Conference to ask what Scotland can learn from community land ownership

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Ulva was back in the headlines this month when the tiny island off the coast of Mull became the latest community buyout in Scotland.

With its population dropping to just six in recent years, remaining residents believed taking charge of the island, instead of relying upon an absentee landlord, would help kick-start the local economy and attract more people to set up home there.

The island of Ulva has undergone a successful community buyout. Picture: Roger Cox

The island of Ulva has undergone a successful community buyout. Picture: Roger Cox

The story of Ulva will now be discussed at a conference taking place on 18 and 19 May.

The event in Stirling will ask attendees what can Scotland learn from community landowners.

Since 1990 there has been more than a fivefold increase in the area of land in community ownership, from 112,158 acres to 562,223 acres.

The Scottish Government has set an ambitious target of having one million acres of land under community ownership by 2020.

The conference is organised by the charity Community Land Scotland, which represents the interests of community landowners from across the country.

It is the first time the organisation, founded in 2010, has held its annual get-together outside of the Highlands and Islands, reflecting the growing interest in community land ownership in more urban areas.

READ MORE: Community land ownership in Scotland rises ‘fivefold’ since 1990

The keynote speaker at the conference will be Scottish Government environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

“The work of Community Land Scotland is invaluable in helping communities have the confidence to consider community land ownership, and guiding them through the process,” she said.

“They are also at the forefront of discussions about how best to encourage further community ownership in urban areas, and how land reform can help halt and reverse depopulation in our rural areas.

“This is an exciting time for land reform, and the Scottish Government continues to support and encourage community ownership.”

Successive Scottish Governments have introduced legislation in an attempt to redistribute land ownership to rebalance a system that they believe has seen too much of the countryside run by relatively few landowners.

It has been estimated that fewer than 500 people own half of all privately owned land in Scotland – one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in Europe.

Other speakers include Rebecca Munro, who was invovled in the successful buyout of Ulva, and Jim Hunter, emeritus professor of history at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

“Community land ownership has shown the merit of putting faith in communities,” he said.

“It unleashes energy and entrepreneurial spirit, shows that depopulation can be reversed and that natural resources can be harnessed for local benefit and is fundamentally changing a pattern of land ownership in Scotland that seemed to be fixed.”

A further theme at the conference is the connection between people and the land.

Delegates will hear from Sleat Community Trust, Abriachan Forest Trust and Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, all of which have strong cultural strands to their work, about how they celebrate their community’s connection to the land.

Ian Hepburn, chairman of Community Land Scotland, said: “This year’s conference will celebrate the achievements of Scotland’s community landowners and the fact that we are holding our conference outside of the Highlands and Islands for the first time reflects that communities across Scotland, including those in urban areas, are now feeling empowered to buy land and take more control of their future.”