Green land investment in rural Scotland: social and economic impacts

Outlines the findings of research into the range of potential social and economic impacts relating to new forms of green land investment in rural Scotland.


Why was the research needed?

This research was commissioned by the Scottish Government to understand the range of potential socio-economic impacts relating to new forms of green land investment occurring in rural Scotland. We investigated the motivations and activities of private investor-owners and asked how green land investment benefits and / or negatively impacts those living and working in rural Scotland, in particular communities of place that are located on or close to land that is used for these activities. We examined to what extent private-sector interests support and / or conflict with the needs of rural communities and their interests, and the wider and long-term implications of these changes in rural land use and ownership.

What did we do?

We carried out a literature and evidence review to verify key concepts and definitions such as ‘green land investment’ and ‘rewilding’. A longlist of green land investment cases was created and six case study landholdings and associated rural communities were selected for fieldwork. We carried out individual or small group interviews with community members, and investor-owners or their representatives, with 54 participants in total. In case study communities, we conducted six community-based face-to-face workshops, with 96 participants in total.

What did we learn?

This research has illustrated a diversity of green land investor-owner activities and motivations in rural Scotland. Following an evidence review, the definition of green land investments used in this report is:

“The purchase of, or investment in (directly through shareholding or changing focus of owner investment, or indirectly through intermediary companies) land to undertake nature restoration, regenerative land management or approaches that maintain or enhance natural capital, and/or sequester carbon emissions, differentiated from traditional ownership by the green motivations as a driver rather than a secondary outcome.”

Green land investor models in the case study landholdings included individual ownership, ownership by corporations, and where corporations provided land management services to private landowners/investors. Importantly, investor-owner motivations fall along a spectrum rather than into discrete categories. In general, profit is not the over-riding stated motivation. However, community members largely perceive investor-owners’ motivations as financial more than ‘green’ and economic power disparities are felt by the community.

Significant social and economic benefits (both realised and anticipated) identified by the research included: increased accessibility and transparency of estate activities; support for education and training, community initiatives, and housing; and increased tourism activity and employment. Negative impacts included: loss of employment and effects on local services; a decrease in housing availability; and the potential risks of changes in land use and management (e.g. perceived increased risk of wildfire).

These impacts differ across case studies, with different investments affecting the same issues in different ways. For example, depending on the case study, recreational access is perceived to or may increase or decrease, or jobs may be gained or lost. Farmers and estate employees are the most affected by land use changes, for example regarding employment and livelihood impacts.

One key challenge remains regarding how to disentangle the potential and actual impacts of green land investment activities, from those that may arise due to other types of land use or land ownership. Many of the impacts identified in this report may be found where landownership motivations change or where there is absentee landownership/remote land management. One distinguishing feature that we identified through this exploration of green land investment was the significant economic power held by the new actors engaging in Scotland’s land market. Due to this, issues relating to landownership scale and concentration may become more likely, and market forces may drive land use and land management change more quickly than can be accommodated through policy processes seeking to achieve a ‘just transition’.

The case studies provide evidence of good practice in terms of community engagement, such as green land investor-owners facilitating and attending community open days and green land investment projects supporting training and education opportunities. However, a critical negative impact was the perceived lack of community involvement in land-use decision-making. All participants suggested methods for positive community engagement. Community member participants felt that if investor-owner goals are achieved, this could lead to thriving rural communities, but failure would have knock-on impacts for community sustainability and the local environment.

What happens now?

Policy makers should consider greater regulation of the natural capital market, including windfarm payments; enhanced measures to support landownership and land management transparency; and to ensure adherence to the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. Based on our research, effective engagement and communication are at the heart of relationships which work well. Green land investors/owners should include community voices and ensure transparency and accountability in land management plans and objectives. Furthermore, rural communities appear more resilient to land use changes if they can engage and work with green land investor-owners, and should be supported to do so (e.g. by organisations such as the Scottish Land Commission).

Further social research, particularly focused on tracking changes over time, may help to understand the long-term impacts of green land investment in rural Scotland.



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