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Scotland's land is being sold-off to the highest bidders who aim to pursue their own dreams of 'rewilding' land which they see as their personal property or aim to apparently counter-balance investments in oil and gas development by buying up land to plant trees. 

That's the view of the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF).

In responding to the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s call for views on the Land Reform Bill this week, the  SCF has expressed extreme disappointment in its lack of ambition and focus on addressing the real issues.

Unfortunately, the current proposal is characterised by a blatant lack of ambition and even falls behind what has been consulted on in the first place, the SCF says. 

SCF Chair, Jonathan Hedges states, “The bill is extremely disappointing and we concur with views that this is not actually a land reform bill but a ‘land management amendment bill’, ill-suited to tackle existing land injustices or to strengthening rural communities.

"The Bill generally lacks any real bite and does very little to promote the diversification of landownership or to facilitate community ownership.  As such, it is unfit to meet the objectives set out in the policy memorandum.”

"Without far-reaching land reform, the current government will continue to be complicit in the irreversible privatisation and enclosure of the most precious resource we hold.  

"We simply cannot afford to hand over power and control over large swathes of this country’s land to speculative investment companies engaging in greenwashing practices, and high net-worth individuals who consider the Scottish rural landscape as their personal recreational playground, alternatively formanagement exclusively for sport, or for allegedly environmentally beneficial ‘rewilding’ experiments.

Jonathan continues, “Land Reform needs to happen in a fair and equitable manner involving more access to land for communities rather than private owners, and more democracy in decision-making over land. The Bill does far too little to achieve all this. We think that the creation of new crofts is a means of addressing a fundamental principle of land reform, that more land should be used by more people.“

SCF’s key concerns with the bill are:

  • It makes no substantive mention of crofting at all, albeit issues arising from the concentration of land are extremely prevalent all across the crofting counties.
  • There are no mechanisms within it which will be capable of significantly impacting the scale and concentration of existing ownership.
  • Questions of addressing the public interest in the ownership of land have been avoided and the bill is considerably weakened by not considering the public interest in the sale and ownership of land.
  • Even for the minimalistic interventions outlined in the bill, the thresholds above which they are set to apply are too large.
  • Further, it does nothing to reduce the incentives in terms of tax exemptions and subsidies, making it attractive for large landowners to keep holding on to their land.

As a result, SCF strongly urge the Scottish Government to introduce significant improvements to this bill and to outline proposals for laying further land reform legislation immediately.