Scottish landowners to face fines for breaching nature and climate commitments

Big landowners in Scotland could face a new legal duty to comply with nature and climate requirements or face fines or withdrawal of subsidies, according to proposals for a new Land Reform Bill.

The Scottish government is seeking views on what it terms “ambitious proposals” for a new Land Reform Bill, set to be introduced by the end of 2023.

It says that it is seeking to use the bill to add protections for local communities and impose new controls on land sales, but states that it also wants to use it to “consider wider issues emerging from the growth in natural capital markets”. 

The consultation document proposes that there should be a duty on large-scale landowners - defined as those owning 3,000 hectares of land or more - to publish land management plans, in which they would “demonstrate how land will be used and managed so as to meet requirements… for sustainable management, contributing to net zero and nature restoration goals”. 

It continues to say that these land management plans could also provide a mechanism for monitoring the progress landowners are making against these commitments, and could be required to contain information on land to be used for purposes that would generate revenue from carbon offsetting and carbon credits. 

The requirement to publish these plans should be enforced “by way of a range of cross compliance mechanisms, such as being a prerequisite to receive public funding for land based activity”, the government says.

Under this approach, landowners would have to demonstrate that they have an up to date management plan to be eligible for public funding.

The consultation document proposes that all recipients of Scottish government land-based subsidies should be registered and liable to pay tax in the UK or EU, and that all large landowners would have to demonstrate they comply with Scotland’s Land Rights and Responsibility Statement (LRRS) and its protocols - one of the possible penalties for non-compliance would be the withdrawal of public funding, as well as fines.

One of the principles laid out under this statement is the support of sustainable economic development, and the protection and enhancement of the environment.

The Scottish government’s analysis shows that these proposals would affect nearly 400 estates on the Scottish mainland, covering approximately 20% of Scotland’s landmass.

In the foreword to the consultation, Màiri McAllan, Scotland’s minister for environment and land reform, and a former property lawyer, said that “both public and private investment in our natural environment will be essential in tackling the climate and ecological crises”.

“This presents a substantial opportunity for Scotland and our people which we must be prepared to seize. However, the risk, increasingly understood among rural communities, is that investment could lead to an unwelcome change whereby people are secondary to large, often corporate, projects which are remote from communities, imposed on them and from which they do not benefit. 

“This is contrary to our vision for the future of Scotland’s land and its communities and to the principles of a just transition.”

The consultation is available here.