Evaluation of the Scottish Land Fund 2012-2016

Report of the findings of an evaluation of the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) 2012-2016.


This report presents the results of a rapid evaluation conducted from January 2016 to April 2016 of the effectiveness of the Scottish Land Fund ( SLF) 2012-16 in supporting communities into community land ownership. The evaluation was undertaken following the closure of SLF 2012-16, and just before the initiation of its successor, SLF 2016-20. Accordingly, this evaluation aimed both to make a summative judgement over the efficacy of SLF 2012-16 in supporting community ownership, and also to draw implications for moving forward with the new SLF 2016-20.

The evaluation had two aims:

1. To understand how the SLF 2012-16 has benefitted communities

2. To understand how the administration and design of the SLF can be improved to fit its expanded remit better in the period 2016-20

Background to the Scottish Land Fund

The Scottish Land Fund ( SLF) was launched in 2012 as a Scottish Government funded programme delivered in partnership with Big Lottery Fund Scotland (Big Lottery Fund) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE). The SLF was established to provide the financial means for rural communities to sustainably acquire land and land assets. It aimed to support the resilience and sustainability of rural communities through four stated outcomes:

1. Rural communities achieve increased sustainable economic, social and environmental development through the experience of acquiring, owning and managing land and land assets.

2. Rural communities are more empowered and have a greater capacity to lead and control their own development so that they can generate sustainable income.

3. People in rural communities have increased opportunities to participate effectively in community-led development, including volunteering.

4. Rural communities are more resilient through the development and provision of community-led essential local services.

The Scottish Government committed an initial £6 million to the delivery of the SLF (£1 million in 2013-14, £2 million in 2013-14 and £3 million in 2013-14). In June 2013, an additional £3 million was announced by the then First Minister Alex Salmond to extend the fund for another year covering 2015-16, bringing the total committed to £9 million. In addition to this, almost £1 million was made available to SLF applicants for forestry projects in the final year.

On 26 November 2014 in the Programme for Government, the new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the extension of the SLF until 2020 with an increased budget of £10 million for its first year, and an expansion in coverage to urban communities. Since then, a number of other changes to the structure of the SLF have been articulated. In sum, the changes to the SLF in 2016-20 are:

  • A commitment to extend the SLF to 2020 with an initial contribution of £10 million for the first year.
  • An extension of the fund to cover the whole of Scotland, not just rural areas.
  • The inclusion of pre-acquisition (Stage 1) funding in the form of development grants of between £10,000 and £30,000.
  • The delegation of Stage 1 grant decision making to a management group staffed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Big Lottery Fund.
  • An extension of the maximum revenue funding award to £100,000 (including the Stage 1 development grant) over 3 years post-acquisition.
  • The extension of the maximum single award value from £750,000 to £1 million

The new SLF 2016-20 opened for applications on 1 April 2016.

Policy Context

On 26 November 2014 when introducing the Programme for Government, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined her view that 'Scotland's land must be an asset that benefits the many, not the few', and committed to a 'radical and effective' process of land reform. A developing evidence base suggests that community ownership can help communities become more resilient and sustainable, and can impact on a range of social, economic and environmental outcomes. [1], [ 2] , [3], [4] Community ownership of land and other assets has been central to the Scottish Government's strategy on both community empowerment and land reform, and the Scottish Government has recently taken a more pro-active approach to encouraging community ownership.

In 2012 the previous First Minister Alex Salmond set a target for one million acres of Scotland's land to come into community ownership by 2020. With just under half a million acres in community land ownership at the time, trends suggested that this target would not be met without a step change in the rate of community acquisition of land. The Scottish Government set up a Land Reform Review Group in 2012 whose final report included a recommendation to establish a Short Life Working Group to improve information on the amount and types of community land ownership and a strategy to achieve the 1 million acre target. This group commenced in March 2015 and the final 1 Million Acre Strategy report was published on 11 December 2015. [3]

Recent legislation has also supported community ownership. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 extended the Community Right to Buy introduced in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to urban areas, allowing community bodies across Scotland the right to register an interest in land. New powers were also introduced for communities to request to acquire land owned by Scottish public agencies or local authorities, and to acquire land in the absence of a willing seller in the case of abandoned or neglected land, or land whose use is detrimental to the environmental wellbeing of the community. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced an additional compulsory channel for communities to acquire land in order to advance sustainable development, and may also encourage community ownership indirectly through a variety of measures, including improving the transparency of landownership, the requirement for the Scottish Government to produce a Land Rights and Responsibilities statement to promote a more pro-active role for public sector land management, and the setting up a dedicated Land Commission to provide continued oversight of issues relating to land use and ownership.

Over the last 15 years community ownership has been supported by a succession of funds which have provided many communities with the financial means to take ownership of land and land assets. The first Scottish Land Fund (2001-2006) was funded by Big Lottery Fund (then called the New Opportunities Fund) and committed £15 million over its lifespan to supporting rural communities in acquiring land. In 2006 the first SLF was succeeded by Big Lottery Fund's £50 million Growing Community Assets fund ( GCA), which ran from 2006-2010. The first GCA supported both ownership and development of community assets, and was open to communities across the whole of Scotland. A second Growing Community Assets fund was put in place to cover the 2010-15 period and provided an additional £50 million to support acquisition and development . In 2012 a new Scottish Land Fund was initiated, funded by the Scottish Government and administered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE) and Big Lottery Fund. The new SLF applied only to rural communities, and committed £9 million of funding across its lifespan, running alongside the second GCA. As of April 2016, a total of £124 million has been committed to supporting community ownership through the principal funds dedicated to community ownership.

In July 2016, the Big Lottery Fund will launch its 'Community Assets' funding stream. Community Assets has a provisional budget of £44 million for the period 2016 to 2020 and, like GCA before it, will support the acquisition and development of assets that matter to communities. The Scottish Government has also now committed to extending the Scottish Land Fund until 2020 which provides communities across Scotland with up to £10 million to fund acquisitions in the first year.

Figure 1, below, shows the progression of dedicated funds which have supported community ownership over the period 2001-16, with projected commissions until 2020 (if the per-annum funding level of £10 million for the SLF 2016-20 were to be maintained). This figure excludes smaller funds for certain types of acquisition such as the National Forest Land Scheme which has funded community woodland acquisitions, and ad hoc capital costs contributed from internal resources by local authorities and public agencies such as HIE.

From 2016, communities across Scotland will have access to the largest ever resource base for supporting community ownership in acquisition and development. As Figure 1 shows, if the Scottish Government continues this level of funding until 2020, the total funding committed to supporting ownership and development by the principal funds will have increased (in just four years) by almost 70 per cent to £208 million. Together with Community Assets, the renewal and expansion of the SLF 2016-20 sits alongside the more substantive statutory powers introduced in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 in creating the most supportive and enabling environment for community ownership yet seen in Scotland.

Figure 1. Timeline of the main funds for community ownership (acquisition and development)

Figure 1. Timeline of the main funds for community ownership (acquisition and development)

Research Questions

Three research questions were developed in collaboration with policy colleagues within the Scottish Government to tackle the aims of the evaluation. These were:

1. How suitable were the conditions and support attached to SLF funding?

2. How did beneficiaries use SLF funding to bring about sustainable development through community land ownership?

3. What additional challenges might the move of the SLF 2016-20 into urban areas present?

These research questions form the basis of the three findings sections in this report.


This evaluation was conducted in three phases. In the first phase, analysis was conducted of a database compiled from project data from Big Lottery Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE). This was combined with a scoping review of literature relating to community ownership to both give an overview of how SLF funding has been used by beneficiaries, and to provide backdrop to the primary interview data collected in the second and third phases.

In the second phase, semi-structured interviews were conducted with three stakeholder groups: firstly, key individuals from the main delivery partners responsible for the delivery and administration of the SLF (Scottish Government, Big Lottery Fund, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise - 11 individuals); secondly, representatives from the major community land sector organisations (three individuals from three separate organisations); and thirdly, members of the SLF 2012-15 Committee (three individuals). In total, 17 individuals from these groups participated in semi-structured interviews lasting between 45 and 90 minutes. Due to distance constraints, only four individuals were interviewed face-to-face, with the rest participating via telephone. This phase contributed to all three research questions.

In the third phase of the evaluation, seven SLF-funded projects were selected for further investigation. Case notes for each project were reviewed, following which semi-structured interviews were conducted with project representatives. These interviews were all conducted via telephone, and were between 45 and 60 minutes in length. The aim of this phase was to develop an improved understanding of research questions 1 and 2 by understanding what positive and negative outcomes had emerged following asset acquisition and how the design and delivery of the SLF had encouraged or restrained these outcomes.

Since the outcomes, barriers faced and experience of the SLF was likely to vary between project type, the sample of SLF beneficiaries included at least one representative from each of the main beneficiary groups of the SLF. These comprised amenity-based projects, housing developments, woodland developments, large estates, small land-based projects, and mixed projects including both buildings and land. It was also recognised that it would take time for the outcomes of ownership to emerge. Accordingly, only communities who had received SLF funding and acquired their land in the first two years of the SLF (2012-14) were considered, so each project would have at least two years of post-acquisition development before interview. Anonymised project details are presented in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Descriptive profiles of SLF-funded projects

SLF beneficiary

Project type

Project information

Beneficiary A


The assets acquired were the local post office, an attached dwelling and a commercial property. This project was initiated to retain the local post office which had been on the market for a long period of time, and to use the associated assets to generate income and reverse commercial decline in the village. The community group was in the process of bidding for the post master contract to ensure the continuation of the service. A local family moved into the dwelling acquired, and planning permission was gained for three one-bedroom houses which would meet local housing needs and provide a future source of income. The community group had an income of £10,000 which would increase substantially upon completion of development projects.

Beneficiary B


The asset acquired was an entire island-based estate. This community opted to merge with a neighbouring development trust to carry out the buyout. A dedicated development officer was appointed, but had left post and had not been replaced at the time of interview, with all major operations taken on by the neighbouring trust. The community was successful in attaining significant funding for the development of a marina on the island which would facilitate greater connectivity to other ports and the generation of additional revenue.

Beneficiary C


The asset acquired was a substantial area of woodland. The community originally aimed to use the asset both to increase community access to the woodland and to develop a commercial business marketing the timber. Due to State Aid concerns, the community had to finance the majority of capital costs for the acquisition by selling the commercial component of the bid to a private company. Without an income stream from the commercial activity, momentum was curtailed, and projects were smaller and more short-term than the beneficiary would have liked. Nevertheless, progress was made in developing the asset for community amenity use, and substantial progress had recently been made with a community broadband scheme, the provision of training opportunities for young unemployed people in the area, and an active application to GCA.

Beneficiary D

Mixed land and buildings - commercial focus

Assets acquired were a local historical site and attraction, as well as some buildings in use as holiday lets. The project aimed to generate a sustainable long-term income stream for the community and safeguard the assets for community use. Funding was obtained to renovate buildings for holiday lets, and a new promotional website was developed. Occupancy rates of the holiday lets and revenue increased substantially in the two years following acquisition. The community were later offered ownership of a local building for £1 by the local authority, and aimed to turn this into a dwelling to generate further rental income. A license was obtained to host weddings at the local historical site to generate further income.

Beneficiary E

Mixed land and buildings - amenity focus

Assets acquired were the entirety of a loch, a substantial portion of the surrounding land, and some buildings on the land. The project aimed to increase community use of the assets for recreational purposes. The project raised the profile of the loch and community, substantially increased visitor numbers, and featured regular social and fundraising events.

Beneficiary F

Small land-based

Assets acquired were a small parcel of land on which a new building for the community body was to be constructed. This project was initiated when the land occupied by the community body was put on the open market. The community group acquired the land to guarantee its future, and to continue and expand its existing services. The community had secured funding for the development of this building at time of interview.

Beneficiary G


Assets acquired were two plots of land for the construction of affordable housing for the community. This beneficiary was in the process of amassing funds to progress the housing development at time of interview, and was nearing the beginning of construction work.

Interviews across phases two and three were led in each case by a bespoke topic guide, sensitive to the characteristics and role of the individual in relation to the research questions, which was created in advance for each interview. Interviews were audio recorded and written summaries were prepared following each interview. These summaries were analysed together to identify common themes and pull out key lessons relevant to the evaluation's aims. Table 2, below, summarises the number of individuals interviewed across the stakeholder groups.

Table 2. Individuals interviewed across stakeholder groups

Delivery Partners Committee Members Community Land Sector Representatives Beneficiaries
Number of individuals interviewed 11 3 3 7


Email: Clare Magill, socialresearch@gov.scot

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