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  

Scotland is a country with a challenging topography, with sea and mountains dividing the land, and with the majority of the population concentrated in the lower-lying central belt.

In terms of population, Scotland is in the middle-run of European countries, at 67 people per square kilometre, compared to the extremes of only 13 people per square kilometre in Norway but 406 in England. Our social and economic history has given us this pattern of settlement, but society doesn’t stand still; we continue to develop. In doing so, we should keep in sight of what we value about our country and what makes it special.

BalmacaraThe National Trust for Scotland was founded as a national charity to protect places of historic interest and natural beauty, and through the efforts of its community of members and supporters over 80 years, has acquired and safeguarded a wide range of properties, from doocots to mountains, castles to croft houses.

The Trust’s national role in conserving some of Scotland’s most valued places is recognised in its founding legislation, which includes two unique powers: inalienability, which means particularly significant properties held by the Trust cannot readily be acquired from the Trust; and conservation agreements, where the Trust can enter into a partnership with an owner to bind his or her successors in title to ensure the natural or historical significance of a property is not subsequently lost to unsympathetic land uses.

One of the earliest and most significant pieces of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament was the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The Act contained provisions for responsible access, community right to buy and crofting community right to buy. The National Trust for Scotland was a strong supporter of the Act, particularly in regard to access rights.

The Act itself was a response to long-standing discontent about highly concentrated land ownership which, it is asserted, has led to half of Scotland’s land mass being owned by just 500 individuals. There is also the emotion of a resurgent Gaelic culture in the Highlands and Islands, through which land reform is seen as a way to right historical injustices.

Campaigners like Andy Wightman have argued that the imbalance in land ownership has stymied the social and economic wellbeing of the Highlands and Islands especially, with people and their families unable to purchase land (due to its high price and lack of availability in small plots) to build affordable housing, subsidies for renewable energy projects almost exclusively benefitting multinational companies and large landowners and agricultural tax-breaks and subsidies again streamed towards the latter.

The Scottish Community Alliance further suggests that “the question of who can own land in Scotland is no longer determined simply by how deep one’s pockets are.  In future that would have to be balanced by a wider consideration of public interest.”  The Alliance points to evidence that community ownership of land and assets like forestry is a model that can revitalise economic prospects and help to grow populations in remote areas.
There are counter-arguments from private landowners, which can be found on the website of Scottish Land and Estates, in which they say that private ownership supports investment in the landscape, generates much rural employment and results in good land management practice.

The question of whether or not the National Trust for Scotland’s ownership of land – some 76,000 hectares representing 1% of the country’s land mass – is in the public interest appears to be a moot point for some. It has been argued that it would be unnecessary for conservation organisations like the Trust to own land at all if government legislation were strong enough to protect natural habitats and historic places. Others point to the Trust’s longevity as an advantage in promoting long-term management and planning and, perhaps most importantly of all, resourcing that is free of short-term commercial or political thinking.

The latest stage in the national debate about land reform has come with the May 2014 publication of the The Land of Scotland and the Common Good, the report of the Land Reform Group established by the Scottish Government.

At a speech delivered on 10 June 2014, Minister for Environment and Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse promised that, in response to the group’s findings, legislation would be brought forward before the end of the current term of the Scottish Parliament.  

This means that the Trust must use the available time to consider the implications for both its land holdings and the purposes for which it has acquired them.