Landowners 'must improve PR'

AFTER viewing the results of a countrywide survey into public attitudes to landowning and estates management, those property owners in the spotlight admitted they had lessons to learn in their public relations.

"We have to meet a big challenge and improve our communications with the public," said Andrew Howard, of Moray Estates, commenting on the results of a survey which saw more than 1,000 face-to-face interviews with members of the public.

Howard is a director of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association which has about 2,500 members and which part commissioned the survey into public attitudes to landownership.

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Among the positive aspects to emerge from the survey was a widespread enjoyment of estate facilities whether they are of the formal or informal character. In the former case, visits to listed buildings were seen as a big plus while, in the latter category, access to the countryside was highly valued. Some 95 per cent of those questioned responded positively when questioned on the value of the Scottish landscape.

Although it was a big issue 40 or so years ago, the actual ownership of the land was not seen by the public as being of any major importance. That is unless there was some use that the public did not approve.

The survey highlighted the stereotypical Monarch of the Glen image among a large percentage of those questioned when they were prompted to think about estates but they did not regard that image negatively. They did, however, form a negative view if they were aware of a particular issue such as an access problem but did not display general hostility.

Sandy Lewis, deputy chairman of the Scottish Estates Business Group, which also funded the work, agreed with Howard that landowners required to be far more aware of the need to communicate and work positively with the public.

He admitted surprise that only 1 per cent of those questioned said they knew a "great deal" about estates while two out of three said they knew "very little or nothing".

Lewis could see benefits all around if this happened. "Most of the public see us as facilitators, helping in the provision of a wide range of pursuits in the countryside," he said.

"Generally, they like what they see but we need to make clear exactly what our role is in tending to the countryside."

Both representatives were surprised at the high level of response from the public who wanted the countryside to be left as it is. This view, they stated, was at odds with the reality of a "cared and shared" countryside.