Engaging and empowering communities and stakeholders in rural land use and land management in Scotland

Report on how best to assist rural communities to engage with decisions on land use and land management.

1 Introduction

1.1 Introduction

Land use and land management in Scotland is changing. This is a result of environmental processes (such as climate change), new ways of working (such as integrated landscape or river management), increased demands on land (such as for recreation, energy and food), new environmental and social policy and greater understanding of the benefits of engagement and empowerment. To adapt, organisations that manage land need to transition to new ways of working with communities and stakeholders.

This report explores the background to these changes, describes the experiences of those working with communities and stakeholders around land use and land management, provides a framework for thinking about engagement and empowerment, and provides suggestions and recommendations.

The Scottish Government commissioned this research on behalf of the CAMERAS partners with the involvement of Forestry Commission Scotland ( FCS) and Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH).

1.2 Why now?

Involving communities in land use and land management is now central to rural land use and land management policies in Scotland. This change has come about for a number of reasons including:

  • Proven benefits of engagement and empowerment
  • Recognition that communities and stakeholders are an integral part of rural social-ecological systems and hold valuable knowledge, know-how and resources
  • Recognition that people have the right to be involved in changes that affect their lives, livelihoods and landscapes
  • Experience of traditional top down approaches triggering reactions such as action groups or legal challenges that block progress
  • Communities and stakeholders wanting greater say and responsibility

1.3 Who this report is for

This report is for public bodies and other organisations that hold responsibility and power around land use and land management for the benefit of society. This includes bodies like SNH, FCS and SEPA, local authorities, large wildlife charities (for example the Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland and The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ( RSPB)), and partnership projects, which may also include businesses.

This report will also be of interest to communities, researchers and those more broadly interested in engagement and empowerment.

Whilst the policy context and focus is on land use and land management in Scotland, this report has broader application for elsewhere in the UK and further afield.

1.4 Scope of this report

This research aimed to:

  • Scope and describe the range of tools and approaches currently used, the advantages and disadvantages of each for different circumstances, and the practical lessons learned
  • Explore specific challenges and opportunities for the use of engagement and empowerment tools and approaches in a rural setting and in relation to land use and land management
  • Identify key elements that support successful engagement
  • Identify gaps that public bodies need to fill to increase their ability to engage communities
  • Provide recommendations on how public bodies can strengthen their engagement

The findings synthesise learning from across Scotland and elsewhere, and are utilised to provide suggestions for how public bodies (and third sector organisations) can enhance their empowerment and engagement activities.

1.5 Research methods

This report is based on what we found out from:

  • A review of current Scottish policy
  • A review of literature written by researchers and engagement professionals and projects
  • Interviews with 14 people from across SNH, FCS, SEPA and partnership projects
  • An online survey of success stories which received 14 substantive or full responses
  • An online survey of people's experience of engagement and empowerment around land use and land management which received 46 substantive or full responses


The quotes in italics are either from a literature reference (indicated with the reference number) or are the words of individuals with direct experience of engagement and empowerment in a land use and land management context - mainly in rural Scotland (referenced with a number that links to the table in Annex 2).

Where quotes are not attributed, it is to protect the identity of the respondent.

1.7 Definitions

Language around engagement and empowerment is confusing with no commonly agreed definitions. The following text explains how we have used various terms in this report.

1.7.1 Stakeholders

Stakeholders are the people who are affected by, or have an interest in, the decisions being made.

Officers in public bodies sometimes refer to stakeholders to mean everyone other than themselves. Sometimes this is because they see stakeholders as people who have a stake in their project or organisation rather than a stake in the land use or management under discussion (for example one respondent said, " We had a good understanding of who our stakeholders are" [83]). Alternatively, this 'us and them' perspective can be because environmentalists see other stakeholders' knowledge as less crucial than technical and scientific knowledge.

However if stakeholders are the people affected by or with an interest in the topic, the public bodies are stakeholders in land use and land management alongside others (such as NGOs, business, landowners, recreation interests, resource users, landowners and tenants, and communities). And all stakeholders, regardless of organisation or status, should be treated as equals during a facilitated engagement or empowerment process.

We have however differentiated between the environmental professionals (from the landowning public bodies and third sector conservation organisations) and other stakeholders and/or communities. The reasons are explained in more detail below.

1.7.2 Environmental Professionals

In Scotland, a number of different organisations hold power around land use and land management and include social and environmental benefits in their objectives.

  • Public environmental bodies ( FCS, SNH and SEPA) and local authorities are tasked by the Scottish Government to deliver national priorities and protect the public interest. Public interest frames how public bodies must operate, including a range of duties and responsibilities that these bodies must take into account - e.g. their 'equality duty', which may in some cases challenge existing community structures.
  • Other environmental organisations, such as conservation charities (for example the Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland and RSPB etc.) have charitable objectives including managing land for public enjoyment and wellbeing. They can also have legal agreements with public bodies to deliver land management that complies with national and international obligations (for example managing protected areas to comply with the requirements of the Habitats, Birds or Water Framework Directives).

In the Empowerment Framework, we have put public bodies and third sector organisations together. This is because they regard each other as allies and often hold and share power with each other in steering groups and partnership projects. As professional environmentalists, they have similar values, language, and scientific understanding and work together to meet relevant policy or laws. Crucially, from an empowerment perspective, they frequently hold power and act together in relation to other stakeholder interests and communities.

Where appropriate, the report also distinguishes between the responsibilities of public bodies, as guardians of public interest, and other environmental organisations that are not bound in the same way by these duties.

1.7.3 Other stakeholders and communities

Community empowerment language and concepts have emerged from public services that work at community level (such as community based health care, youth work, social care and neighbourhood renewal). For that reason, the concepts and language work for public bodies focused on particular local communities, and so work for environmental public bodies when they are working at a local level.

However, the language and concepts work less well when working at large scales such as protected areas, landscapes or catchments. At these scales there are multiple place based communities, and many other stakeholders such as farming and landowner organisations, researchers, enterprises, technical specialists from other public bodies or sectors, business, recreation interests and local authorities. In these contexts, community empowerment tools and approaches have to engage and increase the influence and responsibilities of multiple communities and stakeholders and help them form a new 'community of interest' or 'community of practice' 3 that can take a larger scale and integrated view.

In light of these considerations, this report uses the phrase 'other stakeholders and communities' to encompass the breadth of people who may need or want to be engaged and empowered in land use and land management decisions.

Where appropriate we also differentiate between local communities (communities of place) and communities of purpose, which are not geographically located in a particular community.

1.7.4 Engagement and Empowerment

'Empowerment' is a term that is widely used but can mean different things and is experienced differently in different contexts 4, 5, . Different interpretations of empowerment result in different views about what needs to be achieved and how to go about it.

The Scottish Government defines community empowerment as " communities being supported to do things for themselves; people having their voices heard in the planning and delivery of services [through] community engagement and participation" 6 .

We have differentiated between engagement and empowerment in the following ways:

Engagement is the processes and activities through which people are involved in projects. These may or may not provide people with influence on relevant land use and land management decisions.

Empowerment is when communities and stakeholders have power to function in the following ways:

  • During planning land use or land management they have either strong influence, or they share or make the main decisions
  • During implementation of agreed management they hold responsibility, mandate capacity and resources to implement particular actions

1.7.5 Transition

We have recommended that public bodies embed new thinking and new approaches and describe this as a transition rather than a change. The difference is subtle, but it is also significant According to the 'Transition Model' 7 change is something that happens to people, happens quickly, and is more likely to be seen as a threat. Transition is about what is happening in people's thinking and understanding, it occurs more slowly, and if managed well and carried out collaboratively, people more easily see it as an opportunity. Seen this way, transition is a process not an event. It brings with it an ethos of engaging and empowering staff to work out what current practice to carry forward, how to let go of old ways that no longer do the job, and how to support and mainstream new approaches.


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