Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement 2022: advisory notes

Advisory notes to accompany Revised 2022 Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, September 2022.

Principle 4:

The holders of land rights should exercise these rights in ways that take account of their responsibilities to meet high standards of land ownership, management and use. Acting as the stewards of Scotland's land resource for future generations they should contribute to wider public benefit, sustainable growth and a modern, successful country.

All of those who hold land rights, whether through ownership, lease, partnership, use or other decision-making powers, have a responsibility to ensure that our land and its resources are looked after for public benefit both now and with consideration to the future. Its application to buildings and urban environments is just as important as in rural environments.

High standards of land management mean promoting the sustainable development of land by contributing to better and more productive economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes, and in general considering the public good and delivery of wider public benefits as well as the good of those who own land. Many holders of land rights make significant contributions to the public good. This includes the provision of food, timber, recreational opportunities, environmental management and nature conservation, land for housing and industry, and many other activities. Good stewardship and high standards of land management, focused on sustainable development, support and enhance these activities. Decisions made with a focus on good stewardship are made with consideration for the long-term needs and wellbeing of local communities and places.

The holders of land rights already have duties under legislation designed to protect people and the environment, such as pollution control and building safety regulations. However, for the purpose of this Statement, meeting high standards of ownership, management and use, goes further in saying that landowners should take decisions about their land in ways that support social and economic development and protect and enhance the environment. Responsible investment recognises land as a resource that can support a sustainable future, continued prosperity and greater social justice.

Those who own, manage or use land are responsible for the good stewardship of that land, and ensuring that, in line with sustainable development, Scotland's land and associated buildings and infrastructure are well looked after and, where possible, improved. It is important to avoid damaging our land and mitigate any negative social or environmental impacts of the ways in which we use land. Land should not be left in a condition that is less favourable. We have a finite availability of land which makes the re-use of vacant and derelict sites an important issue, particularly in urban areas. If more of these sites were brought back into productive use, they could help to tackle climate change, improve health and wellbeing, create more resilient communities, and make an important contribution to local economies.

Responsibilities should be carefully considered where land is managed for natural capital and carbon management. Our natural capital is an essential resource which needs to be valued, protected and invested in for the future. Much of our natural capital has been lost or is degraded. We need to undertake significant restoration of natural capital to reach our net zero targets and to ensure that our stocks of natural capital can support the wellbeing of future generations. This investment in nature restoration needs to be a collective effort for the good of all. It is vital to ensure that we minimise our use of non-renewable natural capital sources (such as oil) and where renewable sources of natural capital are being used (such as trees), we do not deplete our stock to a point where it cannot be regenerated. We need to ensure that where investment or other action taken to reduce carbon emissions from natural capital, such as peatland, or to sequester carbon, such as through tree planting, we are not using this as a replacement for other actions to avoid, reduce or mitigate emissions at source. This is in line with targets and transition plans in the Paris Agreement, a global, internationally legally-binding deal to stop dangerous climate change. Carbon accounting should be both measurable and verifiable, such as through the government-backed Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code.

When taking forward natural capital and carbon management projects, landowners and managers should work with the local community to identify opportunities to share the benefits with them and to support local priorities and aspirations. It is recommended that landowners and managers consider opportunities to contribute to community wealth through procurement, fair work, and inclusive ownership and consider the establishment of a community benefit fund to provide direct financial returns to local communities. The Scottish Land Commission's Protocol on Responsible Natural Capital and Carbon Management sets out helpful information to help people understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to land.

Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives everyone statutory rights of responsible access to most land and inland water. People only have these rights if they exercise them responsibly by respecting people's privacy, safety and livelihoods, and Scotland's environment. Equally, land managers have to manage their land and water responsibly in relation to access rights. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides detailed guidance on the responsibilities of those exercising access rights and of those managing land and water, facilitating access with corresponding benefits we seek for health and wellbeing, tourism, local economy and sustainable transport.

The interrelation of property and tenure rights with wider human rights underpins the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations' Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGTs). The goal of the VGGTs is to support the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food and national food security. Within this context they promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries and forests, as a means of eradicating hunger and poverty, supporting sustainable development and enhancing the environment.

The VGGTs are voluntary guidelines and contain the principle of "responsible investment". They state that responsible investments "should do no harm" and are defined as recognising wider policy objectives around providing benefit to the country and its people. Responsible investments should be acknowledged by Government and non-government bodies.

Positive long-term and strategic land planning which considers and contributes to broader sustainable development and delivery of public benefit is an important part of managing Scotland's land for the future. Proactive estate management helps to ensure make the most of our land and building assets, using these finite and valuable resources to provide a range of benefits. Taking a place based proactive approach can make it easier to plan and prioritise resources, maximise investment, identify opportunities to make better use of land and buildings, prevent vacant and derelict land, and ensure assets are used to add value to and meet all our needs.

What we are doing

  • Scotland's National Food & Drink Policy - Becoming a Good Food Nation reaffirms the Scottish Government's commitment to promoting the sustainable economic growth of the food and drink industry, which is underpinned by our farming and natural environment. The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022 requires Scottish Ministers to publish a national good food nation plan. This plan will set out the main outcomes to be achieved in relation to food-related issues; the policies needed to do this; and the measures we will use to assess progress.
  • The draft National Planning Framework (NPF4) details our long term plan for what Scotland could be in 2045 and was the subject of Parliamentary consideration and public consultation from November 2021-March 2022. We are carefully considering the broad range of views shared with us and intend to lay a final version in the Scottish Parliament in autumn 2022.
  • Since 2012, around 30,000 hectares of peatland has been put into restoration under the Peatland ACTION Project.
  • The Scottish Plant Health Strategy recognises that plant health is at the heart of Scotland's rural economy, natural environment and wellbeing and it sets out how, by working together, we can protect crops, trees, and other plants from new and existing pests and diseases.
  • As outlined in the Programme for Government 2021-22, we are committed to modernising the compulsory purchase order process to make it clearer, fairer and faster for all parties, and to support the delivery of projects that are in the public interest. We will continue to engage with local authorities and other stakeholders to identify the most effective levers as the work progresses.
  • We are also considering the matter of compulsory sales orders as part of this. Any new powers would need to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights with careful consideration given to the compatibility with existing powers.
  • The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 contains provisions to allow communities to apply to buy abandoned, neglected and detrimental land.
  • The 2022/23 Islands Programme is providing £4.45m across all six local authorities with inhabited islands, to enable us to work together to support critical projects and to help make our islands even better places to live, study, work and raise a family. This funding is complemented by ongoing planned investment which is designed to support those living on Scotland's islands and our funding is spread across 31 islands. Successful applications include projects directly supporting population retention and growth, new facilities to deliver services helping to alleviate child poverty, innovative circular economy solutions, measures to address climate change impacts, development of digital and community hubs, management of tourism impacts, iconic heritage projects, and support for key local services.

Case Study - Balmacara Stewardship

Balmacara is a traditional crofting estate on the north shore of Lochalsh, near the Kyle of Lochalsh. Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the estate is home to crofting settlements, where people have worked the land for thousands of years, and which supports a rich natural and cultural environment.

Some 75% of the estate is under crofting tenure, with eight crofting townships. Crofting activity has remained relatively high in Balmacara, with the majority of the in-bye land being worked in some form, including extensive rotational cropping, and the rearing of cattle.


Recognising the importance of crofting to the culture and identity of the communities within the estate, NTS has worked with the local community to help fund traditional crofting practices that support the wealth of biodiversity and shape the farmed landscape.

The Traditional Croft Management Scheme uses targeted payments, to encourage crofters to manage the land in a way that delivers the maximum benefit for biodiversity. Through a relatively small outlay, valuable environmental and amenity benefits are realised, that are not currently delivered through the mainline agricultural support from government.

To further promote the value of crofting, socially, culturally, economically and environmentally, the Trust has also supported the establishment of an education programme in the local high school. This helps children familiarise themselves with how the local countryside is shaped and managed, and will help ensure that the next generation of crofters have the skills and experience to carry the sector forward in the future.

Crofting as an activity is subject to increasing economic and social pressures, and through these measures the Trust are committed to supporting the local community in caring for, and continuing to be good stewards of this distinctive cultural landscape.


Crofting is a distinctive set of social and economic practices which has sustained populations in the Highlands, and created farmed landscapes of high nature value.

The National Trust for Scotland's experience in operating its Traditional Croft Management Scheme has shown that relatively small amounts of investment, well-targeted, can help sustain valuable agricultural practices, helping support natural and cultural heritage.

There is the potential for replicating this approach in other crofting areas across the NTS estate, especially as the Scottish Government focuses on a public goods for public payments approach.

Next Steps

The Traditional Croft Management Scheme forms part of the National Trust for Scotland's overall stewardship of Balmacara. Other activities have included working with the community to enable housing developments, shops and visitor attractions, along with the creation of new crofts. By sustaining crofting as the fundamental land use at Balmacara, NTS can create many other opportunities for the community.



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