trust is frustrating community ownership ambitions and individuals’ wishes for commitment and certainty.

Trust tenancies are offered at fair market rates and are available for periods of up to 20 years – the Trust also has the flexibility to offer some tenancies at a peppercorn rate if this is helpful to community development.


The Trust’s principle of inalienability prevents the sale or transfer of assets, such as land or buildings that local communities could use for social or income-generating purposes.

It is not clear how, if Trust land holdings were broken up towards community or individual ownership, that the level of resources required to manage, conserve and maintain these properties could be obtained.  The Trust is able to raise the millions of pounds necessary and recruit thousands of volunteers so that it is possible to provide mountain footpaths that visitors use to access wild land, repair environmental damage and conserve the habitats which are attractive to visitors in the first place and which sustain our natural environment.

The Trust is willing to consider alternative options to current management arrangements if places of national significance can be properly conserved and sustained for the long-term.


The Trust perpetuates a patronising form of ‘landlordism’ or ‘feudalism’ and is no better than the titled landowners it replaced.

Long-term inter-generational conservation of Scotland’s most treasured landscapes and buildings is of far greater, lasting importance to the country’s wellbeing and economy than short-term commercial or personal gain.


It is self-evident that the Trust is not a typical ‘landowner’ – all of its 129 visited and other tenanted properties are collectively owned by its 320,000 members for the benefit of Scotland as a whole.  The Trust by definition works in the ‘public interest’.


The Trust’s lack of concentrated investment in communities due to other spending priorities and its need to raise most of its own income as a charity.

The Trust is able to offer direct support to communities to their great benefit as evidenced at Balmacara and Fair Isle.  Although Canna is often cited as evidence to the contrary, it is completely atypical of the Trust’s wider experience, and in any case has benefitted from millions of pounds-worth of NTS investment.


The Trust, along with other large landowners, is ‘exploiting’ the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy by claiming Single Farm Payments even though it is not a ‘real’ farming business.

The Trust is investing in sustainable land-use practices and actively farms its land either directly or through its tenants.


Conservation Agreements and burdens are an unfair imposition on individuals who want to realise the full value of property they own or have inherited or purchased and block commercial and economic progress.  Often they conflict with Local Authority planning designations where it has been decided that residential or economic growth in the area is a priority.

There may be a natural tendency for individuals or groups that want to acquire parts of the Trust’s land holdings to ‘cherry-pick’ those bits that have best chance of making a financial return, leaving the Trust to underwrite the rest.


The Trust does not have the resources to enforce Conservation Agreements and other obligations, which can now be challenged in the courts, nor to protect the wider environmental settings of places of national importance – as per the recent concerns about new housing development around the battlefield of Culloden.

It is very true that legal defence of agreements is very expensive and uses up resources that should be used to fund conservation work.  The Trust is working hard to draw attention to the value of such agreements as new legislation is drawn up and also reminding local authorities to take cognisance of them in preparing local plans.