Concentrated land ownership appears to be causing “significant and long-term damage” to communities in some parts of Scotland, a report has found.
The Scottish Land Commission found that power is being abused in some areas of the country as a result of individual behaviour, and that there is little or no method of redress for communities or individuals affected.
It said there is an urgent need for the introduction of a formal mechanism that would enable “harmful land monopolies” to be identified.
It also calls for changes in either ownership and/or management practice to protect fragile rural communities from the “irresponsible exercise of power”.
More than 407 people, from land owners and land managers to community representatives and individuals, submitted evidence for the report.
It found that most of the disadvantages associated with Scotland’s current pattern of land ownership relate to a concentration of social, economic and decision-making powers, not simply the size of land holdings.
Hamish Trench, chief executive of The Scottish Land Commission, said: “Concern about the impacts of concentrated land ownership in Scotland has long been central to the land reform debate. This evidence report allows us to move on from debating whether ownership is an issue, to understanding what the issues are and how they can be addressed.
“The evidence we have collected shows clearly that it is the concentration of power associated with land ownership, rather than necessarily the scale of land holding, that has a significant impact on the public interest, for example in relation to economic opportunities, housing and community development.
“Good management can of course reduce the risks associated with the concentration of power and decision-making, but the evidence shows that adverse impacts are causing significant detriment to the communities affected.
“This points to the need for systemic change beyond simply a focus on good management.”
The report found that problems are not associated exclusively with any particular type of land owner.
Titled Investigation Into The Issues Associated With Large Scale And Concentrated Land Ownership In Scotland, the study is published alongside a set of recommendations to Scottish Government ministers, who asked the commission to examine the issues.
Recommendations include the introduction of a public interest test and approval mechanism at the point of significant land transfer and an obligation for larger land holdings to engage on and publish a management plan.
The commission also recommends a review mechanism to address adverse impacts on communities where normal responsible management approaches are not effective.
Sarah-Jane Laing, executive director of Scottish Land and Estates, which represents land owners, said: “There are a number of findings in this new report which private land owners already put into practice as part of their progressive approach to owning and managing land.
“However, we are deeply concerned that the report still sees land ownership rather than land use as the prime route to dealing with issues being faced by communities. Nor does the report adequately reflect the positive and substantial contribution made by rural businesses.”
She added: “We also want to see more detailed and compelling examples to support the report’s claim that concentrated land ownership is damaging fragile communities.
“The stereotypical view of land owners held by some simply do not reflect current day reality.”
She said land owners generally operate as modern businesses involved in a range of sectors and are subject to a vast range of regulation and legislation.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome the Scottish Land Commission’s report and will be working closely with the Commission and stakeholders to consider the recommendations in the coming months.
“We expect that the report will inform how we address long-standing issues caused by the concentration of land power in rural Scotland, to the benefit of local communities.”