ccsd.gif (1497 bytes)NfP 02
Home Up NfP 01 NfP 02 NfP 03 hard copy      

Social Land Ownership


Who Owns Scotland?
Land Reform
Land Reform Guidance
Commonweal Papers
Networks of Agents
Training of Trainers

Social Land Ownership

Eight Case Studies from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

Volume Two ISBN 0 947919 21 X

Foreword Alison Elliot, Convener, Church and Nation Committee, Church of Scotland: and Chair, Scottish Land Reform Convention
Introduction and overview David Reid
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust: the first eighteen months Camille Dressler
The Laggan Forest Partnership Roy Tylden-Wright
Birse Community Trust Robin Callander
Abriachan Forest Trust Christine Matheson
The Loft and Hill of White Hamars Grazing Project Roy Harris and Mary Jones
Balmacara Square Restoration and Township Reorganisation Project Iain Turnbull
Village Regeneration: Kinlochleven - a highland village reborn Stephen Booth
Restoring a Landscape: stewardship, community and enterprise at Corrary Neil Sutherland
About this publication  


Alison Elliot,
Convener, Church and Nation Commitee, Church of Scotland; and
Chair, Scottish Land Reform Convention

The movement for land reform is haunted by negative stories of frustration and thwarted hopes. But now that we have started down the path of legislative change, it is important that we build a popular portfolio of positive stories of what can be done when the needs of civil society organisations (local communities, national voluntary organisations, and local authorities) and opportunities for good stewardship drive the way in which the land is used.

This volume, like its predecessor, does that. It is a testimony to the imagination, commitment and creativity that have been harnessed by social landowining organisations who have decided to implement their vision for the land that is of particular concern to them. The case studies reported here are varied in their scope and detail, prompted sometimes by an environmental concern, sometimes by a social need or a need to create or retain local jobs.

What comes through as a recurring motif, however, is how inter-linked these themes of community development, livelihood improvement and care for the land are. People come together round concern for the future of their way of life, neighbouring woodland, the state of hill farming or derelict industrial plant and end up creating jobs and opening up other development possibilities. This shows that trying to separate out the way land is used from other details of ownership and social organisation makes little sense.

Although the studies show some of the things that can be done in an imaginative way, they also reveal the frustrations and anomalies which are still around. Some of these are inherent in any diverse group of people trying to work together; some have to do with the difficulties of negotiating our contemporary funding mazes; some arise from trying to operate in a legal world that is still frighteningly complex and still not citizen and community-friendly. In this respect, the case studies provide a valuable bench-mark against which to assess proposals for land reform. Could we be doing more to make it easier for other social landowners to plan for their own sustainable development?

The way forward has to involve wider sharing of experiences and of information. The Scottish Land Reform Convention tries to do that among the various organisations that see the importance of land reform, not just for the future shape of our countryside but also for our urban areas and the wider health of our society. We welcome this volume of case studies as a contribution to understanding better what can be done and what still needs to be done in growing the social land sector in Scotland and creating solidarity with similar initiatives in other parts of the world.

The Scottish Land Reform Convention is an independent civic forum establihsed by the Scottish Civic Assembly and guided in its work by the four core principals of sovereignty, democracy, social justice and stewardship

Introduction and overview

David Reid
Caledonia Centre for Social Development

bulletSocial Landownership
bulletDiversity of the Sector
bulletOrigins of the initiative
bulletContinuing Progress
bulletCreating Economic Benefits
bulletWays and Means
bulletFinding the Resources
bulletAccessing Funding
bulletOwnership and access
bulletCommittment, cohesion and capacity
bulletThe need to rethink how support and assistance is provided
bulletNew Provision: investing in the social landowning sector
bulletGrowth Points
bulletPartners in investment in welfare
bulletPolicy presumptions
bulletRemoving obstacles
bulletNegotiated outcomes
bulletEnsuring succession
bulletDeveloping institutional capacity
bulletFacilitating innovation

This is the second volume of case studies on social landownership published by the Not-for-Profit Landowners Project Group. It documents eight more initiatives by social landowners or aspiring social landowners to develop or manage land in ways which further democratic, social, environmental and economic and objectives. The eight case studies have been written by individuals who have been closely involved in the social ownership or management of land and who are willing to share their experience with others who own or aspire to own land and manage it.

Social Landownership

Social landownership may be defined as ownership or management of land by individuals, groups or organisations whose purpose is to contribute to the common good by promoting social objectives rather than to maximise private or corporate profit or discharge a remit on behalf of the state. Social landowners create new jobs and new opportunities for business start-ups, and are also important creators of non-monetary wealth and sustainers of non-monetary assets. They contribute to our quality of life in ways which both supplement and complement the benefits which stem from the public and private sectors.

Diversity of the Sector

Like its predecessor, this second volume attempts to document some of the diverse ways in which social landowners have sought to manage land with a view to increasing its productivity, improving the welfare of those who live on it and also enhancing the wider common good over the long term. The diversity of the case studies reflects the diversity of the groups which comprise the social landownership sector. The inclusion of the community right-to-buy in the Scottish Executive’s “Proposals for Legislation” has put much emphasis on community of place, but the sector encompasses several kinds of social landowners, with different interests in land and differing degrees of attachment to the land:

bulletcrofting trusts
bulletother community-based or community-led land- or property-owning associations
bulletlandowning consortia, such as the Isle of Eigg Trust and the Knoydart Foundation
bulletconservation, amenity and recreational trusts (CARTs), which include several large conservation organisations which operate on a national basis
bulletprivate partnerships which are not legally constituted.
bulletlocal authorities
bulletclub farms
bullethousing associations
bulletfaith organisations
bulletnational sporting associations
bulletpartnerships made up of two or more types of organisation listed above.

The case studies in this volume describe projects undertaken by a range of groups and organisations: a private initiative (Corrary); a second private initiative working with a conservation organisation (Loft and Hill of White Hamars); community-led groups (Abriachan and Birse); a consortium comprising a community group, a conservation organisation and a local authority (Eigg); a partnership between a conservation organisation and local communities (Balmacara); a partnership between a community-based group and a public sector organisation (Laggan); and a partnership of public sector organisations with community representation (Kinlochleven).

Origins of the Initiatives

The projects which the case studies describe have come about in different ways. As with the case of Assynt which is described in Volume One, two were a response to a turn of events or possible turn of events which posed a specific threat to the interests of local people. Christine Matheson traces the origins of Abriachan Forest Trust to the loss of access and other rights which could have resulted from the sale of nearby Forest Enterprise (FE) plantations. Stephen Booth describes how the Kinlochleven Land Development Trust was formed to address the urgent need to build a new economic infrastructure for Kinlochleven in the face of the imminent closure of the aluminium smelter on which virtually all local livelihoods had depended for almost a century.

In contrast, Camille Dressler describes how the people of Eigg have responded not to threat, but to the opportunity to participate as equal partners in the future development of the island.

The other social landowners whose activities are documented here may not be able to point to such clear-cut stimuli, for their initiatives are responses to more insidious forms of threat. Robin Callander describes how the community of Birse responded to the withdrawal of the support it had received in the past and the possibility of future constraints on its social and economic opportunities which would result from the lack of clear agreements about rights over the largest woods in the parish, important both as local economic assets and as part of the national natural heritage.

The other projects described in the case studies are responses to perceptions of the unsatisfactory nature of prevailing patterns of land use and land management. They document attempts to find alternatives to practices which are either failing to provide adequate returns in the form of environmental, economic and social benefits, or worse still are plainly unsustainable - involving as they do the depletion of natural assets, the decline of social and economic opportunities, and the undermining of once self-reliant communities.

The community of Laggan first took steps to counter the impact of unsustainable forms of land use in the late 1970s. Roy Tylden-Wright’s account reviews the Laggan Forest Partnership - latest and most ambitious in a chain of community initiatives by which the people of Laggan have tried to counter the loss of jobs and arrest the decline in population and so ensure the survival of their community.

Two more case studies document work on forms of land management free of the costs which current practices in sheep farming impose on plant communities and wildlife populations and also on economic opportunities in many parts of the Highlands and Islands. Roy Harris and Mary Jones (at Loft and the Hill of White Hamars in Orkney) and the Corrary Partnership (in Lochalsh in the West Highlands) each purchased land to create an opportunity, matched in community terms only by the buy-outs at Assynt, Borve, Eigg and Knoydart, to develop practices which meet sustainability criteria.

In another case study Iain Turnbull describes how at Balmacara, not very far from Corrary, a very different project group representing the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) acted on perceptions that the management of land and property on the trust’s estate was failing to address the full range of environmental, economic and social needs in this part of Lochalsh.


The case studies not only reflect the diversity of the sector, but also document its achievements. Abriachan Forest Trust, having succeeded in buying Forest Enterprise (FE) plantations, has secured funding for the removal of non-native species, involved local people in practical work in the forest and drawn up plans for the development of both the economic and amenity potential of the wood. It was the first major community buy-out of a state forest in the United Kingdom.

At Kinlochleven a public-private-community partnership has been established to help create new opportunities and diversity in a factory village that was once totally dependent on a multi-national company for its employment and social provision. The Kinlochleven Land Development Trust has accessed funding totalling almost 8 million and completed Phase 1 of its programme to convert industrial buildings to new uses and to make significant environmental improvements to the village.

After three years of protracted negotiations, Birse Community Trust has reached a complex legal agreement which safeguards the ancient land use rights over the Forest of Birse Commonty, an area extending to some 3,500 hectares. This landmark agreement has enabled the trust to secure access and management rights for the common benefit of all the residents of the parish and to obtain funding to manage woodland and renovate water-powered woodmills.

In its first eighteen months The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust has addressed issues of facilitating community participation, completed its first new building which provides accommodation for three different businesses, addressed the issue of security of tenure, developed a management plan which includes a housing repair strategy, and made an application for a Forestry Authority Woodland Grant Scheme.

Since it was formally established in 1998 the Laggan Forest Partnership has allowed the Laggan Forest Trust to create local jobs and play a significant role in the joint management and development of Strathmashie Forest. Together the two partners have secured a large grant from the Millennium Forest Trust for Scotland which will allow the forest to be developed in a way which will integrate economic and environmental objectives. It is one of the first Joint Forest Management Schemes in the United Kingdom.

Over a much longer time scale Roy Harris and Mary Jones have developed grazing regimes at Loft and the Hill of White Hamars which have increased the biodiversity of different types of heaths and grasslands. With their low capital costs and income from agri-environment payments, these regimes represent what could be a more financially viable system than conventional commercial hill sheep farming. It is an outstanding example of conservation-based farming involving a private-voluntary sector partnership.

At Corrary the partnership has begun the work of long-term ecological restoration which it is intended will support both economic activity and an enlarged community in the years to come. It has also succeeded in demonstrating the viability of new land-based enterprises - a tree nursery, organic horticulture, a timber supply business and a renewable energy consultancy.

In close consultation with the people of the area, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has carefully developed plans to provide new housing and workshops units, create new crofts and enable community participation in the management of existing woodland. Together the innovations represent a major investment in the social and economic infrastructure of the Balmacara area.

Continuing Progress

Several of the projects have made significant progress since the case studies were written. At the time of writing (January 2000) Birse Community Trust (BCT) has been operating for nine months as a community enterprise promoting the common good of the inhabitants of Birse parish on Deeside. In that relatively brief period it has taken on the management of 600 hectares of native pinewoods, 12 hectares of community woodlands, a small school woodland, three water-powered woodmills, and the land around the parish war memorial. BCT is also concluding an agreement with Forest Enterprise that will give it a direct say over the management of a 240 hectare plantation in the parish. These are only some of BCT’s main land-based projects in an expanding number, and increasing diversity, of initiatives. The trust has also, for example, re-published an out-of-print history of the parish. For its achievements BCT was declared winner of the ‘Community Business of the Year’ section of the 1999 Scottish Community of the Year Awards.

By December 1999, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust had secured three-year funding for the Project Officer’s job and for the post of part-time administrator from the National Lottery’s “Awards for All” scheme. New sub-committees have been set up, notably one on community development, which organised a well-attended training workshop on assertiveness and communication. This sub-group is to carry out a skills audit and recommend ways of implementing and monitoring progress, which will give one or more of the islanders the opportunity to learn administration and project management skills alongside the Project Officer. The forestry programme started on schedule and the first phase - fencing - was completed in record time in preparation for the second phase - of chipping and path laying - scheduled to start in January 2000. Six people are currently employed, and have successfully completed chainsaw and machinery-operating training. In addition, a new subsidiary company has been created to carry out building work, and will employ four people. By leasing one property on holiday lets, the trust has also allowed a group of islanders to form a partnership to expand tourism on the island. These developments illustrate the trust’s continuing capacity to carry out an enabling role successfully.

There has also been much activity at Abriachan, where Jim Wallace, the Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, launched the White Paper on Land Reform, “Proposals for Legislation”, in August 1999. The car park at Achpopuli has been completed, and the family trees area has been developed and planted. Over 46,000 native trees have been planted in the forest, giving some employment to local students. Work on footpath construction and deer fence removal has been progressing steadily, providing more employment opportunities for local people. 12 members of AFT have been trained in chainsaw use, and 9 members have completed Health and Safety training. Members of AFT have also had training in the use of computer software and made good use of community computer and other office equipment for preparing presentations and other purposes. Over the summer months the senior members of the Active Abriachan group constructed the first rain shelter - a replica of a Bronze-age hut - and won first prize in a national competition - the BP Grizzly and Gruff Environmental Challenge - for their work. AFT has also produced a calendar, with the theme of the natural history of Abriachan, and is due to publish a book; “Abriachan: a history of an upland community” in June 2000. Members interested in the educational potential of the forest have developed their OUTREECH project as part of the Millennium Forest for Scotland Award, encouraging schools and community groups to visit the forest and take part in a programme of interesting woodland activities. They were assisted during the summer of 1999 by the junior members of Active Abriachan, who provided a junior ranger service, and won first prize for their presentation at the BP Grizzly and Gruff Environmental Challenge finals. OUTREECH is currently organising a forest festival which will take place in September 2000. Members have attended various courses on interpretation, and have now finalised the interpretation strategy. The construction of interpretation boards is currently underway.

At Balmacara the NTS has secured the funding it needed. Building work began in January 2000 and will be finished it is hoped within a year. The Statutory Township Reorganisation proposals are with the Scottish Executive and it is hoped that the new crofters will have access to the land by the end of May. Funding has been secured from the Millennium Forest for Scotland Trust for a project to complete a natural regeneration scheme, remove invasive non-native species and improve access. At Corrary the partnership has registered with FE its interest in managing adjacent woodland.

Creating Economic Benefits

The initiatives described in the case studies may vary in many ways (for example in length of existence, legal status, main objectives, size of landholding, assets and income and management practices), but certain themes recur - for example, ensuring accountability and facilitating participation through democratic structures; the practical difficulties of applying for, drawing down and being accountable for grant aid; the need for long-term development support and assistance; obtaining the kind of specialist assistance which meets social landowners’ particular needs; the difficulties of adjusting to new roles and of building capacity to meet new challenges; the need to measure social and environmental benefits in some way which allows them to be included in the accountants’ ‘bottom line’.

The dominant theme, however, is the creation, or restoration, of economic opportunities within an environmentally sustainable framework. The case studies demonstrate that the commitment to bringing about tangible improvements is very real, and that the benefits which have been secured are considerable. Not all social landowners can hope, or indeed would wish, to operate on the scale of the Kinlochleven Land Development Trust, but smaller benefits are important. Even a small number of new jobs and businesses in places like Abriachan, Balmacara, Birse, Corrary, Eigg and Laggan are very significant additions, particularly when seen against long-established downward trends in many communities of similar size and remoteness.

Ways and Means

To deliver benefits - whether democratic, social, environmental or economic - social landowners and aspiring social landowners need to be able to purchase land or negotiate access agreements, develop land use and land management policies, and draw up and implement more detailed plans. However they cannot achieve these primary objectives without first engaging in a range of activities: preparation and social mobilisation; democratic organising; gathering information; carrying out feasibility studies; preparing business plans; building networks; accessing funding; obtaining professional advice on legal and technical matters; accessing specialist expertise; developing or acquiring skills in such areas as financial planning, project development and management, financial management; and developing organisational or community capacity.

Finding the Resources

Only rarely can a group or organisation fund such activities from its own resources, as the case studies confirm. One initiative, Loft and Hill of White Hamars, has relied almost entirely on private resources, with some assistance from a conservation organisation, the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT). Two more groups, one private group (Corrary) and one community group (Birse) have used their own resources in the early stages, applying for assistance on a step-by step basis as their projects have developed. Eigg represents a variation on this model in which the community group has formed a consortium with SWT and The Highland Council, largely because of those organisations’ involvement and support during the difficult years of transition from private to community owenership. Without assets other than the island itself, which it does not wish to use as collateral, the consortium too has had to raise separate funding for each of its planned projects over the last two years.

Three other very different social landowners - a community group, a public sector consortium and a voluntary conservation organisation - have built funding partnerships to access the capital required to achieve major goals. In this way the Abriachan Forest Trust was able to secure title, and so access, to the forest. Similarly the consortium of public sector agencies that comprised the Kinlochleven Steering Group and the NTS at Balmacara each used this means to secure the capital required to carry through an enabling project with a specific outcome - the creation of new accommodation and changes in land use to provide new economic opportunities.

In the eighth case another community group - Laggan - has accepted a form of partnership with a public agency in order to be able to access the resources on which its plans for economic and social revival depend. It too is faced with the need to find step-by-step funding although it has been assisted in preparing applications by its much larger partner.

Accessing Funding

Few social landowners have assets which they can use as collateral for loans. Therefore accessing grant aid assumes enormous importance, even for large social landowners. Making funding applications is rarely a straightforward matter, often fraught with delays and uncertainties. It requires knowledge of potential funders and their individual requirements and also the know-how and contacts to build a partnership or find matching funding. Building a funding partnership can be costly and time-consuming process, even for a large organisation, as the NTS found at Balmacara. For smaller social landowners, already heavily committed and possibly dependent on voluntary help, assembling a funding package or making a case for a project which may have novel or unfamiliar elements may be particularly burdensome, taxing reserves of perseverance and ingenuity.

Ownership and Access

Equally important is ownership of land or some other legal agreement which confers long-term rights of access and management, as at Birse and Laggan. It is perhaps significant that six of the eight projects described in this volume were initiated by groups and organisations which have clear title to land, and that the remaining two have been built on clear agreements about land use and management and access to ancient shared land use rights. For many aspiring social landowners ensuring access to land and other resources is no easy matter, as the experience of Abriachan, Birse, Laggan and Eigg illustrates. Of key importance in the first three of these cases was the good will of the existing landowner; in all four a wide range of support from both within and outwith the community was a significant factor in success. It is important that legislation on land reform should acknowledge the importance of access to land for the furtherance of social objectives and should facilitate negotiation of the purchase, or lease, of parcels of land by aspiring social landowners.

Commitment, Cohesion and Capacity

Accessing funding, acquiring land, and delivering benefits may well depend on group, organisational or community cohesion and capacity. Several of the case studies provide evidence of the importance of these factors, and of the difficulty of strengthening them to match new challenges. On Eigg, for example, the new trust’s early progress was impeded for a while by uncertainties over community involvement and participation. The difficulty of getting these matters right is highlighted by the fact that the islanders perceived as unsatisfactory the arrangements which had ensured that they had opportunities to participate in discussions and decisions about the way forward during the campaign to buy the island. The resulting lack of trust threatened to create tensions in the fledgling relationship between the trust’s directors and the rest of the islanders, and time had to be spent seeking agreement on more satisfactory procedures. The importance of getting things right is widely acknowledged. Long-term success at Balmacara is seen as dependent on the continuing capacity of local representatives to meet fresh challenges. Laggan, which was also set back in the early stages is well aware of the need to strengthen community commitment even after its history of over 20 years of community-led development. Abriachan is taking active steps to develop capacity, but the success of basic work - on building confidence on Eigg and on participation in taking new ideas forward at Laggan - is seen as dependent on external funding. A modest amount of external assistance, made available promptly, can make a substantial difference as Maggie Fyffe points out, but was secured only with difficulty on Eigg.

Successful social landowning groups and organisations which depend on volunteer effort or part-time development workers have a particular need to enlarge their capacity if they are to maintain momentum. Laggan’s difficulty in adopting at short notice the outlook and practices appropriate to a commercial operation highlights the problem. Social landowners which (like Birse, Eigg, Laggan and Abriachan) are developing community enterprises may receive substantial funding and will, if they thrive, have annual turnovers running into not just tens but possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds. For each the challenge is to develop the capacity to match funders’ expectations about its ability to operate as an efficient business and comply with legal requirements for full financial control over the venture.

The Need to Rethink How Support and Assistance is Provided

Such considerations help to clarify the significance of the success social landowners have had in social and economic regeneration. The importance of the social and economic gains social landowners have achieved and the growth of community enterprises within the social landowning sector suggest the need for a comprehensive review of the support and assistance available from public sector agencies. The increased support for social landowners referred to in the overview in Volume One - from such organisations as the Crofting Trusts Advisory Service (CTAS) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Community Land Unit - is welcome, but does not extend to the whole sector.

The current system of provision of assistance can operate fairly well when a social landowner or aspiring landowner has a fairly specific objective, e.g. to acquire and manage a community woodland, or to build a skills training workshop or a new sports or community hall or to acquire ground for, say, a football pitch or organic horticulture. However it is not particularly well suited to the support of long-term social and economic development which social landowners are now attempting to facilitate - at Birse, Laggan, Eigg and Abriachan. It has difficulty assisting multi-objective projects as NTS’s experience illustrates. Favouring short or limited-term, one-off projects, the existing system of provision tends to encourage stop-go development rather than long-term planning implemented through a cyclical process of assistance, monitoring, auditing and review followed by further assistance. Severe constraints on funds mean that agencies are seen to hold the whiphand and bidding takes on a competitive aspect, which encourages the talking up of proposals and accompanying business plans.

Existing arrangements may be the legacy of now outdated attitudes towards conservation and environmental projects. Until relatively recently, community woodland, ecological restoration projects, organic horticulture, conservation-based farming, or improved social amenities were seen by many to have marginal impact or to be too expensive to be adopted on a large scale, and therefore not to be regarded as part of mainstream community and economic development. In such a context, funding assistance could seem not unlike a rather token acknowledgement of group or community effort or aspiration, an impression strengthened by the difficulty several social landowners have found in securing funding for project development workers, and the frequency with which “empowerment” - used rather misleadingly in the sense of an increase in group or community confidence - is identified as an outcome in community development projects, sometimes in the absence of any very tangible outcomes. Laggan’s experience suggests that a good application may be as important in accessing financial assistance as the capacity to deliver proposed benefits if awarded grant aid, or the urgency of the needs the project is designed to address.

New Provision: Investing in the Social Landowning Sector

Growth Points

Social landowners delivering the kind of benefits identified in the case studies make a valuable contribution to society on two counts: conducting practical experiments on the feasibility of new initiatives as well as delivering benefits. Therefore any new system of provision needs to be based on a clear recognition that social landowning initiatives of the kind described in the case studies are growth-points for democratic, social and economic development and are capable of making significant sustainable contributions to the common good. Moreover, the actual provision of assistance needs to be guided by an informed awareness of the development challenges social landowners face.

Partners in Investment in Welfare

There is a need for public funding agencies to welcome social landowners as contributors, or potential contributors, to the mainstream national development effort. Their project proposals should be assessed as potential opportunities for sustained and sustainable investment in social and economic welfare. In responding, public funding agencies need to see social landowners and aspiring social landowners as equal partners in an important collaboration, in which they share control and ultimate responsibility for beneficial outcomes. To such a partnership social landowners can bring social and/or environmental concern, awareness of need, vision, long-term commitment, local or specialist knowledge (including knowledge of both associational life and power relationships, and of development options, opportunities and obstacles), and proposals for programmes and projects. In addition, social landowners are able to create and sustain the necessary stock of social capital - trust, co-operation, unity, solidarity, and the spirit of participation that all communities require to survive and prosper, important factors in the strengthening and promotion of local associational life and relationships. (The enhancement of social capital is now widely recognised as being an important contributory factor to local economic and social well-being.) To match these contributions public sector agencies can supply assistance in the form of easily accessible information, specialist help, capital funding, and revenue funding to ensure access to expertise, training, monitoring and other support.

Policy Presumptions

Proposed projects may seem ambitious, indeed aspirational, but should be entitled to a feasibility study which applies social and environmental as well as purely financial criteria. There is a need for a presumption that initiatives will be funded if feasibility studies and business plans identify sufficient social, economic and environmental benefits, and that priority will be given to social landowners which plan, like Laggan and Corrary, to develop local businesses which add value to local resources. There should also be a third presumption: that the practical provision of that social landowners should have access to the full range of support available to businesses in the private sector.

Removing Obstacles

There is a need for one further presumption: that practical procedures for applying for, making use of, and accounting for grant assistance will be made as user-friendly as possible. Improved arrangements will bring to an end a range of commonly experienced problems: for example, problems such as NTS experienced with its integrated project; the problems Abriachan had in meeting the varying requirements of different funders and bearing the burden of ‘deficit’ funding; and the problems Eigg encountered in trying to secure the revenue funding required to maintain the momentum of their development planning. There is also a need for the ready provision of funding for other purposes: for example, to provide arrangements for bridging finance as effective as those FE put in place on Laggan Forest Trust’s behalf; or to allow the full economic assessment that the work of Roy Harris and Mary Jones at Loft and the Hill of White Hamars deserves.

Negotiated Outcomes

To avoid any suggestion of tokenism there needs to be a clear expectation on both parties that social landowners and agencies will jointly negotiate

bulletobjectives and quantified targets
bulletappropriate ways of monitoring progress, reviewing achievements at agreed intervals, and assessing both improvements in governance and a range of benefits - social, environmental, and economic
bulletif necessary, a ‘rate of return’ on the joint investment, which would be calculated not simply in financial terms, but would take account of social benefits, e.g. housing, and jobs, as well as income from, say, timber yield. (The fact that the Forestry Commission is funding a project to assess how social benefits at Laggan can be given a cash value indicates that at least one public agency has already begun to catch up with other players in the social economy who routinely acknowledge the need for social accounting.)


To ensure that social landowners are enabled to meet agreed targets, there is a need to for public funding agencies to address up-front the issue of capacity. Agencies need to be enabled to ensure that social landowners who receive financial assistance have the capacity to allow them to assume proper financial and legal responsibility and so safeguard the delivery of agreed benefits. The experience of Eigg and Laggan demonstrates that there is a need for agencies to invest in capacity building and organisational development by funding posts and training which will allow individuals within groups and organisations to assume key administrative and managerial roles.

For community initiatives of the kind Birse, Eigg and Laggan are developing there needs to be a joint agreement that a range of jobs will be created - not just the jobs which may be regarded as part of the benefits of a project (for example, jobs as cutters, fencers or footpath constructors), but also the jobs which represent the required capacity (for example, forest planners, project development officers, administrators, accountants, financial controllers, social auditors). One full-time post might allow several social landowners’ needs to be met: for instance, a social auditor or financial monitor could work with several different land-owners to make up a full work-load. By building such capacity two problems will be solved: monitoring ‘rate of return’, and building social landowners’ capacity to deliver specified outcomes in accordance with funders’ expectation of competence, probity and responsibility.

Ensuring Succession

There is also a need for agencies to make assistance available to social landowners to allow them to address the issue of ensuring organisational succession - of encouraging and training new leaders, by for example attracting and involving young people, as Abriachan has successfully managed to do.

Developing Institutional Capacity

The experience of the Laggan Forest Trust highlights an issue which affect many social landowners - the need for agencies not just to enable the development of community capacity, but also to develop their own institutional capacity in appropriate ways, for example by developing clear policies and institutional guidelines for supporting community and local economic development and methods for implementing these effectively. Building institutional capacity would involve becoming fully ‘literate’ in the sector, so that, for example, public agencies would feel comfortable assessing the needs of co-ordinated, multi-objective projects which integrate governance targets and social, environmental, economic objectives; would be able to provide tailored, integrated assistance; and would be familiar with appropriate tools and techniques such as forms of social accounting, community indicators and participative methodologies. There is also a need for public agencies to promote understanding of the social landowning sector in other organisations such as quangos so that conflicts of interest of the kind that Corrary experienced are handled more positively.

Facilitating Innovation

There is also a need for public agencies to provide encouragement and effective practical support for innovative work, such as the Loft and the Hill of White Hamars Grazing Project. It would also mean that public agencies would be alert to the significance of such projects which may operate on a relatively small scale, but which have very important implications for the agriculture sector as a whole, and would facilitate public debate by promoting them and making information widely available.


The removal of funding constraints is critical. If this is felt to be too costly a drain on the public purse, it should be remembered that only fully vetted proposals would go forward; that projects would be monitored; that both project partners would be publicly accountable as a result of the social auditing process; and that projects would be supported, possibly by seconded officials as Roy Tylden-Wright suggests.

It may be thought that the provision of such a level of assistance and support will destroy the commitment and drive of social landowners, either by making life too comfortable for them, or conversely by making it even more onerous with the addition of comprehensive monitoring and review commitments and the obligation to meet agreed targets. But the increased provision will only be adequate if it includes an element to provide the capacity to cope with extra workloads. Moreover, far from sapping the will of the social landowning sector, such provision is necessary to enable and empower it. Without it, there must be some doubt whether social landowners can succeed in developing the co-operative mentality to which Roy Tylden-Wright refers and without which some social landowners may not be able to develop sustainable self-reliance. As Roy Tylden-Wright also suggests, social landowners who take the route chosen by the Laggan Forest Trust but who are unable to develop new capacity may find that the kind of opportunity joint management represents will be denied them, and they will have no option but to depend on a larger partner and be content with a consultative role.

The system of enlarged provision suggested above would benefit smaller social landowners as well as the larger ones which are already running what are in effect commercial enterprises. It would ease much of the problem of isolation, which compounds the burden of finding capital and revenue funding and accessing other forms of assistance. It would also encourage them to move on to bigger projects, perhaps forming partnerships to do so, which are more able to address the really thorny issues of self-reliance that lie at the heart of progress towards sustainable development.

Any such enlarged provision would be a very effective form of public subsidy, for it would have the merit of progressing two goals at once: not only doing much to develop the capacities of existing social landowners (and so facilitating the delivery of benefits) but also benefiting the sector as a whole. It seems consistent with many of these suggestions for enlarged provision to be co-ordinated and/or channelled through a decentralised Social Land Development Bank with a ‘sustainability’ ethos and institutional culture, a broad trans-sectoral outlook, self-up-dating institutional capacity, and expertise in such areas as social accounting. The establishment of such an institution would provide welcome evidence of the serious commitment to long-term funding which Camille Dressler suggests is necessary.

In short, there is a need to regard social landowners as important agents for very focused and cost-effective social and economic development who operate community enterprises that are expected to manage local assets in a sustainable way in return for assistance with project development, capacity building and monitoring. There should be a clear expectation that with the help of user-friendly assistance they will grow their assets or grow a sustainable yield so that they can show an agreed rate of return. Arrangements may include the option of an element of loan funding (as opposed to grant aid) as a means of balancing the equation of assistance and public benefit.


The case studies show that social landownership can work on a variety of scales to deliver benefits with an efficiency not always achieved by large-scale public investment and without some of the costs of purely profit-driven enterprise in the private sector.

The great majority of the sixteen initiatives described here and in Volume 1 represent the cutting edge in land use and management within the social landownership sector. They include, in this volume, an unparalleled community effort to reach legal agreement on ancient shared land use rights and access to important economic resources, at Birse; the United Kingdom’s first joint forest management partnership with FE, at Laggan; the first community purchase of FE plantations, at Abriachan; the first instance, on Eigg, of community and economic development within a sustainability framework by a consortium comprising local people, the local authority and a voluntary conservation organisation; the first large-scale investment in social and economic infrastructure by a large voluntary conservation organisation on behalf of a local community, at Balmacara; a pioneering practical exploration at Corrary of how ecological restoration and new enterprise can be integrated; as well as the exceptional achievements in conservation-based farming at Loft and the Hill of White Hamars; and the stakeholder partnership to save the village of Kinlochleven from terminal decline.

These initiatives have shown us the future - and offered much convincing evidence that it will work, given a chance. There lies the rub, for the case studies also demonstrate that such initiatives - and potentially many more like them - could deliver greater benefits given a more supportive policy framework which effectively acknowledges the full value of social landowners’ commitment to the common good. It would be a pity - and an important missed opportunity - if society and the new parliament does not acknowledge the innovative contributions of social landowners by providing them with the precision tools they need and instead continues to expect them to make do with a limited set of rather blunt instruments designed for the last century.

By demonstrating the need for a new strategic provision based on the principles of sustainability - taking responsibility for others, respecting nature, providing for the future, making wise use of local assets, and practising self-reliance, the projects described in this volume represent in their diversity a case which is more than just the sum of the individual initiatives, impressive though each may be. It is to be hoped that by documenting the way forward these case studies will help to bring about the more generous provision of public support and assistance the social landowning sector deserves.

About this Publication

Compiled and Edited by Graham Boyd and David Reid of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development

Published by Community Learning Scotland for the Not-for-profit Landowners Project Group, Inverness April 2000

Printed copies of this publication are available for 9.95 from

Community Learning Scotland,
Rosebery House,
9 Haymarket Terrace,
Edinburgh EH12 5EZ.
Tel: 0131 313 2488.
Fax: 0131 313 6800.