SNP MSP for the South of Scotland Aileen McLeod has hailed the publication of the Land reform Bill last week as an opportunity to end “the stop start nature of historic land reform”.
The Bill is designed to ensure the issues of fairness, equality and social justice connected to the ownership of, access to and use of land in Scotland are given a permanent footing with the creation of a Scottish Land Commission.
This will be backed by a requirement on the Scottish Government to have a statement on rights and responsibilities over land, and issuing guidance to landowners on engaging responsibly with communities.
Alongside this structural reform, the Bill brings forward a number of practical measures that will make a real difference to communities. This includes giving communities a right to buy land to further sustainable development, which will apply in both urban and rural Scotland.
The Bill also proposes powers that will enable communities or individuals to find out information about owners and tenants of land where this would help them resolve the issues they face.
Key measures in the Bill include:
• Ending rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates;
• Creating a Tenant Farming Commissioner as part of the Scottish Land Commission, along with other modernising elements of Scotland’s tenant farming legislation;
• Encouraging better information and greater transparency on the ownership of land, through the land register;
• Strengthening the regulators hand in instances where land owners are failing to take their deer management responsibilities seriously;
• Improvements to both systems of common good land and right to roam.
The Bill will support the Government’s existing work to pass power to people and local communities, encourage and support responsible and diverse landownership and ensure communities have a say in how land in their area is used.
Aileen commented: “We cannot underestimate the crucial part land reform will play in contributing to the future success of communities across Scotland. Through the Land Reform Bill the Scottish Government wants to ensure that future generations have access to land required to promote business and economic growth and to provide access to good quality, affordable food, energy and housing.
“The introduction of the Bill is a significant step forward in ensuring our land is used in the public interest and to the benefit of the people of Scotland. It will also end the stop start nature of land reform in Scotland that has limited progress.
“Tackling the causes and consequences of inequality is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s work.
“Land is one of our most valuable assets. Owning land can help realise the aspirations and potential of our communities, making a real difference to long-term sustainability, and building stronger, more resilient and supportive communities. In Dumfries & Galloway we already have a fantastic example of community ownership in the Mull of Galloway, which with the help of the Scottish Land Fund is now owned and managed as a visitor attraction by its community.
“At the heart of these proposals is the principle of responsibility that comes with all land ownership, and while there are many exemplary landowners in Scotland, the message is clear, it is no longer acceptable to own land in Scotland and not take the public responsibilities that come with that ownership seriously. I know this Bill will be good for the people of Scotland, will encourage greater public interest and participation in land and help our communities reach their potential.”
Leading nature conservation charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, welcomes the proposals to provide Scottish Natural Heritage with more powers to compel irresponsible landowners and occupiers to produce Deer Management Plans under the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.
A spokesman for the Turst commented: “The Trust believes such provisions are long overdue and the Scottish Government should be commended in recognising the need for strengthened legislation on deer management.
“However, the wording of the draft legislation falls well short of what is needed if Scotland is to tackle the widespread and often severe impact that very high numbers of deer have on Scotland’s woodlands, peatlands and uplands.
“The Bill gives Scottish Natural Heritage more powers to require landowners to draw up and act on deer plans which could help tackle the problems associated with overpopulation of deer such as overgrazing, trampling and localised peatland erosion.
However, under the current draft Bill, such powers can only be used when damage is already taking place and it is unclear what, if any, consequences there are for owners and occupiers who fail to produce a plan.
“The Trust wishes to see the deer management provisions in the Bill made much clearer. As the Bill passes through Parliament the Trust will work with MSPs and other partners to ensure the provisions are fit for purpose.”
Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonny Hughes said: “As currently drafted it is questionable whether we will see any measurable improvement in the health of those habitats in Scotland currently being severely overgrazed by deer, including internationally important Atlantic rainforests and peatlands.
“As a start, it is vital that Scottish Natural Heritage be given powers to draw up Deer Management Plans on behalf of those owners and occupiers that fail to do so in a timely manner.
“More worryingly, action by SNH can only be taken when damage has already occurred; the classic closing the stable door after the horse has bolted scenario. In reality, large parts of the uplands suffer from deer damage and we urgently need realistic targets to reduce densities in order to give our exhausted landscapes some chance of recovery.
“We have a chance with this Bill to bring in sensible management for deer that could see the return of our once great Caledonian pine forest within a generation. Getting the wording of the Bill right is paramount.”