Landowners ‘must work for interests of others’

The chairman of Scottish Land & Estates said landowners in Scotland need to go “the extra mile to show they are part of the fabric of rural communities and local economies” and demonstrate they “are working for the interest of others” and not just their own.

Speaking at Scottish Land & Estates’ annual conference in Edinburgh, chairman David Johnstone appealed for the new era of landownership in Scotland to herald the start of a ‘rural concord’ between government, communities and landowners.

Johnstone said a “sea-change in co-operation” could deliver a “multitude of benefits” across Scotland.

“After an intensive, two-year-long land reform debate we now have a raft of legislation designed to change the rural landscape,” said the Scottish Land & Estates chairman.

“Landowners and land businesses have been in the firing line during an intensive land reform debate over the last two years.

“Although many feel they have been portrayed as being opponents of change, we now need to embrace this new era of landownership and do even more demonstrate we have listened and understand arguments for change.

“We believe that now the dust is settling there is a very compelling case to be made for a rural concord — a fresh start in which government, community bodies and landowners work together in a spirit of renewed co-operation.”

He said such a “rural concord: could help realise:

  • Increased prosperity and opportunities
  • A wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits
  • More dynamic local decision-making
  • A step change in community engagement

Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Government’s cabinet secretary for environment, climate change and land reform, told the conference: “Land reform is at the centre of this Government’s ambitions for a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.

“Land reform can make a real difference to local communities by supporting and revitalising local areas and providing more opportunities for local people to have a say in decisions about land which affect them.

“I recognise the expertise and role of Scottish Land & Estates and all landowners in managing land. Many landowners make a huge contribution to our economy at both a local and national level.

“Throughout the passage of the Land Reform Bill, the Scottish Government has worked closely with all stakeholders to ensure that land delivers benefit for everyone and I look forward to continuing this collaboration as we implement the legislation.”

Johnstone said: “There is so much to be gained by everyone with the interests of rural Scotland at heart to put co-operation centre-stage and we believe there would be significant and tangible benefit from a new rural concord where the views of all are taken into account and used to mutual advantage.

“We would like to see landowners going the extra mile to show they are part of the fabric of rural communities and local economies. We have to demonstrate that we are working for the interest of others, not just our own.

“During the land reform debate, there was plenty of rhetoric but what we need now is action.

“We have new legislation but we believe real change will come through changes in attitudes and relationships. From a landowners’ perspective this is about acting in the wider interest.

“It’s not only about what you do but how you do it. This is a key plank of our Landowners’ Commitment.

“Equally, we hope that government at local and national level and community organisations will recognise that land-based businesses can help make a difference in delivering a range of public benefits.”

Johnstone said it was important that landowners and land businesses need to address the perception that they are opposed to change and said that committing to greater transparency of ownership is an area where a progressive attitude could be seen.

He continued: “There is a real appetite on the part of landowners to do this and we are wholeheartedly committed to greater transparency of ownership.

“The vast majority of landowners work hard to operate thriving rural businesses that are often involved in delivering the very benefits local and national government are seeking to secure, such as environmental targets and economic stimulus.

“Our members are willing to play their part in delivering greater prosperity for all in rural Scotland and we believe a renewed spirit of co-operation is something we should all be trying to achieve.”