But the local communities which took over their land in the last two decades have out-performed the private landlords they replaced, increasing the value of their estates by almost 250%, according to new research.
Data on jobs, businesses, housing, investment, development and population points to community ownership representing a successful model of land ownership, according to Community Land Scotland (CLS).
The representative body of Scotland's community land owners is today publishing an independent study funded by the Carnegie UK Trust and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, examining the progress made by 12 of the 24 CLS members who took over their land.
It comes as the landowners' organisation Scottish Land and Estates is preparing to publish research into its members' economic contribution to rural Scotland. CLS has found direct employment is up 368% to more than 100 jobs, the value to local economies is up 434% to £2.5m annually, £34m new investment has been delivered and £25m more is planned.
Some 21 visitor facilities have been upgraded or built - from camping facilities and bunk houses to clearance memorials on Lewis, exotic gardens on Gigha and an eagle observatory on North Harris. Overall the capital value of the 12 estates has increased 244% from £17.22m to £59.34m.
But in the Highlands and Islands the single most important indicator is whether an area can hold on to its people. Despite the remote location of the 12 estates surveyed, the results are nearly all positive.
Eleven communities had data, showing overall a population increase from 7970 to 8195. Only two out of the 11 areas - Bhaltos and Galson, both on Lewis - have experienced a population decrease.The report said: "The most significant gains have generally been experienced in those communities which have a population of less than 250 eg Gigha (increase of 55 or 57%), Eigg (increase of 31 or 47%), Knoydart (increase of 53 or 85%) and Borve and Annishadder, Skye (increase of 42 or 43%)."
The report challenges the notion community ownership is all about public subsidy: "Private enterprise has flourished on community owned estates with the six CLS Members... showing a 123% increase in private businesses operating in their area up from 83 businesses to 185 businesses."
David Cameron, Chair of Community Land Scotland, said: "The study completely destroys a myth that communities can only survive by the supposed largesse of private landowners with deep pockets and shows the further economic potential for rural communities if more community ownership can be delivered."
He said the total value of the assets in community ownership was growing and "showing the great public value community land ownership can yield."
Sarah Jane Laing, Director of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs for Scottish Land and Estates, said: "Community ownership has been successful in a number of circumstances and should be encouraged where there is a willing seller, funds and resources available and a business plan that will take a landholding forward.
"The report implies that the gains of private ownership only accrue to the private owner. This is not the case Scotland-wide as research has shown clearly that private estates deliver a wide range of benefits to local communities."
Minister for Environment and Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse said the report showed the significant benefits that community ownership has to offer Scotland.