Community land ownership in Scotland rises ‘fivefold’ since 1990

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Ulva made headlines in October when a fundraising campaign was launched to help pay for a community buyout of the tiny island off the coast of Mull.

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.

Residents on Eigg mark the 10th anniversary of their community buyout. The island, one of the Small Isles near Skye, was bought by a community trust for 1.5 million in 1997. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

Residents on Eigg mark the 10th anniversary of their community buyout. The island, one of the Small Isles near Skye, was bought by a community trust for 1.5 million in 1997. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

It’s a similar story in other rural communities across the country hoping to launch buyouts of their own.

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 latest figures published this week show the number is rising, but much work remains to be done.

As of June 2017, there were 562,230 acres in community ownership - amounting to three per cent of the total land area of Scotland. This included 492 land parcels/assets in community ownership, owned by 403 groups, largely concentrated in the Highland and Na h‑Eileanan Siar council areas.

In the first six months of 2017, six more land parcels came into community ownership, bringing an additional 94.23 acres.

READ MORE: Who are Scotland’s biggest landowners?

A further 437,770 acres has to come into community ownership to achieve the target of having one million acres in the next two years, figures published by Scotland’s chief statistician revealed.

The Scottish Government acknowledged it was “an ambitious target”, but said in a progress report that it was “a driver to step up and encourage a greater appetite for and interest in community ownership”.

A spokesman told The Scotsman that “good progress” was being made in reaching the target.

He added: “To assist further, in summer 2018, the right to buy abandoned, neglected or detrimental land will come into force, giving local communities even more opportunities to take ownership of land.”

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.

Green MSP Andy Wightman has put the figure at 432 owners, many of whom live abroad.

It was revealed in September the thorny issue would be probed by the new Scottish Land Commission (SLC).

SLC chief executive Hamish Trench said it would undertake research looking at the approaches other countries have taken in “controlling land ownership” and the impact this has.

“This research will be used to inform future discussions about how the diversity of land ownership could be increased in Scotland,” he said.

The commission is expected to make recommendations to ministers within 18 months, which could lead to even more significant changes in land law.

Mr Trench told The Scotsman: “The SLC welcomes the report from Scottish Government and the figures that show a growing trend in community land ownership.

“Land ownership is a strategic priority for the Commission and we will shortly be starting work on reviewing community right to buy mechanisms to improve opportunities for community land ownership in both rural and urban Scotland.”