The amount of tenanted land in Scotland has fallen by 40,000ha (3%) in 12 months, according to figures in the Scottish government’s June agricultural census.

With only weeks to go before the government’s agricultural holdings legislation review group announces its final recommendations for tenancy reform, the statistics show that just 23% of farmland in Scotland is rented out, compared with 30% a decade ago.

See also: More from the Scotland census

Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead, who welcomed the first tenants to the government’s new starter farm near Inverness this week, pointed out that there had been a slight increase in the number of farms with tenancy agreements. But the continuing stagnation in the sector underlined the need for the review.

“The review group will report its final recommendations in December,” he confirmed.

Angus McCall, past chairman of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA), said the statistics came as no surprise, as the trend had been downwards for the past decade.

“The decline has been subsidy driven,” he said. “Landowners have chosen to take land back in hand so they can receive the single farm payment. And I don’t think that changing to area-based payments under the CAP is going to help.”

Mr McCall added that many prospective tenants were pinning their hopes on a post-referendum devolution settlement that included Crown Estates land in Scotland being devolved to the Scottish government.

“Richard Lochhead appears to be doing all he can to support the sector, but we need significant change. Devolving the Crown Estates could lead to new opportunities for land to be let to young tenants,” he said.

“At the moment, the Crown Estate refers to amalgamate farms when they come up for let and give them to the highest bidder.”

Read more news stories like this