21 June 2002

Mixed response greets land reform proposals

The post-devolution

evolution of Scotlands

agricultural industry

continues as the Scottish

Executive introduces

reforms and marketing

bodies seek to exploit the

industrys strengths.

Shelley Wright reports

ALTHOUGH the Scottish Parliaments decision to ban hunting caused upset for some, the issues engendering most passion in the past year centred on the proposals for land and tenancy reform.

The Land Reform Bill, which will offer the public almost unfettered access to land and also give registered communities and crofting communities the right to buy their land, was greeted as a positive move by some, welcomed with caution by NFU Scotland, and described, in part, by landowners as "a nightmare scenario".

"The main principles of the Bill are to create a right of responsible access to land, to give rural communities the right to buy land when it is put on the market, and to allow crofting communities the right to buy land at any time," said justice minister, Jim Wallace, when the Bill was published.

As it continues its passage through parliament, farmers leaders and landowners continue to press for clarification on liability.

But privately, the acceptance among most is that legislation to increase the publics right to roam will not result in any explosion in the numbers who choose to walk in the countryside.

Of much more concern to all sectors, for differing reasons, is the right to buy land.

In the Land Reform Bill, communities of at least 20 people, such as those on some of the small Scottish islands, will be given the right to buy the land on which they live and work if it is put on the market.

Recognised crofting communities in the Highlands and Islands, however, will be given the right to buy their land, and associated salmon fishings, regardless of whether or not the landlord wants to sell.

But the application to buy can only go ahead if most croft tenants who vote in a ballot agree. "This means the wider community cannot use the right to buy without the support of the croft tenants," said Mr Wallace.

Tenant farmers, too, are set to be given first refusal to buy their land as part of the Draft Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill. As well as reforming tenancy agreements by offering two new types of fixed-term tenancy, the draft Bill will give about 10,000 tenant farmers who have existing secure tenancies to buy their farms if and when the landlord decides to sell. &#42

In addition, provision will be made to allow tenants to diversify and invest in their businesses.

Ploughing its own furrow… Scotlands industry is taking shape in the wake of devolution but not everyone is happy with the Scottish Executives reforms.

&#8226 Gross output £1.947bn

&#8226 Total inputs £1.674bn

&#8226 Total borrowings £1.213bn

&#8226 Total income from farming £273m

&#8226 Total direct grants and subsidies £441m

&#8226 Total number of holdings 49,719

&#8226 Total agricultural land 5.513m ha

&#8226 84% of agricultural land is LFA.

&#8226 16% of agricultural land is arable.

&#8226 Cropping Barley 336,801ha; wheat 79,713ha; oats 21,577ha; oilseed rape 34,860ha; and potatoes 29,657ha.

&#8226 Livestock 196,013 dairy cows, 489,074 beef cows, 8.05m sheep and lambs and 596,458 pigs.

&#8226 Source: Scottish Executive.

&#8226 All figures are for 2001.