Northern Scotland Prize Essay in Land Futures

Northern Scotland is an established scholarly journal that has been in existence since 1972. Initially produced by the University of Aberdeen, it was relaunched latterly by the UHI Centre for History and Aberdeen University. Since 2016, its institutional supporters have been UHI, the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures, and the Centre for Scottish Culture.

It is a fully peer-reviewed publication whose editorial board, contributors, reviewers and referees are drawn from a wide range of experts across the world. While it carries material of a mainly historical nature, from the earliest times to the modern era, it is a cross-disciplinary publication, which also addresses cultural, economic, political and geographical themes relating to the Highlands and Islands and the north-east of Scotland.

The journal actively supports cutting edge and early career work on land issues in all relevant disciplines, via its annual essay competition ‘Northern Scotland Prize Essay in Land Futures’.  This showcases the best new work being pursued today, and is supported by the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures.

The Gordonbush Estate Archives

The Centre are working with Clyne Heritage Society – based in Brora – who recently acquired a hugely important archive relating to the Gordonbush Estate.  This material, which gives fascinating detail on life in and around Brora in the late 19th and 20th centuries, will be of great interest to historians and researchers looking to understand Highland life and society, and Highland estate management in particular.  The Centre will play a supporting role in helping Clyne Heritage Society to preserve, archive, and catalogue the collection, so that it can become an asset for community use.  Our first step will be cataloguing and preservation.  Together, Clyne and the Centre will shortly be bidding for funds to take this part of the partnership forward.  So, if you are a trained archivist looking for a short-term contract, watch this space!

In order to celebrate this developing partnership and important archive, on 15 June 2017 Clyne Heritage Society are hosting a joint seminar given by two of the Centre’s leading lights: our founder and associate Dr Annie Tindley (University of Newscastle), and our Co-Director Dr Iain Robertson.  Details can be found on our ‘Events’ page.  More information about Clyne Heritage Society and their projects can be found at:



Re-writing the rulebook of landownership: analysing and assessing the economics of community landownership

January – November 2016

Bringing together an innovative team of academics and stakeholders, this project aimed to develop understanding around the most innovative and – in a Western context – unusual form of landownership: community ownership, enshrined in Scottish law since 2003.

Scotland has the most concentrated patterns of landownership in Europe, with large swathes of privately owned land in a relatively small number of hands. In addition, the state – via a range of agencies (e.g. Forestry Commission Scotland, the Crown Estate) – is a major landowner, as are charitable and conservation charities. Scotland has also – somewhat counterintuitively – long been a major site for land reform in a UK context, with legislation dating back to the 1880s. In the early 1990s, a handful of communities worked together to buy out private landowners, entirely unassisted by legislation (Isle of Eigg and Assynt being among the most famous), and after devolution, the new Scottish Government passed legislation to define and support this model, enshrining it in law. In 2016, these provisions were extended (for the first time) to urban Scotland, and a new Scottish Land Commission established. Loosely partnered with this legislation is the Community Empowerment Act 2015. There has never been a better time, therefore, to help communities, government and wider society should understand how this model works and how to measure its performance.

The development of the community landowning sector since 2003 has been startling, although between 2006-7 and 2015 there was something of a hiatus, which led directly to the rise of our key partner on this project, Community Land Scotland [CLS] and the push for new land reform legislation. There is now rapid development in the sector and this project aimed to develop a more rigorous appraisal model for the growing body of community owners and trusts in Scotland. Working with CLS, the membership organization that represents community landowners, this project operated through collaborative and co-productive methods. The project has involved academics from a variety of disciplines and a number of institutions in a highly effective and productive collaboration with a community-oriented organisation and its component community groups. Many individuals and groups who have worked on community ownership/land reform issues have long despaired of the lack of academic interest in, let alone direct involvement with, community landowning. This project represents, therefore, a constructive departure in that regard and will lead to further such collaborations.

It firstly captured and described the current model that is community landowning, its features and values, and how it functions. It then developed a rigorous set of criteria for the appraisal of the performance of community-owned land. The initial intention of the project was to focus particularly on economic and financial performance, but this quickly broadened out to include environmental, social/cultural and governance performance. The innovation focus of this project came, therefore, in both the area of study and the structure of the activities.

This project, working in close partnership with Community Land Scotland, aimed to:

  • Define the key issues through collaborative and interdisciplinary discussion, via three regional roundtable discussion events (Western Isles, Argyll and Highland) plus a programme of seven interviews (with Stornoway Trust, Galson Estate, West Harris, Isle of Eigg, Knoydart Foundation, Assynt Foundation, Isle of Jura Development Trust.
  • Capture and describe the current economic model(s) on which community landowning is based, its features, values and characteristics, and how it functions;
  • Make both international and historical comparisons in order to place the Scottish experience in a wider context, enable the exchange of best practice and experience and embed innovative thinking at the heart of this project;
  • Develop a rigorous set of criteria for the appraisal of the socio-economic development performance of community owned land. This project aimed to map out ways in which to describe community ownership outwith the confines of traditional economic models for land ownership, where it is most innovative in aim and approach.

The principal outcomes from the project are both policy and practice focused and include:

  • A document, including (1) a report from the mapping exercise, outlining current economic activities/models used on community owned land; (2) a set of new, independent and rigorous criteria, developed through a process of consultation with community landowning groups themselves, against which the innovative economic models of community owned land might be judged;
  • A briefing paper, to share best practice from the outcomes in the policy/political and third sectors. This will be particularly valuable to the work on the new Scottish Land Commission (2016).