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Leadership in Good Practice

Karen Grant

Good Practice Adviser, Karen Grant, reports on a day of constructive discussion at the recent Leadership in Good Practice event in in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

A bright snowy morning in January saw members of the Commission’s Good Practice Team heading to Kinlochard, to meet with local landowners and managers for conversations about their experience of building good practice in relation to land rights and responsibilities. This event was the result of a partnership between the Commission, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority, and Scottish Land and Estates, and it followed a similar event in Cairngorm National Park last year.

Both events were a chance to develop mutual understanding, and participants could share experiences and air concerns.  Leadership in Good Practice is part of our work to deepen the connection with and between those who are committed to a voluntary approach to deliver the principles of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS). The landowners and managers who came to Kinlochard all expressed their commitment to setting a high standard of good practice in the way they run their rural businesses. They play an important role in shaping the wider culture of land ownership and management by showing what good practice looks like on the ground.

The voluntary approach to good practice depends on landowners and managers having practicable routes to decisions and changes which can be  beneficial for both the rural business and the local community. For this reason, we are developing similar work with land agents, in the hope that we can reach further to those landowners and managers who may be less likely to come to an event like this.

The principles of fairness, transparency and opportunity embedded in the LRRS apply to everyone with an interest in land: Landowners, land managers, and the communities they are part of, or work alongside. A recurring theme during the discussions at Kinlochard was the need for broad understanding of rural issues. Some were concerned about what they saw as a polarised debate about land, and its impact on the public perception of rural businesses, and they were keen to show how they are actively working to contribute to positive outcomes.

Practical routes to community collaboration

While the morning focused on discussion around transparency, community engagement, and an update on land reform policy, the afternoon was shaped around two very useful case studies of collaboration between communities and landowners – one of which was community-led, and the other was estate-led.

First off, Simon Miller of Luss Estates described recent work to build on their previous 10-year plan, improve business resilience, and align with national level policy, particularly around planning. They wanted to work with local communities in relation to significant local change post Covid – such as housing and park visitor numbers, as well as contributing positively to climate mitigation and biodiversity. They developed and supported a collaborative process linking their own Land Use and Development Plan with community engagement to work towards a Local Place Plan. Overall, the Estate contributed very significant resources to the process, employing an economic analyst, architects and a community engagement specialist to ensure the quality of the approach. They were successful in getting a wide range of stakeholders round the table. In summary, Simon said that it was hard work and took a lot of resources but given the chance he would do it all again as the outcome was very worthwhile. In the discussion that followed, there was a lot of recognition of the resource needs for this type of collaborative community planning exercise – large amounts of both time and money are often required.

The next case study brought those issues into stark focus from the community perspective. Tim King of Lochgoil Community Trust presented their community-led approach to getting landowners round the table. Tourism and productive forestry are key economic drivers in the Lochgoil area and this can have significant impact on the community in different ways. The Community Trust found the Regional Land Use Partnership Pilot process (developed by Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority) a useful catalyst for collaboration, and community representatives made a huge amount of voluntary effort to establish a local vision which included active travel and ways to tackle serious water damage to tracks and bridges following post-clearfell flooding. They found site visits with key stakeholders to be invaluable in aiding understanding of the aims and issues. Forestry and Land Scotland are responsible for a large amount of the local forestry, as are a number of private landowners. In the early days the community group met different stakeholders separately before bringing them together later in the project. The strong message arising from the Trust’s experience was that by working in partnership with landowners and managers, mutual benefit can be created with communities. The trust is now developing a local Land Use Forum to help improve communication and collaboration about issues which are crucial for the community to thrive in future.

Collaboration helps promote joined-up thinking

Building trust is an important part of meaningful collaboration. A recurring theme of our work is the need to understand different perspectives – across sectors, across roles, and across different experiences and relationships with land. There are many different routes to joined-up thinking, including the recent Regional Land Use Pilots and other collaborative visioning or planning approaches. Siloed thinking cannot build a better relationship between the people and the land of Scotland. It is important that we value the role and needs of everyone who has an interest in land. That is why the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement is so important with its focus on fairness, transparency and opportunity. With those principles as the basis for communication, trust can be built, and we can fully value the role everyone has in finding solutions to the challenges we face – whether that is access to land or housing – or routes to tackle climate change or the biodiversity crisis.

The reputation of the Commission rests on our evidence-led approach. Events like the one in Kinlochard help us understand the perspectives of people whose lives are intertwined with the land around them – whether as owners, managers, local communities, householders or small businesses – all of their experience is needed to ensure workable policy which brings shared benefits to support thriving communities within a sustainable rural sector.

These conversations help build understanding of the principles of the LRRS, and how they can be used as a guide for good practice in land ownership and management – and ultimately a compass for practically navigating the challenges of delivering land reform that serves the public interest – from the local level to the national level.