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by Louise Wilson
05 November 2021
Calls for community involvement in reform of land use

Photo: Fotolia 800

Calls for community involvement in reform of land use

Communities must be involved in decisions about land use in order to combat climate change, experts in land reform told a Holyrood COP26 event.

Hamish Trench, chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission, said the ambition to reach net zero in Scotland by 2045 was a “big driver” of land use and policy.

But he warned that while Scotland’s land is able to meet its climate goals, it must be done in a way that balances public and private benefits.

"If we are to deliver the pace and scale of change to meet net zero, there is no way we can do that without bringing people along with us,” Trench told attendees of the first event on day three of Holyrood’s fringe festival.

He said that private investment will be required to meet targets, for example in the restoration of peatlands, but he suggested there needed to be “guardrails” in place to ensure investment is “responsible”.

This call was backed by Ailsa Raeburn of Community Land Scotland, who said the markets wanted to do the right thing for the climate and guidance on how to do it would help.

She also said there needed to be mechanisms for creating and maintaining green spaces for communities while including private investors in decision-making to ensure buy-in.

Raeburn also backed the introduction of public interest tests on all land holdings to ensure landowners can justify how that land is being used.

There were also calls for a land value tax, with Miriam Brett of Common Wealth saying: “The value of land is such a significant barrier to so many areas we need to see progress in.”

Brett said land reform could not be addressed without considering ownership. She also expressed concern about the prevalence of new “green lairds”, suggesting many of these people are only looking to “greenwash” their financial investments.

On including local communities in decisions, she said systemic problems such as climate change require systemic solutions. She said: “We can't understand the absolute scale of devastation and suffering caused by climate breakdown without understanding the system driving that is the one that's driving inequalities in society.”

Meanwhile, Prof Deborah Roberts from the James Hutton Institute called for farmers to be at the heart of decisions in land use. She warned many farmers had become “delinked” from local communities due to policies like the Common Agricultural Policy.

She called for upfront payments to be made to encourage agroforesty.

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