All over Scotland there are still thousands of parcels of the different forms of common land and other historical assets, which local people effectively own and which could be multi-million pound earners for their communities, according to one of Scotland’s leading land-reform campaigners.

However, Andy Wightman warns it is time they were reclaimed. Too many were lost down the centuries, unlawfully assumed by private landowners or transferred by corrupt public officials.

“All of Scotland was once held in common,” he said. “The process of privatisation and the development of the system of land law pushed common land rights to the margins and still, today, the existence of such rights is often dismissed out of hand by legal authorities.

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“Enough evidence, however, has come to light over the past few years to demonstrate that such rights do still exist and that diligent research can help to recover and assert communal rights in land.”

Wightman has produced a 94-page guide to help local people identify their historical assets and establish their legal rights to them. This so they can benefit financially from any development proposed, or make their own plans.

He points to the likes of Waverley Market in Edinburgh, which could have been earning the city’s common good fund more than £1million a year in rent, plus half the £37.5m earned by selling the leasehold, if the council had handled things differently. But all the fund has received since 1982 was 23p.

In another example from Carluke, local people missed out on potential wind-farm revenues because they were unaware of rights they had in 86 acres of common land.

In contrast, there are long-standing success stories such as the Dornoch Firth Mussel Fishery which has been owned as a common resource by the people of Tain since 1612, when the ownership of the mussel scalps and the right to fish them was bequeathed to the Easter Ross community by James the Sixth.

Mr Wightman, author of the seminal work Who Owns Scotland and founder of the website of the same name, says he is convinced that it is an idea whose time has come, not least because of fears the community land-ownership movement that led to the purchase of Assynt, Eigg, Knoydart and Gigha has run our of financial and political steam.

But he stresses this is as much to do with the future as with the past.

“The issue of community land and other rights is especially relevant following the award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Elinor Ostrom, an American academic who has championed the commons and demonstrated that, despite what is often believed, common resources such as land, water and fisheries can be sustainably managed by communal co-operative institutions,” he said.

“Indeed, she has gone beyond that to show that, in many cases, the commons provide a better model for resource management than either private or state ownership. At a time when the world is crying out for alternative

ways forward it is encouraging to see that the commons are being recognised as one of the success stories and not, as so often has been the case, an anachronism that should be replaced by private or state interests.

“The relevance of this in a Scottish context is twofold. First there is a lot of land still held in common across the country that has been forgotten about.

“The danger is that if common rights are not asserted, they will meet the same fate as so much land in Scotland and be appropriated into private hands.

“Community Land Rights is a manual designed to provide communities with the research tools they need to identify, assert and recover their common heritage.

“Second, much more needs to be done to assert common land rights and promote them as an important part of community regeneration in Scotland.”

www.scottishcommons.org