Further wideranging proposals for land reform have been put out to consultation by the Scottish Government, ahead of a promised bill later in the current parliamentary session.

An "ambitious" bill is promised, addressing longstanding concerns about the highly concentrated pattern of land ownership in rural areas of Scotland. But the Government also wants to ensure that land is owned, managed, and used in ways that meet the challenges of net zero, nature restoration, and a "just transition" to achieve these, through supporting communities and the wider public.

This means, the paper states, that not only must we address questions of who owns land, who uses it, and how it is managed, but we must also consider the issue of who is benefitting from land, and from investment in it.

"An important aspect of this is ensuring that communities can benefit from investment in Scotland’s natural capital, whether directly through ownership, or through engagement and co-operation with landowners. Actions taken in pursuit of tackling climate change and increasing biodiversity must not have the effect of displacing people from the land."

Much discussion about land reform has focused on community ownership, but while that "has an important role to play", it is only one option, and "a range of other formal and informal partnerships can also bring benefit to communities", and it is for communities to decide what approach best suits their aspirations.

Subject to the views expressed in response to this consultation, the promised bill will:

  • strengthen the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, imposing a compliance duty on large scale landowners (owning more than 3,000 hectares, or exceeding certain thresholds in particular locations including inhabited islands), with provision for independent adjudication and enforcement;
  • introduce compulsory management plans to be produced by large scale landowners;
  • ensure the public interest is considered on transfers of large scale landholdings, and require a notice of intention to sell;
  • introduce new requirements to access public funding for land based activity such as tree planting and peatland restoration, based on compliance with the proposed duties;
  • introduce a new land use tenancy, to which tenant farmers and small landholders could convert their tenancies with landlord agreement, encouraging better use of land with diverse land management activities;
  • separately, modernise small landholders legislation (to be the subject of a further consultation); and
  • increase transparency in relation to land ownership and land use, perhaps through a requirement of registration for tax purposes.

Issues relating to urban land ownership and use, including the reform of compulsory purchase orders, will be addressed in a separate Community Wealth Building Bill.

Launching the paper, Environment and Land Reform Minister Mairi McAllan said: "Land reform is a pervasive issue in Scotland. We have a strong record of progressive and innovative land reform – but this journey is not complete. We must continue to develop and implement land reform that addresses historical inequalities and at the same time, we must rise to changing social, environmental and economic issues in contemporary Scotland."

She added: "The new bill will be a significant step forward in ensuring our land is owned diversely and is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland. This is the next step on Scotland’s land reform journey as we continue the work to pass more power to people and local communities, encourage and support responsible and diverse landownership and ensure communities have a say in how land in is used."

Andrew Thin, chair of the Scottish Land Commission commented: "The ways land is owned and used are central to tackling the climate emergency, contributing to a successful economy and supporting communities. It is great to see the Government launch the consultation of the upcoming Land Reform Bill which includes a range of potential measures to ensure that the benefit of land is shared by all.

"The Scottish Land Commission has been working over the last five years to provide a robust evidence base for our recommendations on making land work better in the public interest, highlighting the opportunity land reform can bring to Scotland and its people. I would encourage everyone to take part in the consultation and help to shape the next step in Scotland’s land reform journey."

Access the consultation here. The closing date is 25 September 2022.