Publication - Strategy/plan

Land use - getting the best from our land: strategy 2021 to 2026

Scotland's Third Land Use Strategy sets out our vision, objectives and policies to achieve sustainable land use. The strategy covers the next five years and aims to provide a more holistic understanding of our land, the demands we place upon it and the benefits we get from our land.

Land use - getting the best from our land: strategy 2021 to 2026


What is the Land Use Strategy?

The Land Use Strategy sets out our long term vision for sustainable land use in Scotland, our objectives and key policies for delivery. Scottish Ministers are required by law to produce a Land Use Strategy every five years and the first Strategy was published in 2011.

Why is land use important?

The way we own, use and manage our land is fundamental to how we live in Scotland. It is a platform on which we can deliver on many of Scotland's national outcomes as set out in the National Performance Framework. These outcomes reflect the values and aspirations of the people of Scotland and are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A table demonstrating the wider policy context of the Land Use Strategy is provided at Annex A.

Our land produces much of the food we eat, supports the renewable power we use to heat our homes, and the timber and land to build our houses and communities.

It is the basis for the ecosystems that we rely on for the air we breathe and the water we drink. It is a vital part of our natural capital, an asset that underpins our entire economy and in particular the nature-based 'green' economy that will employ more and more people in years to come.

Our land also supports the habitats and living creatures that make up Scotland's unique and precious biodiversity, and our awe-inspiring landscapes that are recognised and loved by both the people of Scotland and beyond. It is where we go for exercise, recreation, and to connect with our environment and our history.

Our land use in the future

We ask a lot of our land, and the demands we make of it are growing. The climate and nature emergencies that are the most urgent challenge of our generation cannot be addressed without changes to the way we use, manage and live on our land.

We have set ambitious targets to reach net-zero by 2045, and the government's independent advisers on Climate Change, the UK Committee on Climate Change, have highlighted Scotland's land assets as one of the main reasons we are in a position to achieve net-zero five years earlier than the UK as a whole. In their report 'Net Zero: the UK's contribution to stopping global warming' they cite: "the excellent opportunities to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere through afforestation and carbon capture and storage in Scotland".

In realising these opportunities, we must identify opportunities for nature-based solutions as they can be pivotal in mitigating and adapting to climate change whilst restoring nature. We must also look at new approaches to financing this work to ensure we can maximise its potential such as optimising the impact of both public and private investment.

If we are to achieve a just transition to a sustainable future that addresses the climate and biodiversity crises, it is essential that we understand where the costs and benefits from the way we own and use our land lie. As set out in the Climate Change Plan update published December 2020, our landscape will look very different in the future, with significantly more afforestation and peatland restoration. We will need to produce our food in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way possible, and we will have to restore and enhance important habitats.

Balancing these actions alongside the myriad of other demands we put on land will require negotiation and compromise from all, and a shift in the way we think about land. Land use choices both benefit and impact us all and we all need to engage in the tough choices to tackle the tensions and trade-offs between competing demands if we are to achieve a just transition.

Moving forward, transparency of land ownership will be a critical enabler. Scotland has a long tradition of recording and registration of information about land ownership. In order to really understand who makes land use decisions in Scotland, however, communities and the public at large need improved transparency in information about land ownership. In February 2021 the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed regulations to introduce a public register of controlled interests in land. This marks a significant step towards delivering greater transparency of land ownership in Scotland. The register will become operational on 1 April 2022 and it will enable the public to look behind land ownership and identify those who control decision making around land use.

This third Land Use Strategy is intended to help stimulate and inform the growing national, regional and local conversations on the future of our land, who it benefits and how it is used, managed and owned. It recognises that determining our national, regional and local priorities and delivering change at the scale required is, and will continue to be, grounded in social processes that will involve discussions by people with differing views and interests.

What's new?

There have been two Land Use Strategies since the Climate Change (Scotland) Act came into force in 2009. The first one brought in a new framework for land use which introduced our vision for sustainable land use, our objectives, and a set of principles to guide future decision-making around land use.

The second Land Use Strategy maintained this framework and in addition set out 9 policies and 5 proposals across a range of areas such as agriculture, forestry, natural capital and land reform. The second Strategy was swiftly followed by the Land Rights and Responsibility Statement (LRRS). Taking a human rights-based approach, this landmark document sets out the key principles that underpin the Scottish Government's vision for a stronger relationship between the people of Scotland and our land, and is the first of its kind anywhere in the World. An overview of the statement and its principles are available at Annex B.

The LRRS contains six principles that should underpin every decision about land, including: greater collaboration and engagement between those making decisions about land and those affected by such decisions; increased transparency about land; and, for those who have land rights, the responsible exercise of those rights.

Many landowners recognise the benefits of working with local communities, but good practice is not yet uniform across Scotland. To further promote the LRRS the Scottish Land Commission have published guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land. The guidance is intended to support more positive and constructive engagement between land owners and communities and applies to all those with control over land, including private and public land owners, NGOs, charities and community owners.

The overarching purpose of the third Land Use Strategy remains the same: demonstrating our ambition for sustainable land use. This new Strategy, however, comes at a time when both the urgency and scale of change needed is unprecedented. As a result this Strategy is different in scope and tone from its predecessors.

The approach to the third Land Use Strategy

Many new and ambitious policies have recently been introduced or are being developed: through our Environment Strategy, Climate Change Plan update, the upcoming Biodiversity Strategy, the new National Planning Framework and many others. Therefore the third Strategy does not set out new policies. Instead it seeks to make land use more understandable and accessible to everyone, in support of a shift in the way we think about land, towards more inclusive conversations around how we use land and who should be involved in those decisions.

It moves away from a sector by sector approach towards an overarching holistic picture of what sustainable land use in Scotland could look like. It looks beyond its formal five year duration to our 2032 and 2045 targets and efforts to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. It also highlights the actions we are taking right now across Scotland.

It is anticipated that the third Strategy will be followed by a delivery plan, that will contain more details on the policies and actions that will be taken over the course of this Strategy's five year span and beyond.

Shifting the debate to build more inclusive and effective platforms for change

Land use has often been viewed through the lens of the various individual land-based sectors that contribute to our economy, like agriculture and forestry. But our land delivers so much more to us as a society, including nature and the biodiversity upon which all our ecosystems rely. As such we need to take a holistic systems approach to our use and management of land, to enable us to balance the many demands that are placed on our land in a way that protects and enhances the health of our land and landscapes. This approach broadens the range of interests to engage and requires a wider understanding on how we take forward a meaningful debate about meeting our often competing priorities in land use.

Landscape and ecosystems approach

Through this new Strategy we have sought to highlight how the benefits and impacts of land use reach all of us, across every part of Scotland. To do so, we have adopted a landscape approach, creating a series of illustrative landscapes to represent different types of land in Scotland. These showcase some of the actions and policies that are currently underway right across Scotland. They demonstrate how different uses of land interact with each other and how they must be integrated to support our ecosystems, our society, our economy and our wellbeing if we are to achieve a sustainable future.

Our land has a fundamental role to play in Scotland's sustainable future, environmentally, socially and economically. Achieving our many objectives will only be possible if we take this holistic systems approach and consider land use and land use choices in their full sense, not sector by sector or issue by issue. The use of an ecosystems approach as highlighted in Scotland's second Land Use Strategy 2016 - 2021 recognises that all aspects of the environment, including humans, are interrelated and should not be viewed in isolation. This is a helpful means to better understand our environment and factor it into decisions.

Such an approach will require us all to work together, drawing on robust evidence and an appreciation that the impacts and benefits of land use affect us all. Whether you own, work, use or simply appreciate Scotland's land, we hope this Strategy demonstrates how important land is to us all and supports a wider understanding of what we need to do to manage it sustainably to deliver for us all.

How the rest of this document is structured

The sections that follow have been set out to showcase our journey towards sustainable land use.

Within the first section, Achieving Sustainable Land Use,we set out the role of natural capital and ecosystem services, present our vision and objectives and highlight the need to balance the demands we place on our land including a visual representation of sustainable land use.

Within the second section, Platforms for change, we focus on the opportunities presented by the on-going development of the National Planning Framework and Regional Land Use Partnerships.

And in the final section, Using landscapes to understand land use, we highlight key policy actions and showcase how land use can be viewed and considered in a more integrated and holistic way.