One half of Scottish private land belongs to group of just 432 owners. Do Eigg and Ulva hold the keys to community ownership?
This week, Nicola Sturgeon used her SNP Party Conference speech to announce the island of Ulva was granted permission to bring their island into community ownership, granting them first refusal on the purchase.
The North West Mull Community Trust were approved to bid for the 4,500-acre island off the coast of Mull, 20 years after Eigg islanders successfully bought out their own community.
Around 50 per cent of Scotland belongs to 432 owners, perhaps painting the picture of the most uneven distribution of land ownership anywhere in the western world.
Just 16 of that number own 10 per cent of the country, according to research by activist and Green party MSP Andy Wightman.
Scotland has 144 estates larger than 10,000 acres. Many are owned by Earls and Dukes, charities and trusts. Balmoral is owned by the Queen and some are still owned by the descendants of ancient Scottish clans, but at the top of the table a handful own more than 1 million acres between them.
Richard Scott, The Duke of Buccleuch, is thought to be Scotland’s largest private land owner with just shy of 220,000 acres around the country across spread across a handful of estates.
Hot on his heels is Danish fashion mogul Anders Holch Povlsen, whose Scottish land purchase of the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie estate in 2006 was the first of many investments. Today, he’s estimated to own 218,000 acres at 11 estates across the country.
Of course, these numbers might be outdated or inaccurate. One persistent problem that exists is the absence of a complete land registry, something the Scottish government has slowly been moving towards during their Holyrood leadership.
Conservation charities and trusts can be included in the 432 parties who own half of Scotland’s land, with the likes of John Muir Trust, The National Trust of Scotland and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) all caring after between 60,000 and 192,000 acres.
Even, Anders Holch Povlsen hopes his land investments can lead to the re-wilding of Scotland’s rural landscape.
In June 2013, Alex Salmond’s government pledged to transfer one million acres of private into community ownership by 2020.
As of 2016, half a million acres are already in community ownership, That milestone was reached in 2015 after 13 years of campaigning by crofters on the isle of Lewis, securing a deal that would cover 11 townships on the 28,000-acre estate.
Should the government meet their seven-figure target, it will still leave close to 95 per cent of Scotland privately owned.
The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 were the first inroads the SNP government has made to land reform, with particular emphasis on community ownership.
Nationwide land reform is an ambitious plan set in motion by the nationalist government. Both landowners and communities will be watching on to see if it bares fruit.