Small landholdings in Scotland: legislation review

Review of the legislation governing small landholdings in Scotland and supporting consultation analysis.

Annex 6: Small Landholdings: The Rest of the UK

As part of the review Scottish Government have also considered statutory small farms regimes in other parts of the UK.

Statutory smallholdings in England and Wales are administered by local authorities. Over time there has been publicly voiced concerns regarding the selling off of these type of tenancies, whilst councils continue to impose sharp rent increases.


Smallholding Tenancies

  • There are two types of smallholdings tenancies [116] in England, the management of which is devolved to county councils. This idea can be traced back to 1601, when small parcels of land where given to the poor to encourage self-sufficiency.
    • Smallholdings authorities provide an annual report to DEFRA [117] under the Agriculture Act 1970 [118] on any statutory smallholdings. This applies to 22 Smallholdings Authorities in England.
    • A second category, reported on by CIPFA [119] applies to 21 unitary authorities which fall outwith the 1970's legislation. DEFRA's 2016 report on smallholdings incorporates the CIPFA data for the first time.
  • Smallholdings and Unitary Authorities have actively invested in these county farms in the past to support new entrants into farming. This is a declining model, however, and there are now other options for new entrants (farm business tenancies, share farming, joint ventures and contracting).
  • DEFRA are working to stem the flow of selling county farms by encouraging local authorities to retain their council farm stock, to champion innovation and to attract new entrants. DEFRA's aspirations for smallholdings are voiced in their publication 'Rural Estate Asset Management Planning Good Practice Guidance. [120]

Key Statistics (as at 31 March 2016)

  • Total area of land held by the 42 smallholdings was 89 360 hectares of which 86 700 hectares was let as a small holding.
  • Number of smallholding lets - Of those local authorities providing data, 41 advised that they owned and let 2 583 smallholdings as at 31 March 2016.
  • Of those 41 smallholding authorities providing data there were 2081 tenancies during 2015/16. During this period 115 tenancies were granted, 49 of which were to new tenants, and 174 tenancies were terminated. There were a total of 579 lifetime tenancies, 330 retirement tenancies and 1172 Farm Business tenancies.
  • In 2015/2016 a total of 86 ha were acquired by 3 smallholding authorities and a total of 1048 ha sold by 25 smallholding authorities.
  • Of those 39 small landholding authorities providing information a total of £23 million in rent was due at 31 March 2016; average rent/ha was between £235-£292 per hectare

Wales (as at 31 March 2015) [121]

Wales have a similar approach to the English system and are also governed by the Agriculture Act 1970. [122] Figures for 2015 are marginally altered on the previous year.

  • The total area of land held - was around 17 400 hectares of which circa 15 000 hectares were used as smallholdings; this equates to just more than 1% of all agricultural land and is relatively unchanged compared to previous years.
  • No. of holdings - there were 1033 smallholdings (increase of 11 holdings on the previous year) of which 641 were below 20 hectares ad 247 were 20-40 hectares; there were 145 (14%) over 40 hectares.
  • Tenants - there were 920 tenants, some of which were tenants of multiple farms. Of 1033 holdings there were 1006 tenancies, with 390 Farm Business Tenancies, 278 Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies and 338 other types of tenancies. During 2014/15 a total of 257 new tenancies were granted and of those new tenancies 211 were given to new entrants, a further 245 to existing tenants and there were 39 terminated tenancies.
  • Finance - an operational surplus of just over £1M was generated

Northern Ireland [123]

  • Almost all farms in Northern Ireland have owned land and just under half include some rented land.
  • Only 4.7 per cent of total farms are entirely rented or leased using 2.8 per cent of the total area farmed. None are small farm tenancies from District Councils.
  • 45 per cent had a mixture of owned and rented land and the remaining 51 per cent were entirely owner-occupied.
  • Information from the Agricultural Census in NI indicates that 40 per cent of farms have less than 20 hectares with these farms only working 10 per cent of the total area farmed.
  • Much of the rented land is taken under the conacre system of short-term lettings which is a particular feature of land tenure throughout Ireland. By renting conacre land, farmers may expand their businesses to grow more crops or keep more livestock than would be possible on the owned area. Landowners who are unable or unwilling to farm all or part of their land may let it in conacre, i.e. on a seasonal basis, (nominally for 11 months or 364 days) without entering into a long-term commitment. 28 per cent of the total area farmed was leased or taken as conacre in June 2016.


Email: Claudine Duff

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