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Getting the best from our land - A land use strategy for Scotland

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4 Land use and communities

Objective: Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use.

The land provides places for us all to live, work and enjoy. Land use is the physical basis of our communities, and it is also a core component of our identity.

Scotland's land and its communities depend on each other. Yet in today's predominantly urban society many people have become disconnected from the land and from land-use considerations which tend to be seen as a concern for the rural minority. We need to address this disconnection.

We also need to address the disconnection between urban and rural communities. Urban and rural communities support and rely upon each other, each needing what the other provides and land use is a key component of this. Rural land use delivers vital resources such as food and clean water to everyone, wherever they live, while the consumer demand and financial capital generated in urban areas help to sustain rural businesses and support rural communities.

Everyone has an opportunity to influence how land is used and managed in Scotland. We can contribute to planning processes, choose elected representatives and join interest groups or community projects; we can also positively influence land use through our consumption and lifestyle choices. Where we source our food, water and energy and how we live, work and spend our leisure time all have a considerable influence on Scottish land use.

It is true that land owners and managers make most direct decisions about land use, but public influence strongly affects their decisions. This may be expressed through the market, the policies of elected representatives or wider community opinion.

In short, the vital importance of land use to society needs wider recognition and understanding, and building people's capacity to influence land use positively will greatly assist in achieving a more sustainable use of our land resources in the future. Key policies in support of this Objective are set out in 4.1 to 4.4.

4.1 Land and livelihoods

For Scotland's communities, one of the strongest links to the land is through the livelihoods that it supports - particularly so for rural communities, where many people are involved with land-based businesses and rely upon them for income. Many people working on the land are conscious of continuing a cultural tradition, and have a strong interest in sustaining that tradition, the land itself and the living that it provides.

Crofting is part of this heritage. The Government has improved its governance through the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, addressing absenteeism and land speculation and establishing a Crofting Register. The Economic Condition of Crofting report offers a national overview and outlines support measures being taken by the Government and the Crofting Commission 36.

Traditional mixed estates combining farming, forestry and field sports also shape many of our best known landscapes - landscapes that are appreciated by locals and visitors alike. Estates engage with their local communities to varying degrees, and the Government welcomes the progressive approaches increasingly adopted by estates around the country, such as through the Wildlife Estates Scotland initiative, which aims to engage communities and collaborate towards more sustainable land use.

More widely, Scottish farming plays a major part in sustaining rural community networks, as employers, consumers and producers. Forestry also contributes to communities, in employment and commercial terms, as well as in terms of recreation opportunities. Other industries such as tourism and renewable energy provide further jobs and opportunities in rural areas. Together with their ancillary industries, they underpin often fragile local economies across the country. This role for land-based industries is widely recognised in Government policy, for example in the Scottish Forestry Strategy.

Land use is also closely bound up with other dimensions that sustain communities. For example, the long-term viability of many rural communities is heavily dependent upon the ability of people to find work and a place to live. Yet in many rural communities there remains a lack of affordable housing. This often has a knock-on effect on schools and other community facilities, compromising the demand for and provision of services and infrastructure. The need for affordable housing is already recognised in the National Planning Framework, while under the National Forest Land Scheme forest land can be used to provide for the needs of communities, offering places for affordable housing, woodland crofts and more.

Wider rural development considerations are addressed in Our Rural Future37, the Government's response to the recent consultation Speak Up for Rural Scotland, and are supported financially through the SRDP, particularly through its LEADER element. The Government will develop the land-use elements of these policies having regard to the Principles for Sustainable Land Use and the Objectives set out in this Strategy.

4.2 Enjoying the outdoors

Access to the outdoors, whether urban greenspace or the wider countryside, makes a fundamental contribution to our health and wellbeing, while at the same time helping to connect people with the land and broaden understanding of issues relating to land use.

Outdoor recreation has increasingly well-recognised benefits for physical and mental wellbeing 38. We are also now much more aware of the importance of outdoor play in children's development, and the corresponding need to provide proper space for play, sport and recreation. Accessible urban greenspace, including parks, gardens, urban woodland and community orchards, green transport corridors and allotments, provides many people with opportunities to get close to nature, become more active and improve their quality of life. Scottish Planning Policy states that planning authorities should support, protect and enhance open space and opportunities for sport and recreation.

The Government wants to see vacant and derelict land brought back into productive use for housing, for economic purposes and to create attractive environments, and our aims for such land are described in the National Planning Framework. Even without remediation work, vacant, derelict and even contaminated land can often have greenspace and natural heritage value, while initiatives such as the Central Scotland Green Network are enhancing such land as part of a strategic approach to improving the environment, increasing biodiversity and providing a variety of forms of public access.

Wide access to the outdoors is already facilitated through the statutory right of access (accompanied by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code39), comprehensive path networks (there are over 20,800 km of signposted or waymarked paths and tracks, many of which are identified in adopted core path plans 40), the Woods In And Around Towns initiative 41, and initiatives to promote active travel and community growing.

Land use and landscapes are an integral part of Scotland's tourism industry, providing a range of opportunities for ecotourism, outdoor pursuits and visiting historic sites, with economic benefits to the industries and the areas concerned. Outdoor recreation and landscapes underpin much of our successful tourism industry. And recent research has confirmed the high value of nature-based tourism to Scotland's economy 42. Well-designed visitor facilities also encourage people to visit the outdoors, and to understand it better. The importance of providing recreation opportunities and public access to land is highlighted in the Principles for Sustainable Land Use.

People also value their familiar local environments. The European Landscape Convention defines landscapes as areas perceived by people 43, and for many people their most direct connection to the land is through their local landscapes. All of our landscapes have to a greater or lesser extent been shaped by people over centuries, and this re-shaping continues through land use today. Landscapes also contribute to our sense of identity and to our feeling of wellbeing. Some of our wildest land has an elemental quality from which many people derive psychological and spiritual benefits. Impacts upon landscapes need to be given due weight in land-use decision-making.

4.3 People making a difference

Everyone can play a part in influencing land use, but to make this happen, people need to understand and take an interest in the land. The challenge is to recognise our own connections to the land and use our influence accordingly, even on simple matters such as sourcing our food, water and energy.

The public sector recognises this and is leading by example in its approach to food procurement, as described in Recipe for Success - Scotland's National Food and Drink Policy 44. Farmers' markets give individuals the chance to become aware of what is being produced locally, while giving producers direct contact with consumers.

There should be opportunities for all communities to find out about how land is used, to understand related issues, to have a voice in debates, and if appropriate to get involved in managing the land themselves. Re-connecting young people to the land should be the first place to focus effort. Through the Curriculum for Excellence and initiatives such as Eco-Schools and the Forest Education Initiative we have the opportunity to explain concepts of sustainability to school children, and to put these in a Scottish context to show how our actions affect our environment. More widely, urban greenspace projects, recreation, community allotments and awareness-raising campaigns such as the Fife Diet 45 or the Government's Eat in Season campaign can help connect people to the land and the seasons.

There are already many opportunities for communities to participate in and influence land-use decisions that fall within the scope of the statutory planning system, both in development planning and in development management. To supplement these existing opportunities, the Government promotes innovative means of community engagement such as the Charrette Series for the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative46. More broadly, information provision, such as through the Government's Scotland National Rural Network, allows people to know about important decisions that affect their communities and local land, and signposts opportunities to shape these decisions.

Ownership is an important influence on land use and on the ways that people think about the land. Scotland has a diverse mix of landowners from the private, public and third sectors. The community right-to-buy provision in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act (2003) has helped to make communities an increasingly significant category of landowner.

Community woodland ownership under the National Forest Land Scheme has helped to build community participation and capacity, while forms of tenure such as crofting and community land ownership help to sustain local skills and expertise, strengthen community networks and enrich our cultural heritage. Though the Land Use Strategy does not deal directly with issues of land tenure, it is clear that tenure arrangements which empower people and communities and help to connect them to the land around them can support our Objectives.

Community ownership is augmented by other community projects that are land-based, some of which have the potential to generate income for communities - for example new renewable energy generation supported by the Climate Challenge Fund and the opportunities that have been supported by SRDP community development options.

4.4 Responding to climate change

As the climate changes, we can expect more extreme weather events such as storms, floods and droughts, as described in our Climate Change Adaptation Framework. These will have impacts on the way that land can be used, and that in turn will have knock-on effects on the way that we live.

Flooding, for example, is likely to be more widespread and more frequent, affecting more of us in the future. The collaborative approach to flood risk management planning that the Government advocates 47 will help communities to deal with these risks, and help ensure that the potential contribution from favourable upstream land use and management practice is realised most effectively.

Wider participation in land use decision making through existing processes will help us to resolve some of the tensions that will arise; for example as we determine where to site new development or where to locate our infrastructure. We will continue to draw on the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and other sources as we decide how best to adapt to changing conditions. Increasingly, communities are also coming together to work out how they themselves can make the transition to a more sustainable low-carbon model - supported by initiatives such as the Transition Network 48.

Our response to climate change brings with it opportunities for communities, for example in the generation of renewable energy. We are committed to maximising the opportunities for local ownership of energy as well as securing wider community benefits from renewables. Communities have benefitted from initiatives such as the Communities and Renewable Energy Scheme ( CARES), which has enabled 300 community projects to be delivered in the past year alone. The new Feed-in Tariff ( FIT) and the proposed Renewable Heat Incentive ( RHI) both implemented at a UK level, should make small scale generation projects by communities more lucrative as these provide a guaranteed fixed income over a period of time. The new Communities and Renewables Loan Fund will provide funding for the high-risk pre-planning costs of renewables projects, thus ensuring communities, land managers and local businesses continue to reap the benefits from renewables.

4.5 A shift in approach - linking people to the land

We need to recognise the positive benefits that flow from stronger connections between people and the land, and seize opportunities to build these connections more widely through society. Having a sense of connection to the land and an understanding of the way that land use works enables us to make decisions that are in the best interests of sustainable land use.

Connection can mean many things. Land owners or managers have a clear connection with and influence over the land, but each of us is in some way connected to the land.

We each have different roles to play in shaping land use. We might consume produce, walk on paths, make or enforce policy or simply enjoy and take an interest in what is around us. By facilitating wider access to information, guidance and debates, the Scottish Government will help build people's capacity to have a positive influence on land use.

4.6 Proposals

Proposal 11

Develop the land-use aspects of our Climate Change Adaptation Framework to support communities as they adapt to change.Adaptation Sector Action Plans will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Sector Action Plans were published in 2011. They set out the key challenges and opportunities that each sector will face as the climate changes, and provide a focus for developing our adaptation responses.

Proposal 12

Identify and publicise effective ways for communities to contribute to land-use debates and decision-making.Ongoing.

There needs to be opportunities for all communities (whether rural or urban) to find out about how land is used, to understand the issues, to have an appropriate voice in debates and where possible to get involved in managing land themselves. Furthermore we will continue to encourage and give appropriate guidance on land ownership models that give local communities an opportunity to have a stake in their future, and which support sustainable land use.

Proposal 13

Provide a Land Use Information Hub on the Scottish Government website.Establish by end 2011 and continue to develop thereafter.

The on-line Information Hub will contain key information, guidance and other material regarding land use. Publicly available, it will be maintained and developed to reflect feedback and incorporate new material as it becomes available. It will complement other work, such as the forthcoming Scotland's Environment website 49, which will provide information, data and statistics designed to help informed debate and decision making.