Scone Estates – Land Management Planning
Scone Estates is a 400-year-old family business in the heart of rural Perthshire, stretching from fertile, arable land by the banks of the Tay to the rolling hills of North Logiealmond.
Activities on the 7,200-hectare estate include farming (in-hand and tenanted), forestry, fishing, property and tourism enterprises. Best-known as a major visitor attraction and festival venue, Scone Palace and Gardens is the historic crowning place of Scottish Kings, attracting 120,000 visitors annually.
We spoke about land management planning with Chief Executive, Brian Stevenson.
The planning process
Scone Estates are fully aware of their place in the community, Brian says. “We are committed to protecting and enhancing the natural, cultural and economic environment that the Estate exists within.”
A mix of habitats on the estate support both land-based and commercial enterprises, Brian explains. “In terms of planning we have committed to an integrated, high-level master plan, with a ten-year horizon.
“Working with our planning agents, the estate has done a great deal over the last few years to review all our activities and forward planning. That includes every type of land – the full spectrum, from forestry and heather hills to productive, arable land with in-hand and tenanted farming, along with commercial property and significant tourism infrastructure. The master plan brings all these activities together, with more detailed action plans below that, focusing on how these are delivered.”
The review has begun to produce potential changes in land use, leading the estate to put its emerging community engagement strategy into practice, Brian explains. “We have focused especially on where there are assets that could be used differently and where there are opportunities to talk to our communities.”
Over the whole estate, the team has been reviewing how best to respond to changing external policies, such as national net zero targets and the impacts of climate change on land management planning. This is a particular challenge for Scone, given the relatively high carbon footprint of a major tourist attraction and a popular events venue. “We are looking at how we can decarbonise and still be productive,” Brian says. “It’s a complicated issue so we shouldn’t jump before we’ve examined all aspects. But we also need to ensure we are not behind the curve, in terms of what we do and can do, sustainably.”
In a rapidly changing, uncertain environment, balancing priorities and picking the right route to follow is a management challenge. Agriculture for example is a significant part of Scone Estates and must make a return, Brian says. “We are looking, however, at where there might be better ways to farm – different tillage systems, replacing inorganic fertilisers, alternative methods of grazing and arable production, and so on.”
A key ongoing discussion is the upcoming move to integrated management plans on certain areas of land, Brian explains. “These will allow us to look more broadly at land use and priorities for land use. We’ll be able to balance biodiversity, energy use, decarbonisation and farming. I can see a lot of interesting elements coming through in the next year to 18 months.”
A review of assets and land plans around the estate has led to work with the Scottish Land Commission to develop a Community Engagement Strategy for Scone Estates, Brian says. “We wanted to address how we engage with communities on or adjacent to the land we manage. So we’ve used the Land Commission’s route map and guidance to develop a whole estate approach.”
To some extent this is about shifting the dynamics of relationships, he explains. “In the past it might have been rather more confrontational, in terms of land use versus public use. We’re now more proactive in letting people know what we’re thinking about – in terms of path networks, timber harvesting operations and so forth.
“We are also starting to engage with communities about what support they might need for local development plans – which might in turn influence proposals we put forward that can also meet the community’s needs. Suddenly people are starting to talk, and ideas are coming forward. It’s a much more joined-up approach.”
A good example of engagement is the consultation on plans for woodland creation at North Logiealmond, Brian says. “Recognising the potential impact a new woodland might have on many in the community, we consulted early about an outline design, before developing detailed proposals. Covid restrictions forced us to change plans for a public drop-in event. Instead we got lots of visuals, background detail and documentation up on our website, and we did a letter drop and email communication to reach everyone who was potentially impacted.”
That largely online process gave people time to look at the proposals more thoroughly before forming an opinion, Brian believes. “I would recommend it. It helped to make people feel listened to and part of the application. The feedback raised some valid points and has influenced some design changes, before the formal application is put up for consultation on the Scottish Forestry public register.”
Key lessons to share
The most important lesson is not to hesitate to engage with your local community, Brian believes. “They provide value to your operation. I’d say we do a lot of engagement here, particularly in response to the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement.”
Previous to that statement, landowners and managers were not engaging sufficiently with communities, Brian believes. “It’s the right thing to do. At Scone Estates we are very comfortable with it. We don’t refer to the principles on a daily basis, but we do adhere to them. It has become matter of fact. It has helped reinforce what is important.”
Scone Estates has always been fully cognisant of its responsibilities to the community, Brian says. “Whether it’s the land owned and how it’s used and managed, or the vital role of the estate in terms of recreation and facilities. But this new layer of integration and engagement is right, we believe. It’s what all of us, land managers and owners, should be doing.”
Find Out More
Tel: 01738 552 300