Consideration of the public interest is "conspicuous in its absence' in new Scottish land ownership laws, campaigners have said.

Introduced to parliament in March the new Land Reform (Scotland) Bill prohibits sales in certain cases of landholdings of more than 1,000 hectares until ministers can consider the impact on the local community.

It also places legal responsibilities on the owners of the very largest areas of land to show how they intend to use it and how that use contributes to key public policy priorities, such as addressing climate change and protecting and restoring nature.

However, campaigners say the bill does not go far enough to tackle Scotland's "particularly extreme concentration of land in relatively few hands."

A total of 433 landowners  - often absentee - own half of Scotland’s privately owned land, while less than 3% of Scotland is owned by communities.

Anders Povlsen, who is listed as Scotland's richest man, is also the largest private landowner, with more than 220,000 acres across 13 estates. 

Hundreds of community groups, crofts, farmers, economist and environmentalists have united in a call for the bill to be strengthened.

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands,  Mairi Gougeon, 35 organisations and land reform experts warn that the current bill will not address fundamental weaknesses in Scotland’s outdated and damaging land ownership system.

It calls for public interest considerations to be prioritised when land if being transferred and meaningful penalties for failure to comply with land management plans.

The groups would also like the prior notification of sale process to be tightened to ensure communities are fully informed.

In their letter, the campaigners say, ‘Critically, the Bill conflates land ownership and management without meaningfully addressing either.

They write: "The measures within the Bill will not significantly impact the scale and concentration of ownership and only partially incentivise better land management.

"Consideration of the public interest in the ownership of land – a key issue in the consultation – is conspicuous in its absence.’


The 35 signatories to the letter include: Community Land Scotland, writer Lesley Riddoch, the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association and the John Muir Trust.

The letter to Mairi Gougeon continues: "This Bill is not just about the governance of large landholdings, it is about our lives and livelihoods, communities, and futures, and marks how we choose to live in the world for generations to come.

"The successful delivery of policy commitments to the wellbeing economy, community wealth building and an equitable and just response to the climate crisis all hinge on the implementation of meaningful land reform.

"‘We would welcome an opportunity to further discuss our proposals for how the Bill can be significantly strengthened to deliver an effective programme of land reform and to achieve the Scottish Government’s wider policy objectives."

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: "I welcome this letter and will continue to consider further views and evidence as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.”

“I believe that we have introduced an ambitious Bill to allow the benefits and opportunities of Scotland’s land to be more widely shared.

"It will empower communities with more opportunities to own land and require those who own large amounts of land to show how they use their land, how that use contributes to key public policy priorities and to engage with local communities about how they use the land."