28. February 2012 · Comments Off on Forest Ownership in Scotland · Categories: Democracy, Environment, Forestry, Governance, Land Reform, Land Use, Politics, Research

Westwater plantation in Dumfries-shire – owned by a landowner in Surrey and granted over £1 million in Scottish forestry grants.

Last year I was commissioned by the Forest Policy Group to undertake research into who owns Scotland’s forests. The report of my conclusions is published today and copies can be downloaded here.

It’s a remarkable picture – the most concentrated pattern of private ownership anywhere in Europe. The graphs below illustrate the stark contrast.

An essay published in Scotland on Sunday on 27 February explores some of the background to this and the report of course provides all the background and data. The Scottish Government has budgeted £36 million per year over next 3 years for new forestry. I do not think it too much to ask that this money be used to maximum benefit. Currently much is being handed over to wealthy absentee landlords to boost their tax-free investment portfolio. When I was at University 25 years ago, there was a wonderful geography professor, the late Sandy Mather who wrote in an academic paper in 1987

There has been no stated policy towards ownership structure. Whether by design or by default, the state has exerted an influence of fundamental significance for the structure of forest ownership through its choice of policy instruments. Whether by design or default, the state has facilitated the expansion of financial ownership of forests in Scotland. (1)

That was 25 years ago. Little has changed. But it could yet.


You can hear an interview I did for BBC Scotland’s Out of Doors programme on the topic here.

(1)  A.S. Mather, 1987. ˜The Structure of Forest Ownership in Scotland: a first approximation Journal of Rural Studies, Vol. 3 (2) pp.175-182. Available here.



14. September 2011 · Comments Off on No other country has mapped its greenspace in this way · Categories: Freedom of Information, Land Use, Maps, Research

Today, an organisation called Greenspace Scotland launched what they claim is a world first in mapping the location, extent and type of greenspace across all of Scotland’s urban settlements. “No other country has mapped its greenspace in this way”. In December 2006, the Scottish Executive provided £298,000 for this project (actually for three projects – it is unclear how much of this was allocated to the mapping). The interactive map is impressive and allows users to look closely at greenspace of all types across Scotland.

However, the real power of such information lies in the ability to interrogate, analyse and combine this data with other data. There are many simple tools available for this and a growing international community of citizens harnessing such data for the public good (the OpenStreeMap and GeoCommons projects are good examples)

Greenspace Scotland tell us that this “world first” map can be made available in GIS (geographic information system) format as raw data so that people can actually use the data rather than simply look at it. The GIS data is useful because, in the words of Greenspace Scotland,

The full GIS data provides an incredible resource for planners, policy makers, researchers and greenspace managers. It can be used to support cross-boundary work on green networks, planning and regeneration; and when combined with other datasets on, for example, health and deprivation, can be used to support decision-making, prioritisation, policy development and research. It can also help target resources and investment to areas with low levels of greenspace

Excellent. I happen to be interested in who owns all this greenspace, how much of it is common good land etc and so I ask for a copy of the data. At this point it becomes clear why Greenspace Scotland claim that “no other country has mapped its greenspace in this way” (my emphasis).

I am refused on the grounds that only those who have an Ordnance Survey MasterMap licence are allowed to get hold of this data. Unfortunately, the OS MasterMap data licence costs many thousands of pounds. The restriction is due to OS licensing conditions on the open distribution of “derived data”. I have been here before with the whoownsscotland project. I have the t-shirt and the scars of this encounter.

“No other country has mapped its greenspace in this way” Lets then take a look at how others have done it.

Take the City of Boulder, Colorado, for example. I can view an online map with information on planning, greenspace, flooding, transportation, landownership and lots more. (Click on eMapLink here). Alternatively, I can download the raw GIS (geographic information systems) data and interrogate it.

Indeed, for any number of cities in across the world, I can download high quality GIS data and undertake research and analysis. If, however, I want to analyse the pattern of greenspace in my own locality in North Edinburgh, I can’t.

“No other country has mapped its greenspace in this way”


29. August 2011 · Comments Off on Land Taxes · Categories: Land Reform, Land Values, Politics, Research

The Liberal Democrats have just published an interesting policy discussion paper on land taxes available here. I am delighted to see this thinking emerging from one of the UK coalition partners in Government and hope that the Scottish party plays a full role in the debate. Comments are invited and should be received by 30 November 2011.

This paper complements work commissioned by the Scottish Green Party available here.

For those interested, I have drawn together a range of other papers on the topic available here.