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  

From its very earliest days, the Trust made it a priority to acquire wild land for the purposes of conservation and also to ensure public access. The Trust could, along with the ramblers and others, be said to be pioneers of both collective ownership of the land and what we now call the ‘right to roam’.

The context in the 1930s was of ongoing restriction in terms of public access to rights of way and common land, both of which were under threat.  By taking on places like Burg (1932) and Glencoe (1935/36 – in part to prevent the Glen being damned and turned into a reservoir), the Trust was able to conserve important natural and historic landscapes and ensure that anyone who wished could enjoy them.

As recently as 1995, the Trust almost doubled the amount of land it owned by the one act of purchasing the Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms, enabled through a generous donation. The Trust runs the property as a traditional Highland sporting estate but combines this with ecological objectives around conserving its rich flora and fauna and regenerating ancient Caledonian pinewoods.

This high-profile acquisition, and others by fellow Non-Governmental Organisations like the RSPB and Scottish Woodlands Trust, caused disquiet among some land reform campaigners. This was because the conservation organisations were perceived to be perpetuating the continuation of large, feudal landholdings, similar to those in private ownership and against the interests of local communities.

As an independent charity, the Trust receives some public funding for the work done on behalf of the nation, but raises the great majority of its funds from subscriptions, visitor entry fees and donations.  By definition countryside properties rarely have a ‘box office’ attached and visitors do not pay to enter and do not need to be NTS members; consequently the Trust has to rely on indirect funding sources in order to conserve and maintain wild lands. One important source of revenue is tenancies, be they agricultural or domestic.  

This income from tenancies goes towards providing footpaths and facilities that ensure wild land is accessible to all; it is used to support biodiversity, meet statutory obligations, outreach activities through our Countryside Rangers, clearing of litter and detritus and removal of invasive flora and fauna – in short, a fortune is needed to manage and maintain a natural landscape. The one wee step campaign shows graphically that freedom to roam most certainly has a price.

Some of the Trust’s tenancies are located on the main tracts of land held for conservation purposes. Others exist on properties gifted with the express function of generating sustainable income to offset the costs of caring for the other properties in Trust ownership.  This makes the Trust a landlord, albeit one that ploughs the rental received into conservation activity.

Individual crofters have had the right to acquire the land where they live and work since 1976. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 extended this right to crofting communities. Earlier legislation had recognised the special status of the Trust’s inalienable land and permitted the Trust to challenge an individual croft sale.  However, the 2003 Act did not distinguish between tenanted crofts in privately owned land and those in land held by the National Trust for Scotland as a charity inalienably on behalf of the nation.

As a consequence, it is these aspects of land reform that have had the greatest impact thus far on the Trust.  

Even though the Trust has the right to object to demands to transfer ownership of crofting land, a policy decision was taken not to do so due to respect for the rights of individual members of crofting communities. One result has been that ownership of almost 18% of the land area of Iona, acquired for the nation in 1979, has passed from the Trust to private individuals.

With public access to the countryside now a right that applies to all of Scotland and with the pace of land reform quickening, including calls to give tenant farmers the same rights as crofters, the Trust’s role as a landowner is now less certain than it once was.