By Sarah-Jane Laing

Community buyouts come in all shapes and sizes – and no two are the same.

Since devolution, there has been significant legislative interest in community buyouts and land reform – and this has often encouraged polarised opinions and headlines which have sought to portray private ownership and community ownership as being at opposite ends of a spectrum, with community ownership as the panacea.

The reality isn’t quite as black and white – well managed, privately-owned land and property makes as valuable a contribution to Scotland as community ownership. Our long-held position – and that of the rural businesses we represent – is that there is room for all forms of land ownership in Scotland – private, public and community. All have a significant role to play in creating thriving communities in rural and urban settings.

We continue to support community buyouts on the basis of willing seller, willing buyer, and in the case of neglected and abandoned land we have supported the introduction of enforced sale. It is important to remember that community ownership isn’t an end in itself – how the land and property is managed post-acquisition will determine what benefits are delivered.

Community land ownership: is it fit for purpose?

Much of the media and political attention has focused on high-profile buyouts such as Eigg or instances where communities have sought to use change of ownership to deal with concerns about how land is being managed. However, these represent just a small proportion of the transfers of land and properties to communities which have been going on for years – from sports facilities and woodland to land for housing and wholesale transfers of islands and estates.

One such case is Annandale Estates, owned by SLE chairman David Johnstone, which transferred Gallow Hill – an area of woodland near Moffat that was already being accessed for recreational use – to a community body in 2016. These are the sorts of buyouts which fly under the radar but often have a fruitful local impact.

Having a greater influence on decisions affecting land and properties is often cited as a reason for communities pursuing a buyout, but we believe the last decade has seen a real step-change in engagement between landowners and local communities leading to increased understanding of aspirations and creating opportunities to work together to deliver a shared vision for their area.

Finding the money to purchase land or property is only one step in the community ownership journey. The challenges faced by those owning and managing land and property in Scotland are often the same regardless of what type or size of owner you are.

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At SLE, a major part of our role is supporting owners of all kinds on issues such as planning, diversification, infrastructure, implications of Brexit, addressing climate change – the list is endless. We also provide advice on opportunities for land managers – and again these are very similar for both private and community owners.

There is more that connects private and community owners than divides them, and it is unfortunate the media and political narrative can often pit one against the other. I believe both can deliver social, environmental and economic benefits, and both should be supported and encouraged.

Sarah-Jane Laing is executive director at Scottish Land & Estates.