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.

4. Findings

This chapter outlines the findings from six green land investment case studies in rural Scotland. The main findings are:

  • Community members and investor-owners perceived the priority of environmental and financial motivations differently, and some community members felt uninformed about landowner goals.
  • Many socio-economic changes were beneficial in some cases and detrimental in others as they increased or decreased depending on investor-owners’ actions (for example access, community involvement, housing, and employment) evidencing the power of investor-owners to impact communities. Certain communities of interest were significantly affected, particularly by changes in land-based workers’ employment levels and activities.
  • Community engagement is important for positive relationships. Positive and negative examples given by participants resulted in/led to suggestions for improvement, including better communication and involving an external party to facilitate.
  • Community participants had hopes for sustainable rural communities but also fears of limited benefits and lack of community involvement in plans, as well as the potential failure of investor-owners to reach specified goals (with social and environmental implications). Nonetheless, investor-owners described their plans and actions to support positive social and environmental outcomes (e.g. supporting training and education opportunities).


This chapter outlines the findings from six case studies of landholdings where ‘green land investment’ is evident, located across rural Scotland, and with associated communities of place and of interest. The findings are discussed in the following sections:

  • 4.1 Understanding motivations for green land investment
  • 4.2 Understanding social and economic impacts of green land investment in rural Scotland, including the following sub-sections:
    • 4.2.1 Potential, actual, and perceived benefits and/or negative impacts of green land investment
    • 4.2.2 Understanding the influence of green land investment activities on different communities of interest in rural areas
      • Experiences of, opportunities, and barriers to community-landowner engagement in the context of green-land investment
      • Hopes and fears for the future of rural Scotland: rural communities and green land investment landowners

4.1 Understanding motivations for green land investment

This section describes the range of motivations described by the green land investor-owners interviewed, including:

  • Profit, but the owner-investors emphasised that green land investment did not necessarily seek to maximising profit (which was often lower that other investment activities), instead providing a showpiece or blueprint.
  • Stable and long-term investment.
  • Insetting through afforestation or renewable energy, for example, on their own land resulting in direct emission reductions.
  • Additionality, such as income from both timber and carbon credits and also speculation purchases anticipating further land value increases.
  • Positive environmental and/or social outcomes.

Community members believed that profit was the most important motive. Community cynicism regarding landowner stated motivations led to some accusations of hypocrisy on the part of green land investor-owners.

Two-way communication between community and landowners was important to understanding and accepting green land investor-owner motivations.

The case study research provided an opportunity to explore the motivations of green land investor-owners, encompassed by the five categories outlined in the typology: financial returns, environmental/social impacts, operational impacts, reputational impacts, and personal motivations (see Section 3.2). However, the importance of each of these motivations to each case and the activities on the landholding differs among case studies and was not agreed upon by all participants. Motivations expressed by green land investor-owners and/or their representatives often differed from community members’ perceptions of motivations. This could be attributed to a lack of knowledge on the part of community members, whether because of lack of communication or understanding, receiving information from disparate or unreliable sources, or in some cases, scepticism about the expressed motivations.

Profit is a critical motivation that investor-owners identified for green land investment activity. Investor-focused landowner representatives mentioned the importance of financial returns, but differentiated the profits their investment will make from other types of investment, characterising them as ‘lower’ and directed to impacts that are not only financial.

Such impact investors therefore aim to “put that money to good use” [Landowner representative]. Because of this focus on environmental and, less-frequently, social impacts, many of the green land investor-owners and representatives that were interviewed described aspirations for their land to become a “showpiece” and perhaps pioneer a new type of investment opportunity and management model. As described:

“We want people to come and say, ‘Oh, right, okay. This is a great rural sustainable business model’ – because it gets the carbon credits, it gets the biodiversity, it gets the people on there, it creates the jobs. […] What we’re trying to achieve is like a blueprint which could be used by any landowner, any investor, governments.” [Landowner representative]

Land is seen as an attractive asset for green land investor-owners. The asset is perceived as stable and long-term (especially if it has timber or it is considered ‘plantable’ land). In several cases, insetting – a company investing in carbon reduction or removal projects in its own supply chain – was a major operational motivation for the landowner. Purchasing land and insetting – through afforestation or renewable energy, for example – results in direct emission reductions. One landowner representative said, “technically we could accumulate significant carbon credits and sell them on the open market, but would we be right to do that, when we know the carbon footprint of our biggest polluting activities, those being farming, commercial property and peatland?”. Some investor-owners and representatives spoke about the appeal of additionality, such as income from both timber and carbon credits. An intermediary company representative mentioned well-resourced buyers making speculative land purchases of arable land anticipating financial additionality. For all these reasons, land in Scotland was believed to be particularly appealing because of its lower cost and availability compared to further south[20].

Community members perceived profit and attracting investment capital as the primary motivation for green land investor-owners. They suggested landowners seek profits from land use such as timber harvesting, carbon credits, government grants or subsidies, and tax benefits. They acknowledged the expressed green motivations of landowners but many stated that financial considerations are most important; for example:

“First and foremost, that is an investment company that owns it now so their rationale is to make money through whatever mechanisms they can.” [Community member]

Community participants also highlighted the attractiveness of Scottish land compared to other countries that have land taxes or land ownership caps.

Some green land investor-owners claimed that their primary motivation is more personal, to do good by ensuring positive environmental and/or social outcomes, and that this is reflected in their primary land management goals and large-scale, long-term approach. One landowner was said to have:

“a passion for nature, nature conservation and ecological restoration […] a deep conviction that nature was on the slide and needed to be protected and [they] had a passion and the wherewithal to do that” [Landowner representative]

Other landowner representatives described their approach to optimising land use to fulfil different landholding objectives, in particular regarding net zero and ESG (environmental, social and governance), which led them to consider natural capital projects such as native woodland afforestation and peatland restoration. One intermediary company representative framed it positively, referencing examples of their customers’ voluntary corporate social responsibility.

Regarding the green activities undertaken, one community member commented on investor-owners’ personal motivations, noting that: “Their heart is definitely in the right place”. However, these apparently environmentally and socially-focussed objectives were received with cynicism by community members in at least two case studies. The motivation was recast as “really a commodification of the land around here for tourist purposes” [Community member] but other participants also expressed scepticism regarding the stated goals of green land investor-owners. For example:

“They’re looking for that financial return to be maximised rather than achieving any social gain. My perception is it’s all about that business, and if there’s a social gain or not is almost immaterial. I’m sure they probably wouldn’t agree with that, but that’s how it looks from the outside.” [Community representative]

Community members sometimes questioned whether a landowner or investor’s expressed motivations were reflected in their actions. In two cases, this cynicism led to accusations of hypocrisy; that the green activities were “a decoy” to offset a landowner’s carbon footprint to “help [landowner] sleep better at night” [Community representative]. Providing the example of a landowner representative burning toxic rubbish, and contrasting this with the tree planting activities on the estate, one former estate employee said: “you think…you are saving the planet, what? They contradict themselves all the time, like I say, when it suits them, they’ll do it but when it doesn’t you get told off for it” [Community representative].

In contrast, in one case study, people perceived the landowner’s motivations more positively; this may have been due to significant community engagement that had occurred around the green land investment activities on the landholding. One estate employee who initially saw the landowner’s motivations simply as tree planting and carbon sequestration now perceives it as:

“a business that could look at the natural capital in its broadest sense, in other words; wildlife, woodland, water, recreation, community and recognise that each one of those things, depended upon the other […] you suddenly felt there was an investment organisation here, that were here for the long-term and that gave more of a safeguard to what was happening on the estate, to build a better programme of work and could actually demonstrate positive elements to the local community as well” [Estate employee]

Significantly, in some case studies, community members felt uninformed about the motivations and goals of the green land investor-owners. Speculation ranged from a desire to farm, to rewild, to protect wildlife, to receive tax benefits, to an idiosyncratic personal motivation. Participants commented: “I don’t know exactly what their intentions are”, “I can only go by what I’ve heard” and “that’s pure speculation on my part” [Tenant farmers] and “I don’t actually know what they are doing at the moment […] I don’t know what their long-term plans are” [Local business owner]. This theme is discussed further in the following sections.

In summary, investor-owners prioritised financial and environmental motivations for their investment and management activities, differentiating them from more conventional investments. Community members believed financial motivations were paramount and would be prioritised above other motivations in decision-making. Some community members were cynical about expressed investor-owner motivations, and others felt they lacked knowledge about intentions; two-way communication seems to have resolved this several case studies.

4.2 Understanding social and economic impacts of green land investment in rural Scotland

4.2.1 Potential, actual, and perceived benefits and/or negative impacts of green land investment

Both positive and negative impacts were perceived and realised, dependent on the motivations and activities of investor-owners.

Significant benefits included: increased accessibility, transparency, and community engagement with estate activities; investor-owner support for education and training, community initiatives, and housing; and increased tourism activity and employment.

Negative impacts included: loss of employment and effects on services; decrease of housing availability due to conversion and increased market prices; increase in risks such as fire due to land management changes; and a lack of community involvement in decision-making.


The interviewees described their understanding and perceptions of a range of benefits arising from green land investments on the case study landholdings. This section summarises the key themes relating to benefits that were detailed by representatives of communities of place and of interest, land managers, and landowners (and landowner representatives). This section seeks to respond to research question 2: ‘what are the social and economic impacts of “green” land investment?’; and research question 4: ‘what are the potential benefits and / or negative impacts of these types of “green” land investment activities, for rural communities within lands under new private ownership?’

Increasing accessibility, transparency, and community involvement

One theme that emerged from the interviews in at least three case studies was the belief that the case study landholdings had become more accessible and open to locals and visitors that was not the case under previous ownership/management. Interviewees described their experiences of facilitating and attending community open days, which included estate tours and displays of the projects underway on the landholding. In one example, estate employees outlined their intention that the landholding was an accessible, warm, friendly, and safe environment for people, as described:

“I want people to know that, if I’m here in the office from Monday to Friday, if you fancy coming to see us and have a wee look and a wee listen to what we’re doing here, we’re more than happy, […] and it’s in your best interests to do that, especially if you are local, because it’s probably somewhere that you’ve enjoyed and want to continue to enjoy for a very long time. Any new visitors, I want them to feel like when they leave that it’s a place that they will go and tell people about, they will tell their friends, they will want to come back.” [Estate employee]

A related benefit for the local community was the shared perception that the landholding (and landowner) was now ‘more open to people coming and questioning things’, and in turn, becoming more informed about the environmental outcomes of the green land investment projects. Estate management reported observing greater usage of footpaths on the landholding, as well as access by specialist groups such as ecologists and local environmental interest groups. Involving community members in tree-planting and other activities was proposed as another route to increase community involvement.

A key benefit mentioned by community interviewees was ongoing and improved recreational access to the landholding, for example by walkers and mountain-bikers. To some, plans for woodland expansion was viewed positively as this would increase the amenity value and they appreciated the opportunity to view wildlife on the landholding. One land manager explained that they were developing woodland planting plans to benefit both recreational access takers and ensuring natural assets were preserved (e.g. protecting ground-nesting birds). Land managers also described plans to enhance the ‘social element’ of the landholding, through enhancing car parking provision, maintaining bothies, and supporting access by outdoor access groups (e.g. Duke of Edinburgh Award groups). Whilst game shooting is no longer a feature of most of the case study landholdings studied, there was ongoing support for the sport shooting community, for example through hosting a long-range rifle range and gun dog field trials.

Training and education

A key objective of land managers and landowner representatives interviewed for this project was that the green land investment projects also supported training and education opportunities. One interviewee described their development of a strategy for encouraging local employment, training, and apprenticeships. Others explained that they were providing (or planning to provide) financial and practical support to relevant training programmes, for example relating to forestry and peatland restoration, driven by a need for more trained staff and an awareness of the opportunities involved in ‘rewilding, timber-focussed, natural capital projects’. As explained:

“…there’s a labour problem in the UK, in Scotland - and there’s a skills shortage… I think we can probably help. At least give people the toolbox… I think [this] shows people that we are actually responsible investors because we understand that we’re changing something in the countryside which means we need to enable the change and - dare I use the phrase - the just transition. I think that skills training programme is a really good way of addressing that justness. Saying, ‘Look, you’re changing something, but what are you doing to actually enable the rural community to get back into these new projects and actually back onto the land?’ Just with a different land management focus.” [Landowner representative]

On a different case study landholding, employment opportunities targeted at young people had enabled them to stay in the local area, as opposed to moving elsewhere to find a job.

Support for tourism enterprises and increasing tourism

Interviewees reported a positive change to tourism associated with the green land investment landownership and management. Land manager and landowner representative interviewees described new, reinvigorated, and planned tourism enterprises on the landholdings (for example, self-catering accommodation). One landowner was praised for the ‘massive’ investment made into refurbishing a local hotel, which it is anticipated will increase employment. Community interviewees agreed that new tourism enterprises will bring people and income to the wider rural area (e.g. use of local community facilities by visitors), although some concerns were raised as to whether self-catering accommodation on the estate may compete with existing accommodation options owned by local people and businesses. Nonetheless, interviewees believed that new tourism enterprises led to local employment opportunities, both through housing renovation and construction projects, as well as their ongoing maintenance and management. Interviewees recognised however that housing shortages across rural Scotland is a challenge in the expansion of tourism opportunities, as it may restrict staff recruitment. It was also highlighted that tourism may be the main (and perhaps only) source of new employment associated with green land investment landownership and management. In one case study, tourism-related employment had replaced other land-based jobs, which did not bring as many re-skilling or professional training opportunities, or necessarily year-round employment.

Further insights into the impact of green land investment on local businesses are presented in Section 4.2.2.

Supporting local housing need

Interviewees describe examples of housing that has been provided for long-term lease since land ownership transfer and the initiation of green land investment projects. Rented properties have been refurbished (in some places to a high standard), tied housing arrangements have been maintained, and plans for new housing are underway, in conjunction with community organisations. Landowners have also bought housing on the open market as staff housing, the occupants of which will live and work locally, utilising local shops and services. In one example, a new housing development planned by the green land investment-landowner will include houses designed for community use, as described:

“We have one small project where we’ll deliver a grouping of houses…we are looking into a range of partnerships with the local community where they can buy the houses off us at a good rate and then they can have those houses to then rent out to the local community.” [Landowner representative]

In another example, landowner representatives explain that they are in discussion with local community organisations regarding community housing opportunities on the landholding:

“If there’s a way of helping on that front, then that could be great. So, that’s potentially slicing a bit of the land, handing that over, selling that on for community housing. So, those very open space sort of ideas as well.” [Landowner representative]

These examples demonstrate the awareness of the green land investment-owners of the ‘economic requirements’ of local communities, and how these landowners can contribute to these, as well as investing in natural capital outcomes.

Support for community initiatives

Interviewees described many examples of green land investor-owner support for community initiatives, both financial and in-kind support. Direct grants, sponsorship and loans have been provided (often at short notice) to cover unexpected energy costs, the development of community enterprises and arts organisations, local charitable events, costs associated with the preservation of historic buildings, as well as the provision and development of key social services in local communities, and the provision of land for community events. Community representatives in one case-study explained that whether or not people agreed with the landownership model/approach, the green land investor-owner had provided significant financial support for the local community at times of need:

“I’m afraid to say it’s a fact, whether you like it or not, it’s a fact that [they have] has saved the day on more than one occasion, and at the end of it [they are] going to get no thanks for it anyway.” [Community representative]

Concerns were shared by community interviewees and workshop participants that funding support was primarily for ‘public relations’ purposes. However, it was clear that investment in local community initiatives was well received by the communities of place involved in this project. One further example was windfarm benefit payments (i.e. commitments to provide a donation to a community organisation associated with income earned from a windfarm development) made to communities, which had continued despite landownership changes. Landowner representatives, however, noted their concerns that providing financial contributions to local communities as a result of natural capital projects may be unrealistic and policy discourse was raising expectations amongst rural communities.

Influence of financial vehicle on wider community benefits

The landownership model and financial vehicle can influence the type and scale of community benefits arising from green land investment projects. A key theme was that new landownership provided necessary investment into landholdings that had been sold because the former owner either ‘didn’t have the financial resources or didn’t want to spend money’ on the landholding, resulting in its decline. Any investment was therefore considered likely to provide ‘trickle down’ benefit to the local community. As explained by one land manager, community benefit is related to the design of the financial vehicle involved:

“I think our return expectations are modest and lower than a typical commercial vehicle would be. And that’s to give us the latitude and flexibility to consider the wider aspects of managing a large asset like [case study landholding] and to make decisions which aren’t solely financially driven.” [Landowner representative]

Whilst some green land investor-ownership was associated with wealthy individuals, families, or established investment companies, other landholdings were associated with newer companies based on venture capital funding or smaller scale investment (see Box 1). This limited the type and scale of community benefit that could be provided, and it was recognised that there was a need for more external investment to meet potential and fulfil anticipated community benefits (e.g. increased employment) from the green land investment model: ‘we’re not there yet, but that’s definitely an opportunity for us’. As described:

“I think the more we do with it, the more we can realise that opportunity and find external investment to do more with it, then hopefully that only benefits the community. I mean, it was previously a private estate which was a private farm and having local benefits in that respect, but if we get it to where we want it to get to, I think we can probably actually have a greater set of local benefits than its previous iteration.” [Landowner representative]

Other landowner representatives described how they have been able to ‘ramp up the community aspects’ with investment. They also believe that the environmental outcomes from the green land-investment approach will have social benefits through the provision of ecosystem services (for example, improved air quality, flood mitigation, etc.). Community members in one case-study explained that whilst they do not support the scale of landownership by one green land investor-owner, they do recognise the contribution made by this landowner to Scottish Government policy objectives, for example contributing to Scotland’s green economy. Other landowner representatives described their investors as having ‘strong ideals’ regarding community engagement, socio-economic development, and the delivery of green jobs. Community members reiterated that the impact of green land investor-ownership is dependent on individual owners’ (or investors’) interests and ‘moral values’.

Negative impacts

The interviews and workshop discussions highlighted a range of negative social and economic impacts of green land investment and landownership. These are summarised below.

Land management change

Community participants raised potential negative impacts in relation to specific types of land use and management. For example, they described their perceptions and understanding regarding the impact of nature restoration or ‘rewilding’ approaches to land management or greater afforestation, associated with green land investment. Concerns were raised regarding an increased wildfire risk, in particular where grazing by sheep and deer had been dramatically reduced, where landholdings had increased in scale (in other words, where a new land use or land management approach extended across a larger area), and where there were fewer land-based workers monitoring sites on a regular basis. Land managers also recognised that wildfire may be the main concern held by neighbouring landowners with regard to changing land use. Related to this risk is a perceived increase in fly-tipping, again due to the reduced presence of land-based workers.

Increased deer fencing was mentioned as having a direct impact on people, for example, the fencing of common land. Deer displacement and high deer numbers are also impacting on other land-based businesses, including farming (this is also discussed in Section 4.2.2).

Increased forestry plantations are considered as negatively impacting on the enjoyment of hill walking (see Section 4.2.2). Forestry activities are also associated with increased heavy traffic on small rural roads, which was a primary concern to community members in one case study in particular. Community workshop participants believed that there is no social or economic benefit from landownership that is focussed on forestry, and there is little interaction between landowner and community:

“It has no crossover, cross-fertilisation, if you like, with communities that live there, helping them and supporting them” [Community workshop participant].

Others expressed their concerns regarding the cumulative impact of windfarm developments on landscape aesthetics, with resulting negative impacts on tourism.

Community participants living in the vicinity of windfarms installed on land owned by green landowner-investors reported satisfaction that some financial benefits have accrued to the locality as a result of community benefit payments. However, they expressed some frustrations around how funds were being distributed to local projects (e.g. creating additional burdens and the risk of conflict between community groups), as well as cumulative landscape impacts. Some research participants also suggested that the community benefit funds from windfarms constituted a very small proportion of windfarm profits. This may point to a need for a set minimum of community benefit payments to localities to become a legal requirement (currently, the Scottish Energy Strategy recommends that community benefit packages for onshore windfarm developments should have a value equivalent to £5000 per installed megawatt per year). Section 4.2.2 provides further detail regarding perceptions and understanding of the impact of land use change on local employment.

Impacts on local service provision

One key concern expressed was the loss of local employment, and the impact on those people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to landownership and land use change, including the loss of tied housing where there may not be other affordable housing options locally. In one example, at least four former estate employees and their families had left the area following landownership change. A common perception shared by interviewees and workshop participants across multiple case studies was that if people are moved out of land-based employment, this can impact negatively on local population numbers and service provision:

“The more that you push away people like shepherds, people like gamekeepers, people like farmers, because they are the people that would have sent their kids to the local school… but it has a knock-on effect for everything. People like gamekeeper’s wives might have worked in industries like being healthcare support workers, things like that...” [Community representative]

Others described examples where houses on landholdings had remained empty after landownership or land use change, which did not allow for new residents to utilise and help to maintain local services including schools and shops.

Impacts on housing provision

Participants described the demand for accommodation and the importance of providing housing options to retain employees and young people[21]. Decisions regarding the conversion of housing into holiday accommodation by green land investor-owners were believed to impact negatively on the local community, as described:

“There’s nothing for locals, people who want to live here and work here and make their life here. They’re all holiday homes. So, for an estate to come in like that and turn them all into holiday homes to make commercial, I think it would have been more diplomatic for the estate to have put at least some of them into long-term lets.” [Community workshop participant]

Increasing holiday accommodation was also described as providing a ‘temporary population’, but interviewees in one case study perceived a decline in the permanent local population due to changing estate employment, and that there had been a loss of ‘community feeling’.

A further key impact was the influence of green land investor-owner property purchases on the local housing market and availability of rental accommodation. It was found that green land investor-owners could have both a positive (as previously outlined) and a negative impact on housing availability, in different ways. For example, landowner representatives in one case study were aware that locally these purchases had not been well received; as explained:

“So, when properties come on the market, we have bought some of them, and that causes angst within the community because the perception is that we’re well-funded, we’re buying up housing at levels that local people can’t afford. […] it’s not our fault that local people can’t afford them, but it is a fact. And to support our business we need to buy this stock, we need to compete in the market. We try hard not to inflate the market and I don’t believe that we have done. And on the positive side, we’re buying these houses to house people who are going to be living and working and employed in the area, recycling their income into local services and the local communities. So, it’s not a net negative, it’s probably a positive but nevertheless it’s an issue, it’s a serious issue.” [Landowner representative]

The impact of economic power disparities

The relative power and influence of (wealthy) green land investor-owners is expressed as a key concern that may be considered a negative impact on rural communities. Examples were shared where landowners were able to influence the location of key local services, through being willing to provide additional funding support. Similar ‘micro examples’ of landowner influence on local service provision have resulted in business owners not being able to make long term plans and only being given short term leases whilst the landowner decides how they wish to use the workspace. Concerns were also raised regarding the level of influence of green land investor-owners in wider landscape decision-making groups, in contrast to other landowner types who were excluded from discussions. Furthermore, increasing landownership concentration and acquisition of key community assets and services (e.g. local shops and petrol stations) by landowners increases reliance on green land investor-owners by communities of place.

Lack of community involvement in land use decision-making

Lack of community involvement in land use decision-making is considered a negative impact of green land investment landownership, especially in comparison to community landownership where there is a ‘high degree of consultation’ about land use and management, and on an ongoing basis. Green land investor-owners were compared to other ‘absentee’ landowners, and community members in at least one case-study side stated that they had observed landholdings becoming less actively managed after ‘initial activity’. Remote land management is believed to disadvantage local communities, in particular where such land managers are considered “not really interested in the people here and they are only interested in a job for themselves in managing the asset” [Owner-occupier farmer].

Community members also described the persistence of an unequal social hierarchy, despite recent landownership and land use change, for example, “They are still up here, and we are down here, and we’re at their mercy” [Community workshop participant]. Local people are described as seeking to avoid ‘rocking the boat’ or disagreeing with new landowners.

Critically, there is a perceived lack of awareness by green land investor-owners of local culture and valuing of local knowledge. There is a concern that land management approaches to natural capital do not show an “understanding of the area” and are “lacking in cultural understanding historically” [Neighbouring land manager]. As further described:

“You said it’s just money. That feeling comes from there being no interest in what was here before. Just nothing. The people, the place. There’s no interest in the people that are here doing it. And it feels…It’s that same feeling of…that sort of slightly colonial ‘We’ve got the vision. We’re the modern…and the people here don’t know anything.’” [Community workshop participant]

Similarly, community members report a sense of being excluded from the land, both socially and culturally (for example, through the apparent lack of awareness or attention paid to Gaelic cultural heritage by new landowners). Interviewees also believed that local people would want to have greater involvement in land use decision-making if it was clear what the long-term goals are for land management. Others, however, believed that property owners are entitled to buy land and to use it as they wish, without interference.

The options and experiences of landowner-community engagement are described in detail in Section 4.2.3.

Impacts of land management for carbon sequestration

Questions arose regarding the use of land for carbon sequestration and ‘off-setting’. In particular, there was a concern that the natural assets of land local to rural communities was being obtained by external interests; as described:

“Our carbon credits and our peatland restoration benefits, and our woodland management public benefits, if you like, are being captured by big money from away” [Community representative].

Relatedly, there was a concern that in future, local people will need to demonstrate carbon sequestration, and they will not be able to access carbon credits associated with local landholdings, because they have already been sold by green land investor-owners. Finally, community members described their scepticism regarding the actual environmental impact of carbon offsetting, for example:

“I’m a bit sceptical about the whole thing, to be honest. The carbon credit thing, as farmers, I just find it absolutely disgusting that companies can carry on polluting and buy carbon credits to offset it.” [Tenant farmer]

Others described their concerns regarding their lack of ability to verify the success of green land investor-owner land management plans in the long term (e.g. understanding whether new woodland did sequester the carbon that was planned).

4.2.2 Understanding the influence of green land investment activities on different communities of interest in rural areas

Communities of interest, including local businesses, estate employees, gamekeepers, farmers, and recreational land users are significantly impacted by green land investor-owners. The impacts are both positive and negative.

There were examples of new green landowner-investors making considerable investments into landholdings, with resulting benefits for the local economy, such as employment in construction projects benefiting local builders merchants and contractors, as well as benefits to other local suppliers, such as food producers and local tradespeople.

Green land investment activities mean that traditional rural jobs are shifting. Estate employees have been made redundant or reassigned to new roles. There were examples of traditional roles being altered on account of green land investment activities, with gamekeepers becoming ‘rangers’ and ‘wildlife managers’ in some cases.

Agricultural production and numbers of tenants have declined. Many concerns were expressed around the effects of a reduction in farming activity on community sustainability, with decreases in the numbers of land-based jobs, such as gamekeeping and farming, having knock-on impacts on local businesses, due to depopulation.

Local businesses and employment

Across several case studies, it was clear that new green investor-owners had made changes that have actively benefitted particular local businesses and tradespeople. In one case study landholding, it was pointed out that hospitality-orientated businesses had thrived more since the estate had changed hands. Estate managers in at least two case studies noted that the green land investor-owners had put money into the local economy through using local builders merchants and local contractors for building work, as well as other local suppliers such as food producers. In one case study, almost all the research participants noted the considerable investment put into the landholding by the new green landowner-investors, and along with it the amount of employment that has been made available to local tradespeople. Some expressed ‘admiration’ for the landowner’s commitment to working with local workers and businesses; it was suggested that the landowner hadn’t employed large contractors from outside the locality except where necessary. Participants pointed in particular to the refurbishment of the local hotel, which has provided employment for local workmen, joiners, and gardeners, whilst helping to bring in further business and maintain jobs. The renovation of multiple landholding cottages has also created a great deal of extra work for local tradespeople. In another case study, the green landowner-investor noted that jobs had been created in tourism-orientated roles through the expansion of the landholding’s hospitality businesses, as well as in deer management and ecological consultancy.

In one case study, the landowner had offered to support small businesses by providing feedback on proposed business plans and, on some occasions, start-up funding. It was reported that many young people had received this type of business financial support. There were also opportunities for local people to use the landowner’s facilities, such as offices and the visitor centre, for hot-desking purposes, which supported broadband access, co-working, and helped to prevent isolation.

One landowning company was working to create other economic investment opportunities, which they hoped would create more employment throughout the local area, by – for example – supporting enterprises and services that supplied or supported landowner-owned hospitality businesses.

On the other hand, it was reported that the decreases in numbers of land-based jobs, such as gamekeeping and farming, have had knock-on impacts on local businesses, due to depopulation. It was pointed out that certain estate businesses had been taken into private ownership with landownership transfers. In one case, a hotel had been converted into a private residence; with it, multiple local jobs as cleaners, cooks, and waiting staff had disappeared.

There were also reports of struggles over access rights: one participant referred to a dispute with the case study landowner around permitting access to enable people to access the building from which they run their business.

There was a perception among some participants that green land investment was not fulfilling its claims of contributing to the local economy, due to practices, in some cases, of bringing in materials and contractors from outwith the local area. In at least one case study, community members were unclear that any new employment might be created through land use change instigated by a green land investor-owner. In one case study, community interviewees and workshop participants explained that they knew how many jobs had been lost on transfer of ownership, but they did not know how many were likely to be created with afforestation, and they were sceptical that these jobs would be available to local people. In this case study, only one local employment opportunity had been observed by community members since the new landowner’s arrival, although land managers reported positive employment benefits.

Some uncertainty was expressed regarding which land use model or landownership type supported the largest number of rural jobs. Several participants believed that sporting estates or those predominantly focussed on agriculture would employ more people than those with a focus on forestry. Furthermore, participants were unsure as to whether forestry jobs would predominantly be ‘local jobs’; there were concerns that modern forestry does not lead to significant local employment, and in particular that harvesting ‘goes out to tender’, machine harvesting only requires two forestry employees and may be undertaken by individuals/businesses from far afield, who do not stay long in the local community. Participants suggested that there might be some forestry-related employment opportunities, but that these would be limited to inspecting and repairing fences, planting and maintaining trees, replacing failed trees, and clearing bracken and heather. Others mentioned that peatland restoration would also require plant operators/excavators. However, many felt that this was all that would be involved, with minimal employment for the next 20-30 years. After trees are established, some noted, there would be little need for further attention, leading to fewer people supporting local services and businesses. Whilst the land manager on one landholding felt that they had been ‘conservative’ in their estimation of the number of jobs that would be created through afforestation, a local business owner expressed doubts that the economic impact of the landholding’s green land investments would extend beyond the financial benefits of carbon offsetting that would accrue to the landowners.

In another case, participants were concerned that the local landholding had not become a ‘centre for local employment’ despite the ‘grand plans’ shared by the landowning company, which included converting space on the estate for retail and community gardening. Participants raised concerns that people local to the area had left jobs on the estate: “I’m disturbed by the fact that people are coming in from the outside and local people who have worked there have left” [Community workshop participant], which they believed must have been because these individuals did not feel comfortable working there. In another case, local employment generated since the new green land investor-owner had owned the land was perceived to have included fencing and erecting a noticeboard – ‘and that’s it’. In this case, jobs in forestry were in fact created; however, it is important to note the lack of local awareness around this. Servicing jobs required for windfarms were perceived as not ‘directly local employment’, and not available to local young people.

One landowning company representative noted the importance of using local contractors, and that sometimes bringing in people from outside the local area to undertake work that could have been carried out by community members may be seen as ‘insulting’. However, they observed that there may be valid reasons for this decision (for example, time and skills availability), and that there was no intention to ‘step on toes’.

In large part due to the impacts of job losses, including the loss of tied housing, families no longer attending local schools, and partners no longer working locally, many participants considered land use change due to green land-investor ownership a threat to community:

“You’d basically lose the community, there wouldn’t be the same number of people because what else are they going to do? When the trees are all there, up and running, there’s not going to be the same number of staff. Because you are losing shepherds, you are losing gamekeepers” [Neighbouring land manager].

Some participants suggested that these types of impacts were not being adequately discussed.

Estate employees (and wider community)

Our research suggests that those directly employed on the case study landholdings tend to be significantly affected (both positively and negatively) by what happens on the landholdings, in comparison to other local groups.

On the one hand, certain estate employees seemed to have benefitted from changes brought by green land investor-owners to a large degree. One participant reported that their role had expanded with the change of landownership. They felt that they were now meeting the needs not only of a larger organisation, but also of the local community, because the new landowner wanted to ‘involve them within the natural capital of the estate’ [Estate employee]. In this case, jobs had been maintained despite the change of landownership; the new owners had ‘kept people on’, and apparently given them more responsibility. As noted in the section on local businesses, handymen, local joiners, and tradesmen have been employed in large numbers on some of the case study landholdings. Some gamekeeping jobs have disappeared, but other forms of employment have been created instead.

Across all the case studies, community members were preoccupied with the need to create and maintain local employment, regardless of who takes up the jobs. For example, some participants expressed a relative lack of concern about whether jobs were taken up by those who were already locally based, suggesting, for example, that making a job available on a landholding was positive simply because it meant having an economically-active person living and working in the area. Some community interviewees noted that they were not concerned about landowner-led development, because it generated local employment. In one case study, it was pointed out that whether or not you liked the landowner, it was undeniable that they had spent money locally, by employing local contractors, particularly to renovate estate cottages (as previously described). However, questions were raised regarding how long-term any such employment could be, since building work would only be short-term.

One interviewee described the ‘modern-day landowner’ as someone who supported local businesses, allowed access to the estate, and employed local people. In similar terms, one landowner noted that they believed there were no negative local impacts of changes to land ownership and use, that instead as the estate was ‘regenerated’, more local opportunities and jobs would be created. These would help to replace jobs no longer available in less financially viable industries such as upland sheep farming due to subsidy changes: “So, I guess it’s a potential sort of replacement of one land use for another, but also replacement of jobs and opportunities in the future as well” [Landowner representative].

One land manager explained that undertaking work on a green land investment project instigated by a case study landholding led to the expansion of their business locally, enabling them to recruit new staff, including graduates, forest managers and senior managers. They claimed that there would also be employment available in forest maintenance and management, as well as in surveying and maintenance work undertaken on bothies. Other employment has included joiners and civil plant operatives.

In some cases, it was noted that estate employment had been maintained, but that not all the individuals were based locally. Some jobs that were previously undertaken locally on the landholdings are now being undertaken by contracted workers from further afield. For example, in one case study site, it was reported that ghillieing work that used to be undertaken by a local angling club on behalf of the landholding was now not done locally. However, in another case, it was suggested that the landowner had not employed local tradespeople for renovation work because there was a lack of joinery and stonemasonry skills in the area, forcing the landowner to go further afield to contract them.

A number of research participants noted the instability of employment and employment conditions during periods of transition between landowners. One estate employee told us that all the landholding ‘managers’ had lost their jobs during one such transition, leaving the employee to manage a markedly increased workload. Elsewhere, staff on one newly purchased estate were concerned that some jobs would shortly be taken over by staff from the neighbouring estate that had been in the landowner’s possession for a longer period, if the landowner chose to consolidate staff across the two landholdings. One estate employee noted that a fellow staff member who had worked on the estate for many years and had accrued a lot of in-depth knowledge of its operations had been replaced by someone better known to the landowner.

Some also reported being pressured by new green land investor-owners to increase productivity on estate farms in unrealistic ways. One participant expressed concerns that livestock on the landholding on which they worked was kept only to receive subsidy payments, leading to a transactional and disconnected approach to farm management. There was a linked concern that senior estate managers did not necessarily have sufficient direct experience of farming, forestry, and land management: ‘you can make all the wrong decisions’ if you ‘haven’t got your feet dirty on the ground out here’ [Community workshop participant]. One estate manager noted that former estate employees had left farming jobs since the green land investor-owner had purchased the landholding due to health and safety requirements, a lack of suitable tools, and a lack of positive outlook for the farming enterprise on the landholding.

In short, whilst some estate jobs – particularly gamekeeping roles (see below for further discussion of this group) – have disappeared since transfer of ownership, other forms of employment, particularly in construction and hospitality, have expanded. However, there are concerns that some newly-created jobs (particularly in construction) may be short-lived, or are being undertaken by contractors from outwith the locality. Meanwhile, some who have maintained their jobs have experienced changes in their roles, which has brought more responsibility and pressure.


On several of the landholdings studied, there has been a shift away from traditional activities including game shooting and field-sports. Consequently, there appears to have been a reduction in the employment of gamekeepers and stalkers on most of the landholdings studied. Some community interviewees and tenant farmers reported that their numbers had significantly declined over the past decade. Participants described a clear shift in land management away from game-rearing, shooting, and stalking to ecological activities.

In some case studies, this has led to gamekeepers being dismissed and replaced with ecologists, guides, or land-workers of different kinds. One interviewee noted that their local area had lost four gamekeepers and one shepherd after land was sold (it is presumed that they were made redundant by the outgoing landowner). Some gamekeepers were also leaving roles before any dismissal because they anticipated what the land use changes might mean for their livelihoods:

“Actually, a friend of mine, he became the low ground keeper and he’s been there a long time, but I only found out recently that he’s left. Now, whether it’s because he’s gotten wind of all this and thought, ‘right, I’m getting out’…and he’s got young family so I think he may be decided, ‘right, I’m leaving, I’m not waiting to see what happens”. [Neighbouring land manager]

In other case studies, however, gamekeepers’ roles were being maintained, whilst being actively reconfigured, particularly towards deer management and ecological concerns. One gamekeeper’s role, which had previously been tied up with managing a shooting estate, including rearing pheasants and taking clients out for sport shooting, now involved ‘managing the surplus on the estate, so with deer management and control…making sure that breeding birds survive’ [Estate employee]. This participant said it was an industry that was seen in a different light than it was twenty years ago: now, the gamekeeper was ‘essentially more like a wildlife manager now than a gamekeeper’ [Local business owner]. Gamekeepers are now considered to be:

“managing for ecological diversity and climate change outcomes. That’s their job, they are stewards, and their work is focussed on those important outputs rather than trophy stags in the larder at the end of the day. It’s a similar job carried out with different objectives” [Landowner representative].

In one landholding studied, this change had been made explicit through the re-titling of the two gamekeepers as ‘rangers’. In another case, whilst one gamekeeper has been made redundant, others have been employed to work as handymen. Some interviewees also referred to changes where gamekeepers and other employees were having to do work that had never been part of their role before, such as litter-picking. There was no discussion about this change; ‘they just had to turn up and do it’ [Community representative]. Such changes have opened up other avenues for those gamekeepers that are kept on in these changing roles, but there was concern, as well as some acceptance, about the changes still to come. One participant noted that the gamekeeper is ‘probably at the forefront of that change, so he’s feeling the sting of it all, but he recognises that in ten, twenty years’ time, that is the way things will go anyway’ [Estate employee].

Our research suggests that there are limited opportunities for gamekeeping or deer management employment where green land investor-owner concentration is increasing. Moreover, there were concerns regarding the loss of long-term, land-based knowledge as gamekeepers are increasingly ‘pushed out of the door’ and made ‘obsolete’. “They are hiring ecologists and not hiring keepers”, one interviewee noted, continuing:

“there’s a land-skills issue and an experience issue which I think is always good to bear in mind when you have someone who has worked a piece of ground for that many years. Yes, maybe some are set in their ways and not that…helpful for the future, but there are others where it’s a vast wealth of experience and knowledge.” [Neighbouring land manager]

Interviewees noted specifically the loss of knowledge of birds, animals, wildlife, land use, heather burning and how to stop and prevent wildfires: “They’ve got the practical knowledge and it’s being discounted completely” [Community representative and Business manager].

In two cases, it was noted that gamekeepers feared speaking openly about the landowners in case this threatened their jobs.

In at least one case, deer management practices associated with green land investments have impacted sport shooting on neighbouring estates, which has in turn led to the loss of gamekeeping jobs:

“So [Landowner Company]’s policies have pushed a lot of deer, they’ve moved the populations around. So, we’ve had a big cost in terms of needing to be much more aggressive with deer management, as have all of our neighbours. That’s okay, we managed that. But [Nearby Estate] is a sporting estate, they make money off that and they supported a head stalker and three keepers and they had to let a keeper go. So that’s somebody’s livelihood and home, those jobs almost always come with tied housing” [Neighbouring land manager].


Across most of the case studies, participants had observed several key changes to farming activity on landholdings, in particular shifts towards contract farming on land transfer, and away from livestock grazing. Some described radical decreases in the number of livestock on estate farmland, changing the nature of the farming role. There was significant concern regarding grazing land being converted to tree-planting, since the system of hill-livestock farming was considered to employ more people and maintained grazing pressure (e.g. from sheep and deer) that avoided ‘rank’ vegetation (e.g. old age heather, bracken, and gorse).

On one landholding, it was noted that five hill farms had formed part of an estate bought by the landowning company, and that almost all had ceased production. One such farm continues to have stock, but there is no access to hill grazing because of rewilding activities, including converting land back to bog, which is not suitable for livestock. This was reported as a change that has happened over the past ten years and it was noted that the removal of the hill farms had led to the outmigration of the farmer and loss of employment for farm workers. Other landholdings owned by the same green land investment company had also experienced reductions in agricultural activity, because such activity was not part of the company’s long-term plan. Interviewees felt this constituted an “important loss of land, working land, and the employment and skills that go with it” [Neighbouring landowner],

There were concerns around the effects of a reduction in farming activity on community sustainability, through impacts on employment and infrastructure related to secondary services such as vets and livestock marts. Some community members noted that the increasing scale of ownership by green land investor-owners is leading to reduced employment on farms and estates. In one case, a shepherd described how they would have employed others locally to help with tasks such as shearing and lambing, but now found it difficult to recruit such on-farm help. The shepherd also described a loss of friends and social/support network in the local area due to the land use/ownership changes and the knock-on effects on their work. This research participant had lost his share of contract work on the landholding but had instead managed to rent low ground and establish an agricultural tenancy. Another interviewee described the cumulative impact of declining agriculture, in particular that those engaged in contracting work may not have the critical mass to maintain their businesses. Decreases in livestock numbers, as a local tenant farmer commented in one site, meant: “another farm out of supplying livestock to our local auction mart. It actually runs a poorer chance of surviving if they haven’t got the throughput.”

Some participants expressed concerns about the impact of land use changes on deer management. The focus on wildlife on some landholdings, with the accompanying end to sport shooting and the lack of gamekeepers, has led to high deer numbers and deer entry on to farming land in some cases. In one site, culling has pushed deer onto neighbouring farmland, requiring crofters to “pay someone to cull our deer. So, it’s had a knock-on effect, right the way across” [Local crofter].

Across several case studies, tree planting on arable and upland livestock farmland had raised local concerns regarding the impact of land use change on farming livelihoods. One interviewee explained that because of tree planting there are no longer seasonal grazing opportunities locally.

“It used to be a seasonal let but now, no, he’s taken it back and he’s planted it. And you thought, ‘well that’s good arable land.’ I don’t mind them planting land that’s nae arable and canna be used, but to take away arable land, I’m nae in with that at all. Because it’s our livelihoods and we’re producing food for people to eat. All that is going to be taken away.” [Tenant farmer]

Those who have seasonal grazing arrangements have been told that this land will not be available for lease next year, and they will have had to find land elsewhere or otherwise reduce their farming business. This has been received negatively and will have a significant impact on some livestock farmers. Those affected expected the land to be ‘rewilded’ (though this is not confirmed) and pointed out that it would be difficult to return land to agriculture after it had been planted with trees. Interviewees in this area had not observed any land management changes, other than tree planting on previously seasonal grazing land.

One estate manager was very aware of the negativity within the farming community regarding the possibility that good grazing land may be planted with trees. The manager noted that this was not necessarily the case and has revised the woodland creation scheme to ensure that high quality grazing land is not planted. However, the manager also considered these community perceptions somewhat unjustified because the land concerned had not been grazed for several decades.

Landowners also recognised that agricultural opportunities may be removed if landholdings are afforested, in particular preventing young people from starting to farm. However, some also noted that there could be opportunities for integrated forestry and farming, or for agricultural production on remaining land. In one case, the example was given of removing in-hand sheep flocks. It was noted that this did not mean there would be no future farming practices on the landholding, but rather that the estate management was exploring different ways of managing the upland woodlands alongside grazing. They anticipated a role for a farmer in the future, or input from neighbouring estates (e.g. shared grazing), with whom there were ongoing discussions on the issue. The new landowners noted that they wanted to improve biodiversity and avoid sheep monocultures; but they also emphasised that they were addressing farming prospects positively, recognising the political discussion regarding afforestation on farmland.

Generally, there was a strong shared understanding that tenant farming on landholdings had significantly declined. Many reported that tenancies that had come to an end (e.g. due to retirement) had not been re-let, and in at least one case study, participants repeatedly expressed concerns that the green land investor-owner would like to remove tenant farmers and bring all land ‘in-hand’. A number of tenant farmers expressed concerns that the right-to-buy legislation[22], which is triggered only when there’s a change of land ownership, could be and has been bypassed through ‘wrap[ping] land up in a company’, so that if the company is sold, the estate has not changed hands in legal terms. A number of participants stated that since the right-to-buy legislation was so easy to circumvent, it simply wasn’t ‘doing its job’ [Community workshop participant].

One interviewee explained that the removal of the opportunity to buy their tenanted farm had implications for their child, because they would no longer inherit their parents’ farm:

“It’s such a shame because a lot of [their] pals are saying the same thing; they are so interested in farming, but they can’t get a start.” [Tenant farmer]

Several tenant farmers on the same estate similarly pointed out that young people wanting to get into farming would not have a chance now: ‘There’s nae chance of a young lad getting a…200-acre part of land’ [Community workshop participant]. In general, there was a perception that new land management approaches (e.g. that prioritised green land investment activities) were reducing options for young people who wished to access farm tenancies (although it was acknowledged in the workshop carried out in the locality that this decrease in opportunities was also heavily contingent on other factors, including government regulation, or the lack thereof). In at least two case studies, many of the tenant farmers interviewed and those who participated in workshops anticipated that in the future the green land investor-owner would remove all tenant farmers from the landholding. They expressed concerns that the presence of tenant farmers would cause landowners to feel that they had less control over the land. However, one landowner representative said that it was ‘categorically not the case’ that landowners were seeking to reduce land under agricultural tenancies in order to pursue natural capital projects, but that instead they were focussed on in-hand farmland in order to better understand the opportunities and respond to the complexities associated with undertaking such initiatives on tenanted land. As explained:

“I think all the evidence shows there’s been less land coming onto the market to rent. On every attempt that the government has made to reform the landlord tenant sector, it has complicated it, and less land has come out of it, as a consequence…And it’s not that suddenly that slow-down has occurred because landlords are saying, ‘oh gosh, here’s a great opportunity in natural capital, we won’t let land’, I don’t think that’s the case at all.” [Landowner representative]

A number of participants framed these kinds of changes in terms of long-established power dynamics between landowners and local people. Private landowners, they said:

“have the power to decide if the folk that live and work in the area benefit; we were lucky we benefitted, but maybe there’s other folk that would have a different story.” [Community workshop participant]

In at least two case studies, it was noted that a working farm had been removed from agricultural production, and that there had been no means of preventing the change. In another case, farms were being broken up by land speculators, with a lack of consultation with the community. This was seen as a contravention of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. There were multiple access issues associated with these changes.

Farming was repeatedly seen as being pushed aside by green land investment policies: “we’ve still to feed people and they are trying to push us out with greening” [Community workshop participant]. Others said that:

“Companies buying up the land for their own profit, irrespective of food security and the rest of it. This bit, as a farmer, I’d be really scared about” [Community workshop participant].

There was some confusion and uncertainty about what rewilding might mean locally (although it was not clear if this is the new landowners’ intention or not). Interviewees raised questions, for example, regarding the potential for species reintroductions that may have a positive impact on deer management, but would likely impact negatively on sheep production: “It would more or less put an end to sheep-farming in the hills, if there was quite a lot of wolves on the go” [Tenant farmer].

Community workshop participants in one case study explained that they are unsure of the plans of new green landowners; despite owning their land for several years, they have not yet shared land management plans. This has had a negative impact particularly on tenant farmers, who feel unable to make their own plans for the future: “Should we invest, should we not invest – everything, from: are my kids going to be in that school to sit their exams or, are we going to have to move? It turns people’s lives upside down.” [Community workshop participant]

Local walkers/Recreational land users

The potential impact of land management activities on local walkers and others engaged in recreational land uses was noted across different case studies. One interviewee expressed uncertainty regarding whether forestry activities might disrupt access by users such as Duke of Edinburgh Award groups (although they reported that such groups tended to be positively received by the new green land investor-owner concerned). Some pointed to the impacts of green land investments on the aesthetic and experiential dimensions of landscape, noting that hill walkers do not want to walk through plantation forestry; they tend to prefer to see an open view. Another pointed out that a lot of people used local paths, noting that if "they were changed or they were affected…that would cause more of a stushie” [Community representative]. On the other hand, there were also concerns about steps taken to increase access to land. Thus, in one case, new signage for pathways proposed by a new green land investor-owner was not entirely welcomed by community members, on the grounds that it interrupted sense of wildness. There were also concerns about indirect impacts on drainage due to necessary increases in car parking space.

A number of community interviewees acknowledged that the right to responsible access made management more complex for landowners. However, in one case a landowner had restricted access to a track, which has been contentious due to a long tradition of local use. Another interviewee noted that mountain biking on one landholding was discouraged, although others pointed out that improved hill tracks associated with commercial forestry and windfarm developments had enhanced mountain biking opportunities. In more than one case, community interviewees reported that public access rights were challenged by green land investor interests (e.g. by asking people to move from particular areas due to the presence of high-end tourists).

4.2.3 Experiences of, opportunities, and barriers to community-landowner engagement in the context of green land investment

The type and extent of community engagement varied across case studies, with contrasting community perceptions and landowner attitudes. Our findings demonstrate a spectrum of community-landowner engagement which ranges from perceived good practice to perceived poor practice.

Good practice includes frequent engagement with communities by green land investor-owners, demonstrable responses to community input by landowners, and the building or existence of personal relationships with stakeholders in the community. Poor practice was generally defined by a lack of community engagement or consultation.

Insufficient community engagement can reinforce power imbalances between the community and landowner, resulting in community members feeling that they lack agency.

Across case studies, potential improvements to existing engagement were identified by both community members and green land investor-owners and landowner representatives.

The importance of engagement

Ensuring that information regarding land use change, future land management plans, and the potential impacts on communities, is openly shared with communities of place and communities of interest during the process of (and after) land acquisition, is key to creating positive perceptions among community members. Landowner transparency was identified by community members as fostering positive community-landowner relationships. Notably, landowners also expressed the benefit that they gain from community engagement:

“having that visibility and then building up a bit of trust for why we’re doing it and why the investors…I think, just communicating that has been useful for the community but also useful for us. Because we get good feedback when we do that.” [Landowner representative]

One green land investor-owner described how community engagement is an important stage in gaining approval for forestry plantations. They explained that allowing the community to voice their opinions allows better insight into any issues that may arise - such as access to water sources - and they believed that it would then be more likely that Scottish Forestry would approve landowner plans. Engaging with communities early in this process means they are less likely to encounter surprise opposition at a later stage. In one case study, the green land investor-owner was keen that best practice guidelines were produced that encourage community input while avoiding excessive ‘red tape’ for landowners and investors during acquisition and planning processes.

Several community participants stated that they felt it was the communities’ right to have a say on landowners’ plans and land use changes, and should be incorporated into all instances of green land investment. As described:

“people in position of, a very powerful position in Scotland, that they are owning large parts of Scotland, that they should be declaring what their plans are and that people should have a say in what happens to that land… I think there should be a means of, not controlling, but of making decisions sensitively.” [Tenant Farmer]

Positive examples of engagement

In several case studies, landowners and/or estate employees lived within or had existing relationships with community members. This was perceived as facilitating community-landowner communication, providing members of the community with an approachable figure with whom they could raise questions or concerns. Green land investor-owner representatives who are integrated into communities builds trust around new land acquisitions and green land investment activities, and supports communication. As described:

“I mean, we’ve done quite a few…I think I’ve been in the last twelve months to three community council meetings with various updates and it’s an interesting experience when you don’t have to introduce yourself because you know everybody in the room.” [Land manager]

In at least one case study, the estate employees were eager to remain accessible to the community and continue engaging with both community members and visitors with a welcoming and proactive ‘open door policy’. Through this approach to community engagement, they sought to “change the role of the community in relation to participation in a far greater level than provided in the past” [Estate employee].

In this case study, estate employees expressed a wish to improve their use of social media in a way that would increase engagement with the local community. There was an evident desire amongst several of the green land investor-owners and their representatives to improve and strengthen their communication with local communities, as described:

“We try to do the right thing, but I think sometimes there’ll be different views from outside in terms of what we’re doing, how we’re doing things and why we’re doing things. Communication – how we’re communicating back is really important.” [Landowner representative]

In at least three case study locations, green land investor-owners had held community forums where they presented their plans and members of the community were able to share their views. It was considered highly important that community members felt able to speak, were listened to, and taken seriously. These events were particularly well received by communities where the green land investor-owner was able to take visible and clear actions directly based on the feedback they had received. For example, in one case study, a community representative commended the landowner for limiting the amount of Sitka spruce that they were planting based on feedback from community consultation.

Estate employees and green land investor-owners (and representatives) described how schools and local people had been involved with tree planting on the landholding, and that these woodlands will be there in perpetuity (not for commercial harvesting), providing a ‘sense of ownership’ and involvement with the landholding.

Community engagement in one case study aimed to give the community consistent access to the land management team and the opportunity to be actively involved in land management events. Landowner representatives on a different case study reiterated that estate staff have been long-term residents of the local communities on the landholding, and actively participate in community life. Having the opportunity to build individual relationships with the community, alongside larger community consultations on land use change, resulted in positive community perceptions.

Negative Examples of Engagement

Across several case studies, community participants worried that the commercial nature of many green land investor-owners reduced community engagement processes to nothing more than a ‘marketing exercise’ or ‘going through the motions’ [Community Workshop]. It was highlighted that, despite engagement prior to land purchase, the community did not actually have ‘the option to refuse the purchase’ [Community Workshop] of land by the green land investor-owner, and therefore the process was inconsequential. Relationships worsened considerably in cases where there was insufficient response to community input and where engagement was lacking; for example:

“So he did have a bit of community engagement when he first arrived, then it was like, I almost felt like – ‘I don’t need to justify myself to them’, was his attitude.” [Former estate employee]

This research illustrates that insufficient community engagement can reinforce power imbalances between the community and landowner, resulting in community members feeling that they lack agency. In one case, despite the community having the opportunity to express their opinions and ask questions, they had not observed any changes following this consultation, and therefore did not feel listened to. In another case study where there had been apparently no community engagement, tenant farmers (in particular) reported feeling unable to reach out to the new green land investor-owner about issues that they were facing, worried about the first impression this would give of them:

“Ken, you feel with the new landowner, you dinna want to be bombarding him wi hundreds of questions, ken, we haven’t even met the man!” [Tenant farmer]

Across multiple case studies, negative examples were characterised by a perceived disregard for or disconnect from community voices.

Barriers to engagement

Communication issues emerged as one of the most significant barriers to successful community engagement. In one case study, community members explained that the ‘open door’ approach was not sufficient if it had not been clearly communicated to the community.

Where engagement events were viewed as unsuccessful, it was often related to a perceived lack of publicity regarding the event. This was often because the landowner had not engaged with active channels of communication within communities. One green land investor-owner highlighted that “Identifying who the community are is sometimes quite difficult” [Landowner representative]. Other green land investor-owners also perceived that there was “little opportunity to get involved” and a lack of scope for “really working with the community” [Landowner representative].

The timing and accessibility of events was considered central to successfully engaging with a range of people in a community of place; advertising events solely by social media was not always sufficient. It was identified that people with young children struggled to attend events when childcare options were not available, and the farming community highlighted that their work often impacted their ability to attend events. Where little effort was made by the landowner to address these barriers, it was speculated that they did not have a desire to actually engage with local people.

Another significant barrier were instances of community members feeling vulnerable in sharing their views openly. Some tenants felt that their livelihood could be threatened if they spoke negatively about the green land investor-owner’s practices. For example:

“And I think that’s maybe wrong in these other cases that tenants or people that are on that land, don’t have a shout or can’t shout because they’d be threatened with eviction or… it’s not a simple matter.” [Neighbouring land manager]

Suggestions for more positive engagement

While discussing the challenges of engagement, both community members and green land investor-owners (and representatives) shared their suggestions and hopes regarding the ways that engagement processes could be improved.

Community members identified improving publicity around engagement events as one way to ensure high levels of representation. The barrier for landowners often appeared to be a lack of knowledge about or access to local communication platforms. It was suggested that a process of communications planning (in conjunction with community representatives), and stakeholder mapping (e.g. creating a list of community groups within a locality) could help green land investor-owners (and their representatives) to identify ways of publicising and targeting engagement opportunities; as described:

“They communicate online now and sometimes they’re in private groups and so, trying to solve that would be helpful. And then some sort of central repository for lists of environmental groups. So, the [organisation name] on one of our sites in [place name] - we didn’t know they existed.” [Landowner representative]

With regard to poor engagement processes (or a lack of engagement), community members suggested that there should be a ‘higher body’ than the green land investor-owner, that community members can appeal to in the case of bad practice[23]. It was suggested that this body could hold green land investor-owners accountable to their community engagement plans. Where community members express their helplessness in the face of an inaccessible landowner, it was felt that an external body should ensure that best practice guidelines are followed. Interestingly, it was not just the community that felt this, and as expressed below, some green land investor-owners also recognised the value that an external facilitator could have:

“And I think there’s an element of when things get difficult or when there’s tensions, we probably would benefit from some more third party – whether it be arbitration or facilitation - and I think somebody that can help both parties.” [Land manager]

In many case studies, engagement processes were still in their early stages. In areas where community engagement had been frequent and responsive, community members stated that they hoped that green land investor-owners would continue to consult the community consistently throughout land use change processes and the duration of their landownership. There was some scepticism, however, regarding green land investor-owners fulfilling their commitments to the community (discussed further in Section 4.2.4).

4.2.4 Hopes and fears for the future of rural Scotland: rural communities and green land investment landowners

Community members hoped that green land investment would support sustainable, thriving communities, increase biodiversity, and respond to the climate emergency. In a positive future, recreational access to the landholdings would be maintained and enhanced. Community engagement would increase and include working with landowners.

Community members feared that investor-owners would not achieve their goals because of perceived financial uncertainty and lack of management experience by investor-owners and/or their representatives. The uncertainty about future management plans created social anxiety among many community members. They also feared that future employment options would be limited, and that there would be limited social benefits from investor-owners’ focus on green activities where profit is a primary concern.

Participants representing the different rural communities involved in this research described their hopes, fears and visions for the future given the current green land investor-ownership and associated land management activities. Due to the short-term nature of the research project, it was not possible to verify the actual wider and long-term implications of the green land investment activities in the case studies.

Hopes for the future given current landownership and management

Support for sustainable communities

Community members in at least three case studies expressed their hope that the green land investor-owners will fulfil the promises they have made to the community, such as reusing empty buildings for community services (e.g. shops or community hubs) or providing community housing. Community members explained that they do not want to live in a ‘model village in a museum’, but instead they want thriving communities with more children in the schools, housing, and employment for local people. One community member described this in the context of their hope that if their grandchildren wanted to return to the area there would be something to offer them ‘job-wise, house-wise’. Community members hoped that the green land investor-owner’s landholding can become a successful business and that this can be done in conjunction with local people.

In at least two case studies, estate employees’ future visions included a thriving eco-tourism business on the landholding, that contributed to the local economy and provided employment opportunities. Some community members suggested that the green land investor-owner could act to support new businesses, for example providing land for horticulture which could in turn support a local food economy (and reduce carbon emissions associated with food). It is believed that whilst some rural community residents may be concerned about the confluence of ‘big money’ and ‘rewilding’, or are uncertain and anxious about change and its implications, others will see the:

“huge potential to refocus the economy in a way that encourages and promotes localisation of the economy and better integration between the upland land use and the community…And also, the opportunity for a more self-reliant, resilient community.” [Community representative]

Increasing biodiversity and enhanced ecosystem services

Community members described their hopes that the green land investment activity would result in increases in biodiversity in their locality and would respond to the climate emergency. They perceive this as complementary (and potentially encouraging) to local people’s existing pro-environmental behaviours. Community members also recognise the future benefits of reduced deer numbers, including greater opportunity for natural regeneration of woodland, as well as enhanced ecosystem services such as natural flood protection.

Recreational access

Community members stated that they would like to ensure that the green land investor-owners did not reduce recreational access, for example for walkers or mountain bikers, especially where people may be unfamiliar with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Their future vision was that there was no conflict between these groups and land managers, and community members and visitors would be able to continue to enjoy the landholding.

Increased community engagement

As outlined above, there was significant support for enhancing landowner-community engagement processes. Estate employees described their hope to increase opportunities for the local community to use estate resources (e.g. for artistic activities) and involving people actively in land management. Community members and neighbouring landowners described a perception that the Scottish Government does not sufficiently meet the needs of rural communities, which is critical to a successful ‘just transition’. It was suggested that green land investor-owners and communities could ‘work together’ to influence Scottish Government rural and land policies, for example, to manage the unintended consequences of land use change that is considered by some participants to be accelerating rural decline.

Fears given current landownership and management

Green land investment will not achieve its goals

Community members in at least one case study described their sense of hope at the outset of the new green land investor-ownership in their locality, because the landholding was in decline. They were hopeful that new people owning the land with new ideas and green intentions would be exciting and positive.

However, community members described their concerns that the new green land investor-owners were not achieving their goals. Community members feared that the new green land investor did not have the financial resources to fulfil their land management plans, with negative implications. As described:

“I think my biggest fear is they can’t afford to carry out their plans, that would be my biggest fear. Because I don’t want to see the estate deteriorating anymore. I want them to carry out, I’d love to see it flourishing again.” [Community representative/Residential tenant]

This fear is mirrored by others involved in estate management:

“I suspect that, in the custodianship of [green land investor company], it won’t happen, and the very best thing that we could do is to navigate our way around the investment and the investors and see about putting a covenant on the woodland creation and selling the built environment…I believe that under private ownership, under sole ownership, the new owner would be able to achieve more of an environmental impact, more impact in the community, than we are currently…the trajectory that we are currently on doesn’t bode well…” [Land manager]

Others are uncertain as to what would happen if the green land investor ‘runs out of money’ (as has happened under previous private ownership models), and what that would mean for rented housing (and tenants), farming, and the future of the community.

Related to this fear regarding economic uncertainty was a perception that the green land investor-owners did not all have sufficient land management experience, which could have detrimental impacts on the landholding (e.g.out of control’ rewilding [Community workshop participant]). Community members in at least one case study described their increasing mistrust of the new green land investor-owners due to a sense of lack of experience and ignorance. This loss of trust had occurred as community members had observed landowners and managers make mistakes (e.g. with regard to ecology), undertake ‘questionable environmental actions’, and appear to have a lack of interest in engaging with relevant community activities. Community members also feared being unable to verify whether green land activities had been successful (e.g. peatland restoration) due to their own lack of knowledge and resources.

Uncertainty about future land management plans

A common refrain throughout this research has been rural communities’ concerns regarding their lack of awareness and ability to influence land use decision-making that has an impact on their community (as described in Sections 4.2.1 and 4.2.2). A sense of persistent feudalism[24], that the community is being ‘taken over’, and a ‘control ideology’ are associated with some case studies. Critically, a lack of knowledge amongst the community regarding the long-term land management plan was considered a cause of ‘social anxiety’ for local people. As explained:

“This is a period of change for everyone, and the lack of knowledge about what the long-term plan is, is really creating social anxiety amongst the community. It’s pitting people against each other, with regards to who they are working, who they are not working for. It’s just not a very pleasant situation and it is creating tension… this could be an amazing opportunity or it could be absolutely awful, we don’t know. And it’s that unknown that I think is affecting everyone. So yes, I think that’s what it is, there’s a real social anxiety about what the next ten years looks like, what the next twenty years looks like.” [Community workshop participant]

Community members described their future vision as including ‘more integration’ between landowner and community (e.g. the landowner living locally).

Future employment options may be limited

Community members feared that employment on green land investment-owned estates may decline due to landownership and land use change. They acknowledged that there are anticipated to be 'different jobs', but it was also asserted that rural jobs and skills are important to pass to younger generations. Without this knowledge transfer, traditions and a way of life may be lost, and outmigration will continue for those seeking employment.

Community members feared that future employment options in tourism-focussed land-based businesses will be predominantly service jobs and will not require higher education. They are also concerned that after initial building and renovation work instigated by the new green land investor-owners, there will not be as many employment opportunities, and that ‘tradesmen will not be needed in five years’ time’. As described in Section 4.2.2, people were fearful regarding the loss of agricultural land, as this may impact homes and livelihoods, as well as wider concerns regarding food security. As mentioned in the previous section, it was believed that this fear may be overcome through building relationships with the green land investor-owner and land managers, and through understanding of landowner objectives.

Further, community members described their uncertainty regarding how the ‘green economy’ is going to relate to rural communities and a need to understand what constitutes a ‘green job’. As explained:

“I hear these things about ‘green jobs’, but what are they? … nobody comes here and stays here for a seasonal job. We need concrete jobs, that people can get a mortgage for, can build a life around. That’s really what we’re looking for here.” [Community representative]

Limited social benefits from natural capital market focus

A key community fear is that green land investor-owners are largely driven by shareholder value, and in particular anticipated future value to be gained from carbon and potentially also biodiversity credits. It is believed that this will influence green land investor-owner decision-making regarding future income generating opportunities, such as windfarm developments. However, there is no ‘social credit’, according to community members:

“My concern is that the community and the social value is nice, but there’s no social credit, and when it comes to the crunch [laughs], when they have to make decisions, they’re going to have to go with the commercial decision…as a tenant, if we asked for something to help reduce our heating bills, for instance, they’re making the decision, ‘Do we do that for our tenant or do we invest in something that’s going to produce more shareholder value?’ They don’t get any social credit for being nice to their tenants.” [Local business owner]

Large and growing businesses are perceived as ‘losing sight of small things such as communities’, and that there was anticipated to be little cross-over in future visions between green land investor-owners and rural communities, as described:

“They are much more commercial, and that is obviously the overriding aim. I think, if there’s a question between some of their commercial aims and what they’re doing to achieve that and something the community would prefer done a different way, then I suspect that there won’t be a good overlap there.” [Local business owner]

It must be noted however that most of the green land investor-owners studied described their approach to partnership with local communities as building ‘community wealth’, as well as shareholder value:

“we’re working with mechanisms to see how [community wealth building] might best be achieved in everybody’s interest, without killing the golden goose, if you like, and creating more value in these units in the market. Because they contain biodiversity, employment, community wealth building and all the rest of it. So, I think a buyer of such units that felt that they were contributing to all of that, that was feeding back on a broad scale of benefits would probably see these units of being more valuable.” [Landowner representative]

Nonetheless, there remains a community concern regarding access to and benefit from carbon credits derived from local landholdings, and in particular that the opportunity to gain such credits should be available to crofters and farming tenants, and not only landowners (as these interviewees perceived). There were concerns that if tenant farmers or crofters were unable to access carbon credit schemes there may be implications on the emission reduction options required to receive agricultural subsidies.

Implications of large-scale landownership by green land investor-owners

Community participants from at least three case studies described their concerns regarding increasing concentration of and large-scale landownership by green land investor-owners. This was attributed primarily to a lack of regulation within Scotland that restricts who can buy land (e.g. those from outwith the UK) and the amount of land that any one entity can acquire. Several described their unease with regard to individuals and companies owning significant landholdings, considering unequal power relations and fairness (i.e. in terms of access to land). The participants feared that land reform objectives such as reducing private landownership concentration was not proving successful because the Scottish Government also wanted to encourage inward private investment to support nature restoration, and to meet net zero goals. Increasing concentration of ownership by green land investor-owners was seen as increasing the influence of an individual landowning entity on the economic, social, and environmental outcomes of an area – whether for good or bad; for example:

“It just seems totally wrong that one business can monopolise so much land. It might be for the good or if it’s for the bad, well then, they’ve got an awful lot of land.” [Local crofter]

Participants suggested that a ‘monopolies and mergers commission’ for land was considered; this aligns with the proposed public interest test outlined in the consultation paper ‘Land Reform in a Net Zero Nation’.

Some participants also believed that without further land reform measures, the trend for large-scale landownership associated with green land investment will continue, with associated impacts on rural communities as outlined in this report. The challenge of limiting landownership scale and concentration was perceived as relating to a lack of experience of small-scale landowner cooperation in Scotland, as described:

“I don’t know what you can do about that, other than land reform. Put limits on the amount of land that new investment companies in London or wherever can take on board. But we do need to do things at scale and we’re in a trap because we’re too far down the road to climate change. So, without big money coming in, we’re not going to achieve it because there isn’t the capacity there in terms of small communities, individual landowners to do it at that scale. And we don’t have that history, that culture of co-operation that allows small landowners to get together and do things collectively. If we were in Europe, there would be a lot more scope for that collective co-operation to achieve the end result that we need but we’re not, so…The history of…well, feudalism in Scotland has still got a lot to answer for.” [Community representative]

Others however were less certain that redistributive land reform was the right approach: “I don't know what the answer to that is. I mean you can't take everyone’s estate off them. That wouldn't work” [Community representative]. Nonetheless, a frequent refrain by community participants was the impact of significant landed power on estate tenants (e.g. crofters and farmers), local businesses, and residents, as well as the associated power of significant economic wealth. Some community participants requested that measures proposed in the forthcoming Land Reform Bill are retained (e.g. the pre-notification of land sales, which would raise local awareness of landownership changes), and go further. In particular, community participants suggested that land reform legislation seeks to limit the amount of land that can be owned by one entity, in order to reduce the risks associated with increasing scale and concentration of ownership.

Further recommendations for policy makers arising from these hopes and fears are presented in Section 6.



Back to top