Impact of diversity of ownership scale on social, economic and environmental outcomes

Report on the impact of diversity of ownership on the socioeconomic outcomes for rural areas.


Feedback from the fieldwork suggests that landowner absenteeism (for both fragmented and unfragmented estates) was not considered a major issue compared to owner motivations. It was evident that even different generations of owners from the same families had differing degrees of engagement with the local community, and in particular with the development of the estate infrastructure, businesses and assets (e.g. housing). It was noted in case study 1a (unfragmented) that previous generations of owners had " taken great interest in the area, but that has waned with the present generation", whilst many other estates were recognised as being more engaged with their local communities. In each of the unfragmented case studies, the focus group respondents felt that the estate(s) still had an important influence over the area.

Figure 11 shows how the type of occupiers of agricultural holdings changed between 1982 and 2012 in each case study. Both case studies 1a and 1b have seen a sharp decline in the number of full-time occupiers (44% and 67% decrease respectively). Whilst the number of part-time occupiers (>50% - where they spend more than half their time on the farm) increased slightly in 1a between 2002 and 2012, the overall decrease in occupiers largely mirrored the decline in full-time occupiers. In 1b, there was a slight increase in the number of part-time occupiers (<50% - where they spend less than half their time on the farm) between 1982 and 2002, with a decrease between 2002 and 2012 that may be related to housing development.

Successful businesses

Figure 11 Occupier types of agricultural holdings 1982-2012


In 2a, the number of full-time occupiers fell by more than a third between 1992 and 2012, with limited change in the number of part-time occupiers. This contrasts with 2b where the number of full-time occupiers was largely maintained over the period, with a small growth in the number of part-time farmers. The number of full-time farmers in 3a fell by more than a half, whilst there was some increase in the number of part-time occupiers over the period, which differs from 3b where the number of full-time occupiers increased alongside those of part-time occupiers. In two of the case study pairs (2 and 3), there were differences between the unfragmented and fragmented case studies, with the latter having been able to maintain the number of full-time farmers on the ground.

The case study fieldwork suggested that the reduction in full-time occupiers (with the exception of 3b where recent fragmentation of land farmed in-hand has led to increased opportunities for new owners) was related to amalgamations enabled by mechanisation of farming activities, a general need to generate additional off-farm incomes to help maintain the farming business, and purchases of farms by new entrants who see the farm as secondary to their main job. The land managers in 2b reported that, for some time, very few spouses have been fully engaged on farms, with spouses earning off-farm income as a means of contributing to the survival of the family farm, having become common place over the last 20 to 30 years. Thus part-time farming in all areas has become more prevalent.

CAP support payments are important to the economic survival of Scottish farms and businesses in the wider agri-food supply chain, and through local expenditure and wages to the local economy. Analysis of the direct support payments [33] made to farm businesses located in each case study confirmed the significance of CAP funding in all areas. It is noticeable that whilst 1b had a high number of agricultural holdings (102) and occupiers (38), only 18 businesses located in the parish were in receipt of direct CAP support in 2014. In most of the case studies, the large differences between the mean and median payments show that mean figures are being skewed by some large payments, but there is no other common pattern between the case study types.

Table 6 Direct CAP support and LFASS payments, 2014 [34]

Case Study Case Study Total Direct CAP support per business
Businesses Payments Lower Quartile Mean Median Upper Quartile
1a - Unfragmented 27 £1,160,008 £8,241 £42,963 £22,466 £56,632
1b - Fragmented 18 £737,047 £1,654 £40,947 £15,044 £81,112
2a - Unfragmented 36 £1,243,951 £10,757 £34,554 £21,669 £55,783
2b - Fragmented 33 £1,106,341 £13,439 £33,525 £29,624 £40,164
3a - Unfragmented 23 £806,249 £5,586 £35,054 £17,241 £43,049
3b - Fragmented 21 £857,972 £14,489 £40,856 £36,636 £68,752

Analysis of the JAC (see Table 7) revealed that the standard output [35] per hectare in 2014 was considerably higher in all the fragmented case studies than in their unfragmented counterparts. Additionally, in case study pairs 2 and 3, there were higher Standard Labour Requirements ( SLR) [36] and Livestock Units ( LU) in the fragmented case studies compared to the unfragmented comparators (for case study pair 1, it may be that the number of small holdings in 1b influences the total number of livestock held, which relates to its SLR). These figures suggest that there tended to be a greater economic intensity to agricultural activities in the fragmented case studies.

However, the farm intensity findings need to be interpreted cautiously since agricultural Gross Value Added ( GVA) and profitability are not solely dependent on output levels. Moreover, standard (average) output coefficients may over-estimate (e.g. for smaller farms) or under-estimate (e.g. for larger farms) actual output. Hence more detailed farm-level information would be required to verify the magnitude of the implied differences.

Table 7 Average economic intensity of agricultural activity, 2014

Parish Standard Output/Ha Standard Labour Requirement/ 100 Ha Livestock Units/Ha
1a - Unfragmented £772 1.87 0.84
1b - Fragmented £914 1.87 0.74
2a - Unfragmented £537 1.16 0.57
2b - Fragmented £804 1.77 0.83
3a - Unfragmented £20 0.19 0.05
3b - Fragmented £59 0.48 0.21

Focus group feedback reported that important investment in farm buildings, fencing, roads, ditches, drainage, etc. was facilitated by Government schemes (such as the Farm and Horticultural Development Scheme) that enabled farmers to become more efficient producers. Participants considered the CAP as a key driver of farming activity in all areas since the late 1970s (through intervention pricing, coupled support payments, Less Favoured Area support, quotas, Single Farm Payment, SRDP, etc.).

However, other factors recognised as occurring over the same period included increased market centralisation (driven by economies of scale) and tougher hygiene regulations. Both centralisation and new regulations were reported to have led to a decline in local input and agricultural services and farm suppliers and reduced local food processing and livestock slaughter in both case study pairs 1 and 2. In the last 10 to 15 years, farm-based added value, niche marketing and farm shops have started to encourage greater consumption of local produce (something that was once commonplace). Feedback from all case studies indicated higher levels of farm diversification, which is now viewed as a strategy for helping land-based businesses remain viable, unless they significantly invest in specialisation.

As agriculture became increasingly mechanised throughout the 20th century the number of farm workers fell significantly; there was a 54% decrease in full-time on-farm employees across Scotland between 1982 and 2012 [37] . Figure 12 shows that in the more intensively farmed case study pairs (1 and 2) there was a large decrease in full-time labour intensity (workers per 1'000 hectares). There were around 50% fewer full-time workers per hectare in 1a, 2a, 2b and 3b in 2012 than in 1982.

Figure 12 On-farm workers (per 1,000 hectares), 1982 -2012


In 2b, there was a slight up-turn in full-time farm workers between 2002 and 2012 following a period of sharp decline, whilst on the most extensively farmed area (3a) one in four full-time workers were lost between 1982 and 2012. To some extent, the changes are likely to reflect farming systems, with changes in livestock numbers over the period coupled with mechanisation resulting in greater labour savings in, for example, the dairy sector (case study area 2) compared to the hill sheep sector (case study area 3). It is clear that full-time employees have not been substituted by part-time employees or casual labour in the case studies, but feedback from all the focus groups pointed to the growing importance of agricultural contractors in undertaking farm work.

In addition to farm workers, the focus group respondents reported that in the unfragmented case studies there has been a significant decline in the number of estate workers over the study period, which has had noticeable social impacts locally (school and shop closures, etc.), although it has freed up tied housing for private rental or sale. Estates (1a, 3a) have increasingly relied on a network of contractors (self-employed) for land and property maintenance, meaning that there are fewer year-round land-based jobs than there once were, and there has been a loss of connection with land management within the local resident population.

Outwith agriculture, the focus groups reported that urban-based economic development and centralisation of public services has led to a general lack of industry and small businesses within the case studies. In all areas (including those with large population increases - 1a and 1b), the fieldwork reiterated the decline in local shops, trades and services provision over time, particularly as a result of improved population mobility, the rise of internet shopping (particularly from supermarkets, commuters shopping elsewhere, populations change, etc.). In both 3a and 3b, it was noted that there had been a significant rise in tourism-related enterprises (caravan sites, self-catering accommodation, recreational sport activities, etc.) capitalising on demand from visitors to these popular, scenic areas. In 3a, it was noted that the estate was considered a major driver for the diversification of the local tourism industry, which has led to positive local outcomes.

While investment in an area was generally seen as positive (e.g. creating jobs, enhancing the local built environment), concerns were raised in 3b about one larger tourism venture having repeatedly experienced financial difficulties and being sold on multiple occasions, with knock-on effects for local jobs, housing, etc. Participants in 3b also reminisced enthusiastically about times when there was more 'affordable' tourism that brought annual visitors who would integrate with the local community and local social events.

In all case studies, the sale of former estate housing and sale of buildings for conversion to housing (all) or industrial development (1a, 1b, 2a) was seen as an important driver of change. The sale of these assets led to different outcomes based on location, with use for second homes or tourism accommodation being important in the more peripheral case studies whilst land sales for housing development were more important in the more accessible locations (1a, 1b), and liquidising assets for some landowners.

High-Quality Jobs

Figure 13 Employment status of 16-74 year olds. 1991 - 2011


Using extracts from the population census, Figure 13 shows the employment status of all working-age people in each case study between 1991 and 2011. Similar patterns can be observed in case studies 1a and 1b, with a dip in full-time employees in 2001. 1a (unfragmented) had a higher rate of self-employment compared to 1b, which had a slight increase in part-time employment between 2001 and 2011. It would appear that in case study pair 1, the overall higher level of economic activity has been influenced by the proximity of a large urban area (population over 125,000). In case study pair 2, it is noticeable that full-time employment declined by about 5% in both areas, whilst part-time employment grew by 6-7%. 2b had a greater, and growing, reliance on self-employment than 2a, and it is noticeable that in 2b there was a high level (43% in 2011) of economic inactivity where retirees accounted for 60% of those economically inactive, possibly due to its more remote location. In case study area 3, both areas followed similar patterns, with a higher level of self-employment in 3b.

Changing demography, centralisation of services and business, loss of industry, and loss of transport links (rail in most case studies) all played a part in the changing employment structure in the case studies. The focus groups recalled that outwith farming and estate work there were periods during the 20th century when skilled workers were employed in many of the case studies (e.g. industrial works in 1a, 1b, 2a; military in 2a; renewable energy developments in 3a and 3b; mining, 3b).

Using data from the population census [38] , Figure 14 compares sectoral employment across the case studies in 2001 and 2011. The influence of the rapidly expanding towns in 1b (fragmented) is apparent, as there was a very low level of employment in agriculture, forestry and fishing compared to 1a. In case study pair 2, the difference in agricultural, forestry and fishing employment is significant, with only 5% in 2a (which contains part of an urban area) compared to about 30% in 2b (which is a more remote agricultural community). This pattern was also apparent in case study pair 3, where the more remote 3b had a greater reliance on agricultural employment.

Figure 14 Sectors of employment 2001 and 2011


The most accessible case study pair, 1, had limited employment in accommodation and food services, which was a more important sector in the more remote case studies (2b, 3a and 3b). Those case studies with good access routes to urban areas tended to have a greater reliance on wholesale, retail trade and repair of vehicles, and it is particularly noticeable that 2a had a high reliance on transport and storage, reflecting its location near to a regional transport hub. The rapid jump in construction sector employment in 3b between 2001 and 2011 relates to a local development project.

The fieldwork generally corroborated the statistics, for example:

  • In 1b there was growth of businesses and industrial development on land on the edge of the main village; this was heavily influenced by the upgrading to dual carriageway of the road to the nearby urban centre providing good accessibility. Whilst these developments increased the number of jobs available locally, the focus group participants questioned whether more local people are employed, rather than those who travel into the village as a result of the improved transport links. Similarly, the extent to which local tradespeople have benefitted from the many housing developments was doubted.
  • In 3a and 3b, the focus group participants suggested whilst the growth in tourism has been a major driver of change, many of the tourism jobs provided are carried out by non-local (often from outside the UK), low-paid, seasonal workers who travel daily from outwith the area and/or are housed in staff accommodation.
  • In 2a, the area became an increasingly important transport hub from the 1970s, and this has led to the establishment of ancillary services (e.g. hospitality and accommodation, HGV drivers, mechanics) and therefore local employment impacts. These employment opportunities have been of mixed quality, and although vehicle traffic is considerably increased the focus group believed that the area is constrained economically by a lack of rail connection and lack of investment in the road network.


Email: Graeme Beale,

Back to top