Publication - Research and analysis

Attitudes to land reform: research

Published: 5 Mar 2021
Directorate:
Environment and Forestry Directorate
ISBN:
9781800047198

This report outlines the main findings from research exploring public attitudes to land reform.

Attitudes to land reform: research
3. Prior perceptions about the benefits of Scotland's land and current challenges

3. Prior perceptions about the benefits of Scotland's land and current challenges

This chapter places the findings of the research in context by setting out survey findings on the perceived benefits of Scotland's land and the biggest challenges for the future. It also describes views on these issues raised by participants at the start of the deliberative research workshops, before they were presented with additional information.

Main findings and implications

When thinking about 'land in Scotland', participants tended to think first about rural land that has not been built on. There was a perception among urban participants that land was something 'out there' and located away from where most people live. This has implications for how land reform is positioned: a greater emphasis on the urban elements (both urban greenspace and buildings), and buildings in rural towns and villages, may help engage more of the public and help them see the relevance of land reform to their own lives.

There was a strong sense of pride among participants when thinking of Scotland's land and an awareness of the wide range of ways in which Scotland's land benefits individuals and the country as a whole. There was also recognition of some of the trade-offs and tensions (for example, the need for housing versus protecting greenspace and the wellbeing benefits of recreation in the countryside versus the damage caused by irresponsible visitors).

There was also an awareness of many of the challenges and the following issues were raised unprompted: concentrated land ownership, absentee landlords, housing developments encroaching on the green belt, derelict land, land banking[8] and disputes over access rights.

In the survey, broadly similar numbers of people viewed each of the following as the biggest challenge for the future of Scotland's land: climate change, building on greenspace, inequality in land ownership, and housing shortages.

In the deliberative research, a common theme was the issue of land not being used to benefit the communities that lived on it. Participants cited: a lack of affordable housing and community facilities, vacant and derelict land, tipping and rubbish, and developments such as golf courses which were perceived as providing little value to the local community. Again, this suggests that a greater emphasis on community benefits and identifying local needs and priorities may encourage engagement.

Associations with land

Participants in the deliberative research were asked to write a few words about what comes to mind when they think of "land in Scotland". Typically, both urban and rural participants first mentioned rural land that had not been built on, referring to Scotland's hills, fields, farmland, coast and its "natural beauty" as a benefit for local people and a draw for tourists. Other common associations included "unspoilt", "tranquil" and "open space".

"The most beautiful land and scenery - couldn't get much better – great for walks and exercise."

Older Urban interview participant

"Beautiful and varied – going from forests to rocky mountains, beautiful, lochs and rivers and streams."

Mixed group participant

The diversity of Scotland's land was also noted, however, with participants contrasting sparsely populated rural land with densely populated towns and cities.

The wide variety of land use and the opportunities it presented were noted: recreation, farmland, forestry, renewable energy, a home for wildlife, and housing. There was also some mention of contaminated land and unused derelict land.

"There's a dichotomy when it comes to land use – wide open spaces in the country, dense population putting more pressure on urban places."

Mixed group participant

"Nice countryside for walking but also derelict land."

Younger Urban group participant

There was a strong sense of pride among participants when thinking of Scotland's land, and links were made to culture and heritage. Many initial associations related to rural landscapes and landscape-scale features. Land was described as 'historic' as well as 'beautiful', qualities which people believed attract many visitors to Scotland.

There were also participants for whom challenges surrounding land use were at the forefront of their thinking. Several issues were mentioned unprompted including concentrated land ownership, absentee landlords, housing developments encroaching on the green belt, derelict land, land banking[9] and disputes over access rights.

Use and personal benefits of land in Scotland

Survey respondents were asked about the ways in which they used land in their local area and given a list of possible response options. Respondents could choose all the response options that applied to them. The most common responses were 'leisure/recreation' (83% said they used land in this way) and 'exercise/sport' (75%). Younger people were more likely to say they used the land for exercise/sport (83% of 16 to 34 year-olds and 80% of 35 to 54 year-olds compared to 65% of those aged 55 and over).

It was much less common for people to say they used the land to grow their own food or keep livestock (18%) or for work/business/investment (also 18%).

Figure 3.1 Q Thinking about the land in your local area, do you use it for…?

Chart description below

Base: All (n=1501)

Chart Description

Figure 3.1 -a chart showing that the most commonly reported uses of land by survey respondents were: “Leisure/recreation” (83%) followed by “Exercise/sport” (75%), “Growing your own food/livestock” (18%) and “Work/business/investment” (18%)”

These findings were echoed in the deliberative research with participants emphasising the benefits of access to rural areas to them and their families. There was a perception among urban participants that land was something 'out there' and located away from where most people live. A frequently made point was that one of the advantages of living in Scotland, even in the cities, was the easy access to 'empty', 'wild' and scenic areas. While access to rural areas tended to dominate the discussion, participants also talked about the importance of parks and natural spaces in urban areas. Specific benefits identified – of both rural and urban spaces – included physical fitness, mental health and mindfulness/reflection. The importance of statutory access rights or 'the right to roam' featured heavily in these discussions. Housing was also identified, less often, as a personal benefit of the land.

"The countryside, the hills, the beauty, the silence, to be able to escape, to think. A break from reality and busy towns."

Older Rural interview participant

"Natural land - the Munros are good for people's health."

Younger Rural interview participant

Benefits of the land to Scotland as a whole

Survey respondents and participants in the deliberative research were also asked how they thought the country, as a whole, benefits from its land.

Survey respondents could choose up to three answers from a list of response options. The most common answer was 'tourism and recreation'. Men were slightly more likely than women to name the following benefits: food production (34% compared to 27%), the economy and jobs (33% compared to 27%), natural resources (31% compared to 25%), and renewable energy sources (17% compared to 12%). Women were more likely to say 'improving the population's health and wellbeing' was one of the benefits (20% of women compared to 14% of men).

Figure 3.2 Q How does the land in Scotland benefit the country as a whole?

Chart description below

Chart Description

Figure 3.2 is a chart showing survey respondents’ top answers to the question ‘How does the land in Scotland benefit the country as a whole?’.  It shows the most common answers were “Tourism and Recreation” (61%) , “As a home for nature” (31%), “Food production” (30%), “The economy and jobs” (30%), “As part of Scotland’s culture and identity” (29%), “Provision of natural resources (e.g. water and fuel)” (28%), “Improving the population’s health and wellbeing” (16%) and “Renewable Energy sources” (14%).

The benefits discussed in the deliberative research echoed the survey findings with tourism and recreation, food production, and the economy and jobs, all featuring heavily. Whisky production and renewable energy were also frequently mentioned.

"Renewable energy… [and] the land brings huge economic benefits, through farming, whisky, tourism –industry."

Mixed group participant

"Land can be used to grow fruit and vegetables – for farming, etc. which is better than importing food from elsewhere- people can buy local food."

Younger Urban interview participant

However, its role as a 'home for nature' was rarely mentioned in discussions of the benefits.

Challenges to the future of Scotland's land

The most common answer, selected from the provided response options, to the survey question 'Which of the following would you say is the biggest challenge for the future of Scotland's land?' was 'climate change' (24%), followed by 'building on greenspace' (18%), 'inequality in land ownership' (17%) and 'housing shortages' (16%).

Young people were more likely than older age groups to say that 'wildlife protection' was the biggest challenge (14% of 16 to 34 year-olds compared to 9% of those aged 35 and over). Older people were more likely to think that inequality in land ownership was the main challenge (22% of those aged 55 and over thought so, compared to 12% of 16 to 34 year-olds and 16% of 35 to 54 year-olds).

Figure 3.3 Q Which of the following would you say is the biggest challenge for the future of Scotland's land?

Chart description below

Base: All (n=1501)

Chart Description

Figure 3.3 is a chart showing survey respondents’ views on the biggest challenge for the future of Scotland’s land.  It shows that the top responses were: “Climate Change (24%), “Building on greenspace (18%), “Inequality in land ownership” (17%), and “Housing shortages” (16%).

While all these issues featured in the deliberative discussions, some themes were more dominant than others. A common theme was the issue of land not being used to benefit the communities that lived on it. Participants cited a lack of affordable housing, a lack of community facilities, vacant and derelict land, fly-tipping and rubbish, and developments such as golf courses which were perceived by some providing little value to the local community. One participant explained how this was having a negative effect on young people in their town:

"There's not much space for teenagers to do things and that causes them to become destructive because they're bored. There's nothing for teenagers to do. We need safe spaces for teenagers to go to do activities or sports."

Older Rural interview participant

"Land is being ruined by rubbish and tipping – a lack of respect for the environment…And vacant land. There's a vacant site in my area that was a social club."

Older Urban interview participant

Participants also described several challenges related to planning and development. Widespread housing shortages and building on greenspace were both consistently mentioned as significant and conflicting challenges, with participants recognising the competing interests at play. Derelict and vacant land were also identified as areas affected by planning issues. A better planning system with more consideration given to the needs of local people and the protection of rural land close to towns, was felt to be needed to meet this challenge. It was agreed there should be a focus on the availability of affordable housing to ensure that younger people were not out-competed in local housing markets.

"Lack of housing for some, in some areas especially. Sometimes it feels like there isn't enough housing for those who need it. But at the same time, sometimes too many houses can ruin the scenery."

Older Rural interview participant

Inequality in land ownership, and concerns about the inequitable distribution of land were also identified spontaneously as a challenge.

"Large swathes owned by one person, for example in the Borders for hunting, shooting, fishing - it could be better used for the benefit of the people than narrow interest."

Older Rural interview participant

Although tourism was identified as a benefit, the challenges associated with this featured strongly in the deliberative research. Participants expressed concern about there being too many tourists in some rural areas (and the resulting strain on local services) and a general disrespect for rural land by some visitors. This was particularly related to recent increases in wild camping during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many other holiday options were limited. Littering, fires, and generally irresponsible behaviour were identified as problems.

"Some rural communities face challenges from tourism – abuse to natural beauty – dirty camping, wild camping, littering, a general lack of respect for the land, a lack of responsibility taken."

Previously involved in land use decision-making group

"We need to protect natural beauty. People are not looking after it, littering, making fires, not caring, leaving dog poo, making it disgusting."

Younger Urban group participant

The challenge of climate change was not brought up often in the deliberative research, despite being the most frequently selected option from a list of challenges in the survey. Perhaps this discrepancy is partly explained by the fact that the discussion of challenges followed from discussion of benefits which began with participants' personal and direct experiences. The environmental challenges which were identified included increased flooding and coastal erosion due to climate change; the use of pesticides; and loss of wildlife.

"Can I mention the big-ticket climate change thing? It's challenging everything, for example, people getting flooded and bigger changes."

Mixed group participant

Addressing conflicts around land use

Participants in the deliberative research were asked what they felt should be done to address conflicts around land use. A range of different ideas were put forward.

Where there were heated clashes over specific uses of the land, there was a common suggestion that the two sides should come together to have a conversation. Some suggested that, if necessary, this should be with an independent arbitrator. The role of the arbitrator would be to chair a discussion with both sides and identify the pros and cons of opposing plans.

"When there is a disagreement, both sides should have a thorough conversation and come to a mutual agreement/compromise."

Older Rural interview participant

"It would be good to have an independent referee. It's very important then there's no bias."

Older Urban interview participant

More generally, participants spontaneously advocated local communities having a meaningful and informed say about how land should be used, with formal discussion and consultation with all residents.

"Everybody should be involved…Locals should have their say and businesses."

Older Urban interview participant

"Councils and government should get together to see what people want to use the land for, consulting with local residents."

Older Urban interview participant

"Consultation with everybody. I think dialogue's probably the most important thing. You need to understand the problem from different ways of looking at it. A vote by the community. Need to have the consultation before so everybody understands."

Urban interview participant

Where the conflict was in relation to access, there was a view that one reason for problems was a lack of understanding about rights and responsibilities around land use and access. It was felt therefore that, in many cases, greater transparency and awareness of rights and responsibilities could help address these issues.

"Making clear what people's responsibilities are when it comes to the land."

Previously involved in land use decision-making group participant


Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot