NFU Scotland has “significant concern” about Land Reform Bill

Scottish Government’s Land Reform Bill could have significant implications for Scottish agriculture according to NFU Scotland.

The recently introduced Land Reform Bill aims to modify land ownership in Scotland by regulating some land sales and requiring landowners with more than 3,000 hectares to produce land management plans. It also provides new community empowerment provisions and modernises agricultural tenancies.

A new Land and Communities Commissioner will be created within the Scottish Land Commission. The new Commissioner will advise Scottish Government on land sales where ownership is more than 1,000 hectares. The government will then be able to make a direction breaking up the landholding into smaller parcels. Whilst NFU Scotland acknowledged the Scottish Government’s desire to share the benefits of land ownership, it has expressed concern on how this legislation will be delivered.

Gemma Cooper, Head of Policy at NFU Scotland, has “significant concern” for the impact of the Land Reform Bill on Scotland’s profitability and prosperity. She said, “We believe that the focus on land should be around how it is used rather than physical ownership. The messaging from Scottish Government has been that responsible landowners have nothing to fear from land reform, but these proposals seem counter intuitive.

“We believe that proposals around land market regulation have the potential to severely compromise farming. Economies of scale have meant that farms have had to get bigger to survive.

“The proposals in this bill suggest that big is bad. It does not consider the reasons why many family farms must operate at scale to survive or recognise the benefits that scale can deliver in the current climate and nature emergency. We must ensure that farmers and crofters have confidence to deliver on food, climate and biodiversity as well as delivering for rural communities.

“We are also concerned that the Bill gives the Scottish Land Commission more powers by providing another new commissioner who will advise ministers on land market regulation. This sends entirely the wrong message to landowners because it moves the Commission from an advisory to a regulatory role.”

  • The Land Reform Bill was published on 14 March 2024 and is the third land reform legislation for Scotland in 20 years. The bill has provisions that relate to new requirements for large scale landowners, community empowerment and regulation of the land market. It also has aspects that update agricultural tenancies left from the 2016 Act.
  • Land holdings over 1,000ha cannot be sold unless ministers can consider the impact on the local community. Ministers will be able to divide these up via lotting. This threshold will apply cumulatively where there are multiple smaller holdings under the same interest. Holdings of over 1,000ha will have a new advance notice provision to give communities more opportunity for ownership.
  • Land holdings over 3,000ha will need to publish land management plans showing how they use their land and how this contributes to policy priorities such as climate change and nature restoration.
  • There is a duty on ministers to make public a model Land Management Tenancy which will allow for a broader range of land uses. There are additional measures to reform agricultural tenancies, including for rent review and end of tenancy compensation.
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