New report reveals leading role played by community landowners in tackling the Climate Emergency

Community landowners are punching above their weight in the fight to save the planet from climate change, according to a new study. It finds their contribution far outweighs the mere 2.25% of Scottish land they control.

Many years before the climate emergency was announced, the communities who had bought their local land were introducing environmental measures accepted as important tools in tackling climate change.

Community landowners and the climate emergency report

Community landowners and the climate emergency film

Urras Oighreachd Chàrlabhaigh (Carloway Estate Trust) case study

Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust case study

Abriachan Forest Trust case study

CLEAR Buckhaven and Methil case study

Huntly and District Development Trust case study

Lister Housing Co-op case study

From the 800 hectares of broadleaf trees planted in Assynt to Eigg’s green energy grid and Knoydart’s hydro scheme, these communities showed Scotland that they were making their land work for them, by making it work against global warming. Environmental concern has been in their DNA.

A new research report published today shows how community landowners the length and breadth of Scotland, in urban as well as rural areas, remain in the vanguard of the effort to tackle the climate emergency. They are seen as reliable communicators in delivering the climate change message on the ground, whether it be how best to source efficient insulation and double glazing to pursuing a major solar energy project.

The report comes from the Institute for Heritage & Sustainable Human Development (Inherit), which was commissioned by Community Land Scotland, in partnership with Community Energy Scotland, the Community Woodlands Association and the Woodland Crofts Partnership to conduct the research.

The report, ‘Community Landowners and the Climate Emergency’, concludes that these bodies enjoy a level of local credibility, not shared by other developers of green projects:

“Community organisations have a particular ability to encourage behaviour change and to bring people along with the actions that are needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This ability is rooted in the particular ability of community organisations to enjoy trust, to build credibility and to communicate with people in their area. Given the importance of societal change and the particular qualities of community owners as a type of organisation, the role of this sector in delivering on Scotland’s climate mitigation and adaptation goals is far greater than might be assumed simply on the basis of the current extent of community-owned land, buildings and other built assets (around 2.5% of the Scottish land mass).”

It reveals that rural and urban community owners are leading the way on a diverse range of climate action initiatives within their localities.  Initiatives include managing ‘carbon sinks’ such as woodlands, peatlands and green spaces, renewable energy generation to address local electricity needs; improving household energy efficiency to reduce fuel poverty, promoting active travel and low emissions transport, and promoting local food growing and access to healthy and affordable local produce.

The report also found that community landowners tend to take a holistic approach to climate action, leading to carbon emissions reductions and, importantly, the ‘soft’ benefits relating to environmental education, skills development and enhanced health and wellbeing.

Case-study examples of community-led climate action that feature in the report include the peatland restoration work of the Carloway Estate Trust in Lewis and the pioneering Forest School run by Abriachan Forest Trust near Loch Ness.  Other featured initiatives include Huntly Development Trust’s green travel hub, the Isle of Gigha’s community-owned wind farm, Lister Housing Co-operative’s energy efficiency programme for its housing stock, and the contribution of CLEAR Buckhaven & Methill’s community gardens and orchards to reducing carbon emissions from food.

The report is supported by a short film featuring some of the Community Trusts and what they are doing on the ground to combat climate change.

Commenting on the report’s significance, Ailsa Raeburn, Community Land Scotland’s Chair, said:

“This report and its accompanying case-studies show how rural and urban community landowners are tackling the climate emergency proactively and imaginatively.  This is climate action from the ground up, helping to make the practical and behavioural changes that put communities on the path to a more sustainable future”.

Dr Calum MacLeod, Community Land Scotland’s Policy Director, said:

“This research reveals the crucial role that community land ownership is playing in ensuring that Scotland makes a just transition to a net zero carbon economy. It’s vital therefore that the community land sector continues to be supported to grow and further build on the fantastic work highlighted in this report.”

Dr Chris Dalglish of Inherit, one of the report’s authors, said:

“It’s been a privilege to learn about how community landowners are helping to address the climate emergency.  We’ve been struck by the range of climate initiatives that they are engaged in and, most of all, by the distinctive contribution they are making. What stands out is Community landowners’ people-centred approach and their ability to combine climate action with delivering community benefits.”

Climate Change and Land Reform Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

“Communities across the country have been impacted in so many ways by COVID-19, but have also been playing a vital role in responding to the crisis and maintaining our resilience, our sense of spirit and local support network.

“As this report highlights, it is these qualities, together with local knowledge and insight, that mean community groups and landowners are uniquely-placed to play a critical role in supporting our green recovery from the pandemic, and in shaping and driving forward climate action.

“Through the Scottish Land Fund and many other initiatives, the Scottish Government will continue to support local communities to ensure Scotland’s fair and just transition to becoming a net-zero society,”

For further information please contact:

 Dr Calum MacLeod:    07974829149 & calum.macleod@communitylandscotland.org.uk  

Policy Director

Community Land Scotland