Land Reform – Paved with Good Intentions

Rory Kennedy, Chiene + Tait’s Rural Estates Partner, comments on the Scottish Government’s consultation on Land Reform

The Scottish Government’s consultation on land reform is now complete and its responses published. This year’s Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) Spring Conference saw the Scottish Government minister responsible, waxing lyrical about the positive impact on estate owners, though I doubt many were convinced. Similarly, SLE is keen to cooperate with the wider process; realising that working together with others will have a stronger impact.

Joint Approach

Elsewhere, the rural and sporting lobby are not noted for their ‘united front’ approach and when a joint letter was submitted to government representing the shared concerns of BASC, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Association of Country Sports (SACS), Association of Deer Management Groups and Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), then its significance should not go un-noticed.

The primary objection to Land Reform from this group was the proposed imposition of sporting rates. The group argued that forcing marginal shooting operations out of existence would have economic, social and environmental impacts. The group also argue that the set-up and administration of this tax regime would negate much of the net tax take. SGA also undertook a PR offensive with articles in the press suggesting the measure would immediately cause 100 rural workers to lose their jobs, with more to follow. The impact on communities is more significant than the numbers themselves as the jobs are skilled in often highly rural locations.

In their own consultation submission, SACS’ key message was that if the Scottish Government believed in shared amenity for all, then this should extend to shooting as amenity. As sporting rates are most likely to impact the viability for the marginal shoots that often provide sport for local people, this issue needs to be separated out from any wider land reform agenda.

Succession Laws

The National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) has provided input into the Land Reform process since its early stages. One of the key issues for them is the proposed change to the succession laws, aligning the treatment of heritable and moveable property. They argue that this would disproportionately impact family farms. Whereas a larger estate could be split into smaller, viable economic units, this is not a luxury afforded to most of Scotland’s owner operated farms. The succession law proposals could result in farmers struggling to raise debt to buy-out siblings. While farms may be asset-rich, a large proportion is economically marginal and it is questionable how many could support this added level of debt. NFUS also points out the risk of chasing fragmented farm ownership for its own right, with the danger of limited economies of scale and ownership not necessarily aligned to farming knowledge.

The last word should go to The RSPB, whose consultation response should be read in conjunction with their recent statements about their support for shooting. They use the consultation to argue for a licensing of shooting estates and statutory deer management plans. They also support the introduction of sporting rates but with reliefs provided to estates with high management standards. Lastly, they also suggest any such sporting rates should be subject to an 80-100% relief for charities!

If you would like to read more please download a copy of our Rural Newsletter.