Renewal and repopulation

The legitimate place of people in the landscape: renewing and repopulating rural Scotland

This page of our website is dedicated to promoting thinking about the legitimate place of people in the landscape in considering how to promote renewal and the repopulation of rural Scotland.

It may seem odd that a conversation about this is necessary at all, but for many rural dwellers with a concern for the sustainable development of their place, of which many community land owners would be typical, there are concerns that national influences and policies can impinge upon what they see as their legitimate aspirations to see their place develop and their environment renew.

Over many decades, but in the context of history very recently, we have seen cultural constructs develop of how our landscape ought to be regarded. To rural dwellers these constructs can appear as an elite view of how our landscape ought to look for those who visit the countryside. Those constructs are legitimate in their own terms, and they tend to value the lack of human presence, emptiness, remoteness, notions of solitude, and what is, mostly wrongly, portrayed and perceived as naturalness. To others the very same places can appear forlorn and desolate when those areas once were home to vibrant communities, rich in culture and far more bio-diverse than they are today. Yet characterisations of the landscape that recognise this, that capture the history of these places and represent the same landscapes some see as `wild’ as actually stripped of their people and denuded of their naturalness by the interventions of humans are much more difficult to find. Many would believe that such characterisations would be far more honest more accurate historically than to represent their emptiness and lack of bio-diversity as somehow a natural order.

Formal policy toward landscape characterisations are powerful and can have real effects on how places may develop in the future. From the community land owner perspective, with owners motivated by the needs of people and communities and with ambitions for a sustainable future for their places, attracting new populations and potentially re-peopling currently empty places, while also renewing the richness and bio-diversity of their places; they want to see future land and landscape policy which gives far greater recognition to the legitimate place of people in the landscape, greater landscape justice.

A number of community owners own and manage some of Scotland’s most treasured landscapes, they love those landscapes and want to protect their grandeur and the ability of visitors to enjoy those landscapes, but they also want far more recognition of the needs of people and the environment in that landscape.

This webpage is dedicated to exploring these issues from the perspective of those who want to see a development of how we regard, protect and develop landscape, with people, communities and renewing the environment firmly in mind. Over the next few months, we will be publishing papers on this subject on this page.

Community Land Scotland will continue to hold editorial rights as to what appears here and will consider publishing contributions but does not guarantee to do so, particularly where there are existing outlets for alternative views. If you are interesting in contributing to this page, please email:

Papers and Reports

Inherit and Community Land Scotland research:

Community Empowerment and Landscape Research Full Report 

Community Empowerment and Landscape Research Summary

HIE report on Young People in the Highlands and Islands

James Hutton Institute on Demographic Change in Remote Areas

Assynt Land Reform Debate 2018.  Text created by Peter Peacock from which he drew his contribution to the debate held in Assynt on the 4th July 2018 during the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Assynt crofters taking ownership of their land. The motion for debate was: “Land Reform measures in Scotland to date have done little to further their primary objective of greater social justice.”

The Allan MacRae Memorial Debate, opposing the motion – Iain MacKinnon, @IainMacKinnon75.  Iain’s full transcript of his contribution to the Assynt land reform debate.

Submission to the Planning (Scotland) Bill

Rewiliding, January 2018: Community Land Scotland have issued a paper on their response to the Consultation from The European Nature Trust on the creation of a `Highland Wilderness Reserve`.  The paper also includes Community Land Scotland’s Position Paper on `rewilding’ more generally and The European Nature Trust proposal for a Highland Wilderness reserve.

Position paper on rewilding: The Board of Community Land Scotland adopted this position statement on rewilding in the early part of 2017 at a time when it was being asked for press comment on the issues

Wild land, rewilding and repeopling, James Hunter, Emeritus Professor of History, UHI

Wild land: alternative insights into Scotland’s unpeopled places by Dr Elizabeth Ritchie, Centre for History, UHI

Landscape justice by Dr Chris Dalglish, the Institute for Heritage & Sustainable Human Development.
In this paper Dr Chris Dalglish rehearses arguments for greater landscape justice. Chris Dalglish is helping Community Land Scotland to understand more about landscape policy and is working with a small number of Community Land Scotland members to pilot approaches to how local people can be far more engaged in the landscape questions that affect them and the opportunities available to them, to develop landscape characterisations built from local perceptions and understanding of their landscape, to help have those voices better heard in the meeting rooms of the decision makers. Community Land Scotland is grateful to Chris Dalglish for contributing this paper to the promotion of debate about these important policy questions.

Media coverage

Put land at heart of a ‘Rural New Deal’ for Scotland Post-Covid it is crucial that Scotland extends community ownership as a way of stimulating local economic development and resilience, argues Dr Calum MacLeod.

Ulva – an Island for the People, Open Country, Radio 4

If our landscape truly belongs to us all we must stop romanticising it. (Alex Preston in the Guardian)

Chance to give fresh impetus to rural renewal. With some innovative policy thinking, the Planning Bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament could help address the depopulation crisis facing the Highlands and Islands, says Dr Calum MacLeod. (West Highland Free Press, Friday 30th March 2018)


Interview with Professor Jim Hunter about resettling parts of the Highlands, on BBC Out of Doors

These two articles by Graeme Purves, one from 1997 and one from 2017, demonstrate an abiding interest of the author in questions of people and landscape, and serve to remind us that the debate on landscape and people is long standing and remains contested territory.

The Trouble with Wilderness (originally published in Bella Caledonia, January 2017)

Scottish Environmentalism – the Contribution of Patrick Geddes (originally published in the John Muir Trust Journal and News in 1997)