European Community Land Trust Roundtable

Scene of Findhorn Bay, Scotland. Photo courtesy of The Findhorn Village Conservation Company (TFVCC).

George Monbiot’s much-heralded 40th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture, Private Sufficiency, Public Luxury: Land is the Key to the Transformation of Society, continues to inspire new thinking about community land ownership.

To explore the topic further, the Schumacher Center is holding a series of virtual Community Land Trust Roundtables. The recording of the first Roundtable, held on February 18th, with panelists Janelle Orsi, Tony Hernandez, Çaca Yvaire, and host Greg Watson may be viewed here or below. The second Roundtable, highlighting UK and European practitioners, will be held Thursday, March 18th, at 11 AM EDT (3 PM GMT) via Zoom.

The three panelists are Tom Chance of the National Community Land Trust Network UK, Calum MacLeod of Community Land Scotland, and Geert De Pauw of the Brussels Community Land Trust. This conversation will be moderated by Natasha Hulst, European Land Commons Program Director at the Schumacher Center and co-founder of the Dutch community land trust Grond van Bestaan.

In Scotland, half of the country’s privately-owned land is held by just 432 owners. Responding to this concentration of ownership, Scotland passed a series of Acts (2003, 2015, & 2016) that give “representative community bodies” the right of first refusal to buy land should it come up for sale. In the case of land abandoned, neglected, or causing harm, Scottish ministers can compel a landowner to sell if they decide that the sale will further sustainable development in the area.

Good place-making can provide communities with an important cultural context; a sense of pride and belonging; and a sense of local and national identity. It can provide environments which function well; link well with surrounding settlements and provide attractive areas in which to socialise, to move around and to do business.
– Scottish Government, TFVCC website

To assist community groups in exercising their options, a Scottish Land Fund of 15 million pounds was established from lottery proceeds.

Community Land Scotland (CLS) was organized to support community groups taking the step to purchase land under the land reform acts. Much like a Community Land Trust, a qualifying organization represents a defined geographic area with membership open to everyone in the region. CLS’s infographic outlines the steps needed to purchase community land.

We want to see more of Scotland’s land in the hands of more of Scotland’s people.
– Community Land Scotland’s website
Involving the local community is a strong component of a successful bid for land under the acts. The Findhorn Village Conservation Company exercised its option to buy the residual Novar Estates land at the center of the village. The area contains a car park and garage site, meaning the village can now control conditions of their use, balancing residents’ needs for much-needed income with those of the many tourists to the area.
Galson Estate Trust, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Galson Estate Trust.

The Galson Estate Trust is a community-owned estate of 56,000 acres of coast, agricultural land and moor in the North West of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Trust land comprises 22 crofting villages with a population of nearly 2,000 people. The Trust completed purchase of the land in 2007 with a combination of funding from the Scottish Land Fund and private sources.

Crofting is a common land tenure system in the Scottish Highlands. Individual crofters typically lease five to twelve acres of land for agricultural and residential purposes. Then “crofting villages” lease larger amounts of poorer land for common grazing. The crofting leases remained in effect with the transfer of land from private to community ownership. Now, in addition, the community decides on the future use of its land including the construction of renewable energy systems, new housing development, support of schools and libraries, and sporting site maintenance.

The lesson is that well-constructed legislation and a small amount of government funding can leverage tremendous citizen engagement to move village lands from private ownership to community ownership and management, resulting in greater environmental protections, appropriate development, and continuity of culture.

More examples from Scotland, England, Belgium, and the Netherlands will be shared at the March 18th Community Land Trust Roundtable. Register here.