The role of property, ownership & land tenure on landscape decision making

The case of Scotland’s ‘low carbon farming’ policies

The Landscape Decisions SPF Programme aims to create a new evidence base for improved decision making across UK landscapes, but who has the power to make decisions on the land? Answering this question requires engagement with issues of property, land tenure and the many informal interactions that create agency in landscape decision making.

Land tenure, or the legal, cultural and informal rules that distribute access to land’s assets, has a powerful effect in shaping what proposed decisions appear wise, possible or futile. While it may be possible to understand and predict the impact of landscape level changes, a landscape is fragmented by many properties, land owning entities and land tenure systems. Negotiating this fragmentation of tenure complicates and deepens landscape science.

As a Landscape Decisions Fellow, Adam Calo hopes to achieve two goals. First, his work aims to stimulate thinking on the role of land tenure relations across the variety of the programme’s projects, supporting the goal of a holistic approach to landscape decision making. This has important implications for what land use decisions are likely to be carried out, who is likely to be targeted for land use policy interventions, and who might be left out of such efforts.

The second goal is to understand how distinct tenure regimes in Scotland interact with the forthcoming low carbon farming initiatives as part of the net zero 2045 target. Recently, the Scottish government announced a £40 million Agricultural Transformation Programme, an effort to ramp up climate change mitigation in the agricultural sector. Given this policy objective, my work will explore how land tenure influences the adoption, rejection, or contestation of the low-carbon farming framework. I plan to conduct research across a variety of agricultural land tenure regimes, each considering how they might meet this mandate of mitigating emissions through agricultural practices.

I hope that this work will provide specific evidence for how land tenure mediates the goal of ‘low carbon farming’ in Scotland and across the UK. If it is clear how land tenure regimes facilitate land use decision objectives, then tenure systems could be better aligned with land use change. This could mean championing existing tenure system, reforming tenure laws ill-suited for evidence-based decision making or designing new tenure systems in concert with new decision-making frameworks.

Adam is working many of the other Landscape Decisions projects and across themes is by launching a podcast series on landscape science. I plan to produce two seasons, first engaging in some of the high-level and contested concepts that frame landscape research across disciplines. The second season is designed to feature the empirical work that comes out of the projects.

Listen to LD Fellow Adam Calo introduce the project in more detail