This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
Who owns rural Britain? – the Scottish Experience

The previous issue of Country Way focused on affordable rural housing, which touches on the ownership and use of the land in rural Britain.

The recently published Progress Report from the Carnegie Commission for Rural Community Development also highlighted land issues, indicating that traditional patterns of land ownership, especially in England, ‘can present challenges for sustainable rural community development.’ It acknowledges recent

developments in Scotland, ‘where opportunities have been created to enable communities to access land … for public benefit and for the creation of local enterprise.’

Recent information on land use patterns in England are shown in the table. In 2002 there were close to 190,000 farms in England, of which 85% were owner occupied. 54,000 farms (nearly 30%) held less than 5 acres; by contrast, 826 farms (less than 0.5%) farmed over 1,700 acres each. Placing these two sets of information side-by- side creates a powerful impression that supports the reservations of the Carnegie Commission.

For centuries, England has not experienced any substantial changes in traditional patterns of, or legislation concerning, land ownership. There is increasing pressure on the government to introduce changes permitting a broadening of land availability and use in rural England. Recent Scottish legislation is instructive – especially given the history of conflict and injustice surrounding land in Scotland, e.g. the Highland Clearances. The Scottish Land Reform Act became law in 2003, with the following provisions:

• Rural communities now have first refusal on the land where they live or work when it is put up for sale. They must register an interest and have 30 days to

decide whether to exercise their right to buy. To encourage such purchases they may be partially covered by the Scottish Land Fund.

• Crofting communities have extended rights, allowing them to purchase the land on which they live and work at any time, i.e. not just when put up for sale by the present owner.

Nevertheless, much of rural Scotland remains unavailable. The proportion occupied by crofters is small, and little land has been voluntarily made available for sale. Examples of events prompted by the new law include:

1. The amicable and voluntary sale of land by traditional owners (or their property investors) to rural communities, e.g. Eigg and Assynt

2. The failure to find local community purchasers for land offered for sale, e.g. the Cuillins on Skye (largely due to the price tag)

3. The forced purchase of land by resident crofters against the wishes of unwilling landlords, e.g. Pairc on Lewis

There is no immediate land rush, yet a significant change in thinking has been encouraged by a substantial change in legislation,


and it serves as an example for elsewhere in Britain. One such change is in efforts to improve both the stock and availability of affordable rural housing.

For example, a significant fraction of the Cairngorms National Park is crofted yet, like much of rural Scotland, suffers from high house prices. Here, though, both landowner, the National Park and tenants, the crofters, are seeking a solution.

New areas of land may now become crofts, or large current crofts may now be subdivided, which increases the opportunities for new affordable rural housing. What makes this likely to succeed, and is unique to Scotland, is that crofts cannot be bought, sold or mortgaged on the open market. The crofters usually pay a minimal rent to the rural landowner to hold the croft and this must be passed down in the family. Only with the explicit agreement of the local community can a croft be given to newcomers, and even then the original conditions still hold.

There is no doubt that some of these issues will need to be considered in England and Wales in the coming years. 

Simon Martin


Total land Area of England Agricultural Land

Roads, Bogs, Mountains, Waste or Unclassified

All Land in a Built Environment Associated Built Areas (e.g. gardens)



Rough Grazing Set Aside Woodland All other

100 70.3

21.3 6.5

1.5-2.5 % of

Agricultural Total 41.8 39.9 7.1 6.4 2.9 1.9

ACREAGE 32.2m 22.7m

6.9m 2.1m

0.5-0.8m ACREAGE

9.5m 9.0m 1.6m 1.5m 0.6m 0.4m



Data from DEFRA Agricultural Census 2002.

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32