Community Empowerment & Landscape (UK)

Community Empowerment & Landscape is a research project conceived and funded jointly by Inherit and Community Land Scotland.

The research is about how we define ‘landscape’, and how the way this is done affects people’s ability to develop as communities and to influence decisions about the land. The research was undertaken in response to concerns about the potential for landscape policy to act as a barrier to rural renewal in Scotland, and to efforts to address the ongoing depopulation of already sparsely-populated areas.  

 In the research, we looked at policies dealing with the conservation of the ‘landscape’, ‘historic environment’ and ‘natural heritage’ dimensions of rural places, asking:

  • What are the effects of conservation policy on communities’ ability to develop in sustainable ways?

  •  To what extent can people participate in deciding how their landscapes should be understood, conserved and developed?

  • What should be the future in terms of community participation in landscape conservation policies and their implementation?

In order to answer these questions, we interviewed a range of people in the community and the public sectors and we conducted follow-up research. We analysed relevant laws, policies, practice guidelines and practice reviews. We also investigated wider developments in spatial planning, land reform and community empowerment in Scotland and in international conservation practice.

Key findings include:

  • Scotland’s more recent landscape policies do seek to balance conservation objectives with the need for the sustainable development of rural communities and places. They also promote the participation of communities in decision-making;

  • However, these principles conflict with longer-standing policies and attitudes that do not value participation and that promote a narrower range of values and a ‘fence and exclude’ conservation model focused on singling out ‘special’ landscapes for protection.

We concluded that:

  • Scotland’s landscape conservation policies should be rooted more strongly in the principles of sustainable development and of progressively fulfilling human rights;

  • Social and economic consequences should be an explicit consideration in all conservation decision-making;

  • In implementing conservation policies, public authorities should act to promote the empowered participation of local communities;

  • An institutional culture change is needed to achieve the empowered participation of communities in conservation decisions.

We also concluded that communities should be empowered to produce their own assessments of the important characteristics and qualities of the land, as a means of promoting their voice on what matters about their place. 

The research report was launched at an event in Inverness, Scotland, on 13th September 2018. A presentation of the key findings by Inherit’s Chris Dalglish was followed by a panel discussion on the issues raised in the report. The panel was chaired by Shona Glenn of the Scottish Land Commission. The panel included Chris Dalglish, Barbara Cummins of Historic Environment Scotland, Andy Dorin of Scottish Natural Heritage and Calum MacLeod of Community Land Scotland.


The report has been received well. Dr Calum MacLeod, Policy Director of project partner Community Land Scotland, commented that:

Community Empowerment and Landscape marks an important contribution to Community Land Scotland’s ongoing policy work on rural repopulation and renewal. Much of the public policy around the myth of so-called “wild” land has airbrushed the community dimension out of many of Scotland’s rural landscapes. The ‘participation gap’ highlighted in the report shows the pressing need to stop marginalising communities when characterising and designating landscapes and instead place them front and centre in that process as a matter of justice. It’s time to acknowledge that these landscapes were never “wild” and instead look to ways in which repopulation and environmental sustainability can work together for the economic development of rural Scotland. This report shows ways to do that and Community Land Scotland looks forward to working with communities, Government and others to make sure that happens in practice.”

Community Land Scotland is an association that represents the interests of Scotland’s community land owners, who collectively manage approximately 500,000 acres of land for community benefit


Andrew Bachell, Chief Executive of the John Muir Trust – a charity dedicated to conserving and protecting wild places – has said:


“The John Muir Trust welcomes this hugely valuable report and supports its central message that people and communities need to be more involved in the decisions that affect their local landscapes.


People have lived and worked on Scotland’s landscapes over thousands of years, and we have always recognised that there are important social, economic, cultural and historical dimensions to conservation. The Trust is clear that people and communities have a central role to play in protecting nature and revitalising our land.


As an organisation with decades of experience managing land for the benefit of people and nature, we look forward to working more closely with Community Land Scotland, Inherit and others. Although we each have specific roles and responsibilities, we also share common aims, and we are keen to find solutions that will support rural regeneration alongside the protection and enhancement of our wildest landscapes.”


Download the research report


Download the summary report

Press coverage of the research includes:


‘Can Scotland’s Empty Landscapes be Populated Once Again?, The Scotsman, 16 November 2017


‘Rural communities ‘are being airbrushed our of Scotland’s landscapes’, The Herald, 12 September 2018


‘Ceist mu phoileasaidhean glèidhteachais’, BBC Alba Naidheachdan website, 13 September 2018


The research has informed:


Community Land Scotland’s submission to the Scottish Parliament in relation to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, January 2018


For more information about the project, contact Chris Dalglish (

The Institute for Heritage and Sustainable Human Development

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