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Scotland's Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement - updated for our changing times

Emma Cooper

In our latest blog, our Head of Land Rights and Responsibilities, Emma Cooper, explores the updated version of Scotland's Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, which was laid in Scottish Parliament this afternoon.

Scotland’s updated Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS) has been published today, five years after the original Statement was first released. The LRRS clearly sets out the priorities Scottish Government sees for land ownership and use and should inform the decisions made by land owners and managers, advisers to the land sector, and communities. As the LRRS becomes ever more embedded in policy, it is also a helpful indicator of changes to come in public policy and funding, as these should be aligned with the LRRS.  

Scottish Ministers must consult on and revise the LRRS every five years in accordance with responsibilities laid on them by the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2016. The consultation, which took place in late 2021 and early 2022, invited responses on the vision and principles of the LRRS, as well as questions on awareness, impact and promotion. An independent analysis of the responses was published in May 2022 and the Report to Scottish Parliament has been published today alongside the updated LRRS. 

The LRRS sets out Scotland’s vision for how land can be used and managed responsibly. It recognises the need for land to deliver a wide range of public and private services – such as clean air and water, availability of housing, food quality and supply, energy sources, and so on. The updated LRRS reflects the changing social and political context within which decisions about land are made, and, in particular, recognises the role land plays – and will increasingly play – in the twin climate and nature crises.  

The vision in the updated LRRS now explicitly recognises the role of land in achieving a just transition to net zero and effectively managing our natural capital: 

“A Scotland with a strong and dynamic relationship between its land and people, where all land contributes to a modern, sustainable and successful country, supports a just transition to net zero, and where rights and responsibilities in relation to land and its natural capital are fully recognised and fulfilled.” 

The Scottish Government has a legal obligation to achieve net zero by 2045 and has long recognised that the way we manage our land is critical to both reducing emissions and sequestering carbon. The revised vision was proposed in the consultation and the majority of respondents supported the change. Changes to principle 1 of the LRRS also reflect this shift to viewing land as necessary in providing public benefit and achieving a just transition, as well as the increased focus on protecting and restoring our natural capital for future generations.  

This explicit recognition of the value of natural capital sits within the context of changes to the land market, partly driven by the voluntary carbon markets and speculation, which are causing a range of concerns for communities. Our recent work on the Responsible Management of Natural Capital and Carbon protocol can help land owners and managers, investors, and those who advise them, understand how to mitigate these concerns and deliver on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives. 

These themes are also picked up in the most significant change to the LRRS: a new principle (now principle 5) which reflects themes throughout consultation responses that land ownership and use decisions need to consider the full range of benefits, including social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits, that can be delivered from land: 

“Land ownership, management and use should deliver a wide range of social, environmental, economic and cultural benefits.” 

This means land owners, managers and users should consider the wider impact of their decisions and how they will impact on others. There is a need to own, use and manage land in a way which recognises the multiple and inter-connected benefits it provides, and not, for example, manage it for a singular purpose such as carbon sequestration. Land management decisions should not be taken in isolation and require collaboration with other landowners, communities, public bodies and other stakeholders to understand the potential impact of decisions and to realise mutual benefits. 

It is also important to note proposed changes to the LRRS that were not taken forward by the Scottish Government. In particular, some respondents commented that the principle calling for increased community ownership of land could, or should, be combined with the principle calling for increased diversification of the ownership and tenure of land. This change was rejected on the basis that these are both important objectives on their own, and reflect government policy to address concentrated patterns of land ownership in Scotland and to see more land in community ownership. Whilst these principles closely relate and interact, it is important to recognise the role that each of them plays in achieving the vision.  

Additionally, some consultation responses called for the principle on community engagement to recognise communities of interest and other stakeholders. However, Scottish Government considers a focus on empowering local people and local communities to be highly important, and, to reflect this, has not made a change. Nonetheless, the revised Advisory Notes continue to include a reference to the need to look outward to wider society in land use decision-making. Our protocol, guidance and resources on community engagement can be helpful here in working out the best approach to community engagement and our Good Practice Advisers are available to provide advice on this issue. 

Overall, the LRRS remains largely the same, which is helpful in providing consistency of expectations for landowners and managers. Those who have embraced the LRRS and worked hard to consider and adapt their practice and processes to meet the expectations set out in the original version can be reassured that they are in the right space. The work of membership organisations, such as our Good Practice Advisory Group, and our Good Practice team, will continue to support land owners and managers to move in the right direction. Whilst we will be updating our protocols and guidance to reflect the changes in the coming months, we will not be changing the expectations in the protocols with any immediacy.  
If you’d like to learn more about the updated version of the LRRS, sign up now for our webinar on 20 October.  

Community celebrating the purchase of the Portobello Old Parish Church buildings, Edinburgh