Politics of land

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There is certainly a need for a debate about land ownership in Scotland (your report, 2 August) but it should include rural land uses and must be free of the class hatred and jealousy which this subject so often arouses.

There is nothing morally wrong in private land ownership and most of us would love to be so fortunate as to own land.

What is more important is not who owns the land, but how it is managed and whether that is in the long-term public interest.

You need to consider not just the short-term economic outcomes but the longer-term benefits (or otherwise) for the natural environment and the local and wider community.

The assumption that community ownership is necessarily a good thing has yet to be proved in practice. Community buyouts to date have only been made possible by the injection of large sums of public money, which is not sustainable in the longer term.

Most of the countryside is under agriculture, which is hugely subsidised under the grotesque Common Agricultural Policy; the taxpayer gets very poor value for the billions of pounds handed out. Forestry, too, is driven by grants and its direction changes every few years at the whim of politicians.

Interestingly, the large hunting estates do not receive much in the way of public money, but the single-minded approach of many has led to excessive and damaging deer numbers and the killing of protected wildlife.

A more recent development has been the scramble for wind farms, a licence to print money while the subsidies last. These have been promoted by government but without proper strategic planning or evaluation of their real benefits and impacts.

Unsustainable land uses over the past 60 years have resulted in a huge decline in biodiversity and landscape quality, mirrored in a similar decline in the number of rural jobs.

This has happened mainly because of a failure of policies at Scottish, UK and EU levels, rather than because of the pattern of land ownership.

Those policies need to be rethought and the different land uses properly integrated to achieve the wide range of public benefits which alone can justify pouring more taxpayers’ money into the countryside.

Then perhaps we can be more relaxed about who actually owns the land.

John F Hunt

North Berwick