Land Commission Report – a Milestone in Land Reform

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

News Release

20th March 2019

Land Commission Report – a Milestone in Land Reform

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has warmly welcomed today’s publication of the Scottish Land Commission’s report on Large Scale and Concentrated Land ownership in Scotland. The report has found that concentrated land ownership is having significant impacts on rural communities across Scotland and has made a series of recommendations to ministers to address these adverse effects and to stimulate a more productive and dynamic pattern of landownership.

The detailed set of recommendations include:

  • Legal powers to subject large land sales to public interest tests in special cases in order to stop owners having excessive power.
  • A requirement for owners of large estates to draw up management plans that involve local communities.
  • Powers to investigate cases where landowners abuse their power, which could lead to compulsory purchase or community buyouts.
  • New ways to increase the number of small and privately-owned estates, farms and forests.

Commenting on the report, STFA Chairman, Christopher Nicholson said: “This report represents a major milestone in the Land Commission’s work setting the direction for the next phase of Land Reform. In representing the interests of tenant farmers STFA is acutely aware of the impact a monopoly of landownership can have on tenant farmers, rural communities and those who live and work on the land and is pleased to see these concerns are a key feature of the report.

“Over the last decade, the land reform agenda has improved the lot of the tenant farmer, encouraged better landlord behaviour, increased confidence and investment in tenanted farms and helped a good number of tenant farmers to purchase their farms. However, there are still some pockets where landownership is concentrated in a few hands and tenant farmers have found themselves reluctant to speak out and consequently unable to take advantage of opportunities to diversify or invest in their holdings. STFA therefore welcomes the report’s recognition that there are areas of concern where individuals are still “feart of the laird”.

“In particular we welcome the report’s recommendation that local communities should be allowed a greater role in influencing the planning and decision-making process, particularly where it involves land-use change in their locality.   Large scale conversion of agricultural land to forestry, for example, should be subject to planning constraints and should not take place without the agreement of local people, especially where it alters the character of the area and involves the displacement of tenant farmers and others to make way for tree planting.

“Similarly, STFA would agree with the Land Commission that the government should review fiscal incentives for forestry and renewable energy so that they are not only consistent with community empowerment, rural development and land reform objective but also do not advantage one sector at the expense of another as is increasingly becoming the situation with tree planting and the drive towards renewable energy by diverting land away from food production.

“STFA now looks forward to discussing the report with the Land Commission in greater detail and in particular the influence that a concentrated pattern of land management has on the rural community, with only a couple of land agent firms managing the vast bulk of rural Scotland.”

The experiences of farm tenants in areas of concentrated land ownership within the tenanted sector demonstrate the ability for large landowners to exercise disproportionate influence and power. In contrast, in areas where the large estates have been sold and have a more fragmented ownership structure, a new tenanted sector has developed where there is a better balance of power between landowner and tenant. These areas benefit from improved fairness and equality, have more confident and resilient communities, and demonstrate increased investment and entrepreneurialism.