FORMER First Minister Alex Salmond was clear in his ambition. One million acres of Scottish land should be under community management by 2020.
The then SNP leader set out his vision in 2013 following improvements to the right-to-buy scheme and a growing awareness of how land ownership north of the border remains in the hands of the few.
Half of Scotland’s privately-owned land is held by 432 owners, with 16 of that number owning 10 per cent of the country, according to research by activist and Green party candidate Andy Wightman.
Today, more than 500,000 acres of land is classed as being community-owned - but this amounts to just 2.5 per cent of the country.
The half-million mark was crossed in 2015 when crofters in Lewis secured a 28,000 acre estate covering 11 townships after 13 years of campaigning.
The Scottish Government said it was keen to “up the pace” of land passing into community ownership.
“We currently estimate that there are more than 500,000 acres of land in community ownership in Scotland, and we are keen to up the pace at which community bodies are able to take ownership of land and realise the benefits that can come from this,” a spokeswoman said.
“We expect to achieve this step change by taking forward the recommendations of the short life working group as well as changes brought forward by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform Bill, which is currently under consideration by the Scottish Parliament.”
Groups responsible for land management are registered by Community Land Scotland, which was established in 2010 as “a response to the need for a collective voice for community landowners in Scotland”.
It is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status and represents existing and aspiring community landowners to reflect their views in promoting changes to legislation to empower communities.
“There is growing interest throughout Scotland as regards community buyouts,” Community Land Scotland chair Lorne MacLeod said in 2015. “The target will be tough to achieve by 2020 but great strides can be taken.”
A Scottish Government working group report published in December recommended a number of proposals to reach the target such as stimulating demand for community owned land through raised awareness, improving access to support services, and addressing issues around the availability of land and barriers to the supply of land.
Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), which represents the interests of landowners, said that community owned land could provide benefits but cautioned against enforced sales.
“Across Scotland there is a mix of landownership - from community to public to private - and all forms of ownership can be positive, providing that good management of land is the focus of attention,” said SLE chairman David Johnstone.
“Community owned land, like well managed private land, can deliver a wide range of benefits. We support community ownership being pursued where there is a willing seller and willing buyer. Sadly, much of the rhetoric around land reform focuses on the ideology of ownership rather than best use of the land, and seeks to pit private versus community when there is clearly space for both.
“It is in everyone’s interests to see rural Scotland flourishing, and we are firmly against land that is already well managed for legitimate business purposes being subject to enforced sale. Private landowners are very much part of their communities, and want to see their local areas prosper. Providing land is stewarded well, both private and community ownership can achieve that goal.”
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