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Stepping outside the echo chamber: The importance of cross-sector dialogue to address land challenges

Karen Grant

In our latest blog, Good Practice Adviser Karen Grant talks about ‘Leadership in Good Practice’ – a new approach to working with land owners and managers on aligning activities with the vision and principles of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement.

Last week in the Cairngorms the air was ringing with robust and constructive discussion about land issues, as the Scottish Land Commission trialled a new approach to professional development training on land rights and responsibilities with a group of land managers representing landholdings and rural businesses across the National Park area.

The event was the result of a partnership between the Commission, Scottish Land and Estates, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority, uniquely designed to deliver part of the Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030 programme. It brought together a team of staff from all three organisations, together with 12 land managers representing 15 landholdings and rural businesses from across the National Park area.

From the outset, it was clear there was a remarkable depth and breadth of experience in the room, and it was important that the opportunity to share that was not missed.

We were keen to create a space for frank, constructive conversation and robust debate and we are grateful for how actively participants engaged with that.

All participants had a chance to introduce their context: the land they manage, and the motivations and constraints that affect their decision-making about the land and business they are responsible for.

The Commission’s Head of Land Rights and Responsibilities, Emma Cooper, then set the Scottish Government’s revised Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS) within its policy context, reflecting on the importance of the vision of the LRRS:

“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.”

That vision is supported by principles of transparency, fairness, considerate community engagement, and the creation of a culture of opportunity for new collaborations, with more diversification of ownership, control or use of land. The Commission has produced a suite of Protocols, Route Maps and Guidance to help land managers across all sectors take practical steps towards good practice.

The introductions were followed by presentations and participatory sessions about the content of the Protocols on Transparency, Community Engagement, and Diversification of Ownership and Tenure of Land. In the afternoon, participants focused on discussing good practice in scenarios that they had identified earlier in the day.

The resulting conversations touched on the diverse challenges facing landholdings and rural business in the Cairngorms, which are echoed in the enquiries and casework we receive from across Scotland: from residential housing provision to business risks associated with changing policy, through to the question of how to build a genuinely representative engagement process with a community where significant change is proposed. On the latter point, questions were also raised in the session about capacity for wider community planning processes or the potential of the Regional Land Use Partnerships currently being piloted to bring expertise, engagement, and integrated land use planning to address the immediate needs of communities and the wider public interest.

The role of the vision, the principles, and the supporting protocols around the LRRS is to ensure that public and private land owners and managers across all sectors, rural and urban, are pushing in the same direction towards its goal.

The next step in Leadership in Good Practice includes offering participants one-to-one sessions with members of our Good Practice Team to talk through challenges relating to good practice in their own business or land holding. Several participants expressed our shared hope that this is a conversation which will continue well into the future, and the Commission plans to develop the approach with other groups and sectors.

The Good Practice Team at the Scottish Land Commission is working across the broad, and rapidly changing, landscape of ownership and management – including interests as diverse as utility companies, housing developers, land-owning public bodies, or rural businesses and investors like the ones that came together in the Cairngorms last week. We have the interesting challenge of interacting with many different organisational cultures, each with their unique perspectives, constraints, and ways of talking about what they do.

In the Cairngorms last week, there was a general consensus in the room that we can only address challenges facing land in Scotland if we ‘step out of our silos’ and consider others’ views, needs, and constraints. The echo chamber will not show us the way forward. To get to the root of what is really important, and to create a robust but pragmatic approach to that challenge, we have to be ready to have active debate and careful listening across sectors and across organisational cultures.

Then we will start to move from where we are to where we want to be – a place where land management, policy, public understanding and engagement with land-related issues is all contributing to a country which is successfully tackling climate change, reversing biodiversity loss, and maximising wellbeing in resilient and thriving communities.


'Leadership in Good Practice' participants from the Scottish Land Commission, Scottish Land and Estates, Cairngorms National Park Authority, and landholdings and rural businesses from across the National Park area.