The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has greeted the Land Reform Review Group’s report with incredulity.  The LRRG acknowledge considerable problems exist within the tenanted sector but state in their interim report that to address tenant farming issues would be to “stray considerably away from our remit which focuses on communities rather than relationships between individuals.” 

Most Scottish tenant farmers consider land tenure is fundamental to communities and had expected the group to address basic issues which currently prevent the best use of land in Scotland and inhibit the rural communities which the land could be sustaining.  So it is a bitter pill that the preliminary report of the LRRG indicates that the final version will sidestep core land reform questions which must be addressed in any meaningful review, if rural Scotland is to move forward in the future. 

In it’s submission to the LRRG’s call for evidence STFA contended: “There are significant problems within the tenanted sector, particularly with regard to the operation of tenancy legislation and relationships between landlords and tenants.  However, there is a further requirement to consider the bigger picture and conduct a wider examination of the role that the tenanted sector will be expected to play in the future and what contribution it should make to food production, the environment and the economic and social prosperity of local communities.  Whilst some of the technical tenancy issues can be tackled by the industry, the Land Reform Review presents an opportunity to carry out a more holistic overview of the future of Scotland’s rural communities.   This view has now been rejected by the LRRG.   

“STFA has, however, welcomed the LRRG’s intention to give further consideration to the establishment of a Land Agency, as proposed by Community Land Scotland, and would hope that its’ remit would include powers to intercede in the public interest where there is clear evidence of mismanagement or inappropriate use of land.  Achieving a healthy tenanted farm sector is undoubtedly within the public interest of rural Scotland.  

 Reacting to the report STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “I fail to understand how this review of land reform can take place without considering land tenure. With nearly a third of our farmland held under some form of tenancy agreement it is hard to believe that the LRRG has chosen to remove key agricultural land tenure matters from its land reform remit and concentrate on community issues.  When questioned at the STFA, AGM earlier this year on what constitutes a community, Dr Elliot expressed the view that the definition of a community embraced any group of people with a common interest or denominator but if that doesn’t include tenants in this review, surely the LRRG has been seriously misguided in their evidence gathering?  An opportunity is being missed for the LRRG to highlight to the Government the need to address best land use and tenure in Scotland in the next decade and beyond.

 “From the outset STFA has expressed their grave concerns about the composition of the advisory group to the LRRG and the evidence gathering.  There was a lack of agricultural and tenancy expertise and despite invitations from communities of farm tenants, only one visit has taken place so far.  However several visits have been made to estates owned by individual landlords around Scotland.

 “On the LRRG visit to Islay at the invitation of the tenant farmers on the island, the LRRG heard first hand of the difficulties experienced by the tenant farming community, views which were reinforced in a later wider public meeting that day by the local community. 

 “The LRRG report will prove to be ineffectual if it continues to ignore such burning and basic issues and abandons tenancy reform to the long grass of a stakeholder group, dominated by landed interests.  The TFF is unlikely to come up with solutions to some of the problems which tenants have managed so far to highlight to the LRRG.   There is now a strong and justifiable mood of cynicism amongst tenant farmers that they have been sidelined and an opportunity is being missed to provide vision and direction for this neglected rural community of Scotland.”