The Environmental Implications of Redistributive Land Reform

This is first and foremost a signpost blog, to link to the open access version of an article I recently contributed to the Environmental Law Review. Here is the abstract, which sets out the coverage of my analysis.

Ownership of land is important for a number of reasons. One reason is the agenda setting role the landowner has in terms of its use, which in turn has an impact on the environment. Environmental law plays a role in regulating the use of land, as do other devices such as planning law and private law controls including the law of nuisance, but absent such regulation the decisions of the owner are crucial. Land reform, by which it is meant the process that is geared towards the reallocation of property rights, either: changes who is invested with that crucial decision-making power; or influences the decision making of an existing owner, who might act in a way to negate any policy argument for reallocation of ownership. Both of these reactions can impact on the environment. How well are those impacts understood, and to what extent do they feature in the law-making process or the application of land reform measures? This paper will use the contemporary Scottish scene, particularly its two land reform statutes of 2003 and 2016, to scrutinise where the environment sits in the land reform debate there, which in turn will provide an opportunity to assess the environmental impact of specific land reform measures and where the environment has featured in a specific land reform process.

First, a disclaimer. (Sorry: lawyer. It even says so in my bio.) I appreciate the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 does not yet exist. It will only do so when the recently passed Bill receives Royal Assent. I am confident this will happen before my article is printed, hence my clairvoyant terminology.

A more general disclaimer relates to the world of open access publishing, which is increasingly a feature of academia. (You may have noticed my link above takes you to the  institutional repository of the University of Aberdeen.) I am in no way criticising open access: writers like to be read and open access plays a big part in that, and my blog itself has been open access for almost four years. My open access disclaimer is to explain there is still a chance to tweak this paper, which will come after I receive the proofs from the publisher. This means I can catch any errors or perhaps even take on board minor comments. Do get in touch with me if you spot anything or have any feedback. (You may also notice I have left some space to go back and add information if and when it becomes available to me, in case you are worried I have missed something.)

Enough signposting and disclaiming. I will now provide the back story to the article, which might be of general interest and perhaps specific interest for anyone wrestling with an article at the moment.


The article is tied to two of my previous outputs, one book review and one lecture. In full disclosure mode, this drew (legitimate) comment from one of the two anonymous reviewers. This reviewer gently chastised me for having a wordy introduction (me? wordy?) that was largely about the author rather than the topic. I hope I have addressed that, but the hook for the article was inescapably tied to those two outputs, so I felt the article had to be a bit more personal and chatty than might normally have been expected. In further full disclosure mode, the second reviewer noted that my “chatty” style was “distracting” but also “refreshing” – I hope my revised version tends towards “refreshing”.

The earlier of those previous outputs was a book review of Andy Wightman, The Poor had no Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland (and how they got it). (The book is now in its fourth edition –  I hope my review remains of some use.) That review was in the Environmental Law Review, so in a way I felt it was the logical home for any output I developed in a similar area.

The review also gave me a hook for the later of my two outputs, which was a public lecture at the University of Edinburgh with Dr. Jayne Glass and Dr. Calum MacLeod. The hook was that my book review began with a declaration that I was not an environmental lawyer, so,… eh,… why was I putting a book review in the Environmental Law Review, and why was I asked to take part in a Brodies Lecture on Environmental Law?

Answer: because that legally abstract concept of land ownership can have environmental implications. Hence why my book review of a text about the ownership of land in Scotland found a home in the Environmental Law Review, hence the lecture, and hence this article.

Sure, that might be to state the obvious. Ownership of land has environmental implications, and changing the owner of land can have environmental implications too. How many words do you need to say that?

More than a few thousand words, actually. Those words can be read via the link above or in the next print issue of the Environmental Law Review. I hope they are a useful contribution to the ongoing land reform debate in Scotland.

Which leads to one final observation: my original title was going to be “The Environmental Implications of Redistributive Land Reform in Scotland”. At the revision stage, I changed the title by lopping off “in Scotland”. The article retains a tartan tinge, but I think there is enough there for readers in the rest of the UK and beyond to allow me to remove any perception that this is purely a local study from the title.

That strikes me as enough about the article. I would now encourage you to read the article itself.

For those who cannot face the article, here is the TL:DR version.

If current landowners are looking after the environment, there is no strong environmental case for redistributive land reform (that is to say, land reform that changes the owner). If current landowners are not looking after the environment, rights to acquire from them (which are held by some Scottish tenants and communities) might play a role in: a) encouraging them to look after the environment to try to avoid a land reform event; or b) as part of the equation for any reallocation of ownership to someone who can and will look after the environment.


About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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3 Responses to The Environmental Implications of Redistributive Land Reform

  1. Pingback: The Environmental Implications of Redistributive Land Reform Redux | basedrones

  2. Pingback: Reflections on “Land Reform: Legal, Historical and Policy Perspectives” – Aberdeenunilaw

  3. Pingback: My 2016 in Review | basedrones

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