This session sought to explore examples of international community land ownership and to collate the experiences of community land governance during the pandemic.
The session aimed to respond to the following questions:
- How does community land and asset ownership support adaptation to crises, such as public health emergencies and the climate emergency?
- What are the factors of resilience that community landownership facilitates, and how could that be further promoted (i.e. in different land tenure regimes)?
- What options are there for policies to support greater community land governance in different international contexts, and what barriers remain?
- The session considered how community land governance has and could respond to crises, including the climate emergency, biodiversity and ecological decline, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The session heard from speakers based in Spain and Scotland, and despite the different geographical contexts and types of community land rights described, key crossovers emerged.
- In both the Iberian Peninsula and Scotland, community empowerment and capacity (including knowledge and confidence) were critical to their ability to respond to crises, such as ongoing decline (e.g. ageing populations, decreasing land-based livelihoods), external shocks (e.g. the Covid-19 pandemic) and future risks (e.g. the climate emergency).
- Similarly, both geographical contexts provided case studies that highlighted the role of strategic partnerships between community land governance and local development processes, integrating local government, community owners, and other key stakeholders.
- In Scotland, the community landowners involved in the research presented demonstrated their unique ability to respond to the climate emergency, and support adaptation and climate-positive behaviours amongst members of the community.
- The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of ‘everyday’ community resilience to ensure there is capacity, resources, and community cohesion to support ‘emergency’ resilience. In this study, community landowners were well equipped to resource community initiatives to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and support those most vulnerable.
- The discussion in this session emphasised the importance of democratic local government working in partnership with local residents, and supported by ‘organised’ community bodies, such as community landowners.
A Contribution for the Knowledge of the Communal Lands of Northwest Iberian Peninsula
Prof. I.J. Diaz-Maroto, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
“Communal lands offer the potential for human and natural resources…more than half of commoners are women, which is different to private (landownership) spheres, where women are more frequently invisible.”
Professor Dias-Maroto presented research on the contribution to rural development of communal lands located in the north of Portugal and Galicia region of Spain. These are areas of land that are owned by the local residents, whereas the majority of land in Portugal and Spain is privately-owned. Communal lands have played an essential role in the rural economy of their owner communities, but this role was lost during the 20th Century due to massive afforestation and the decline of agriculture. The restoration of both countries democratic regimes returned the land to their owner communities, but they in turn are now facing several challenges, not least an aging population. The sustainability of communal lands depends on the upkeep of traditional activities and extensive agro-pastoral systems. There is a focus on sustainable forest management, but an under-utilisation, and whilst the use of communal land endures, it’s importance is reduced as it cannot ensure household income. Communities and this form of property is complicated in times of economic liberalism; the communal lands will survive better if they become part of local development processes. The communities lack knowledge and negotiating power in how future land use and designations are decided.
The Role of Community Landownership in Adapting to the Climate Emergency
Dr Bobby Macaulay (University of the Highlands and Islands, UK)
“Community landowners are capable of doing thinks that others are not…for example preparing and adapting communities to the impact of future climate change. They are known, trusted, and democratic.”
Dr Macaulay’s presentation outlined research undertaken by him and Dr Chris Dalglish (INHERIT), which was funded by the Scottish Government and commissioned by Community Land Scotland. The aim was to understand the extent and type of climate action undertaken by Scotland’s 416 community landowners, both in rural and urban areas. This is in the context of the Scottish Government’s target of net zero by 2045 and their goal of a ‘just transition’. The research identified that climate action was not taken in isolation by community landowners, and that community landowners make a distinctive contribution to achieving climate action goals. Asset ownership was not a prerequisite for climate action, but it did help to achieve goals, both as a financial resource (e.g. income generated from renewable energy), or allowing for physical access or control over land (e.g. to allow for local food production, building wind turbines, etc.). Community landownership also ensured democratic accountability in climate action, and there was evidence of enhanced community and voluntary activity on community-owned land. This in turn enhance community capacity, built resilience and confidence in how communities could respond to and withstand the climate emergency and other shocks.
The Role of Asset Owning Community Organisations in Place-Based Responses to COVID-19
Dr Jayne Glass, Rural Policy Centre, Scotland’s Rural College – SRUC
“Factors that enhance community resilience include cohesion, capacity and collective action. The research showed that during the pandemic, the ‘everyday’ resilience held by the community landowners meant that there were systems already in place to respond to community needs.”
In response to Scotland’s concentrated pattern of private ownership, a land reform process has supported a growth in community ownership. In Scotland, community ownership is a form of private ownership distinct from communal (local government) land, referring to legal ownership of title by a community-owned company or charitable organisation. The benefits of this type of ownership can be considerable, both for the people and the land, contributing to community empowerment and arguably, greater ‘everyday’ community resilience. This research sought to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on communities in two regions of Scotland, the Western Isles (80% community owned) and East Fife. In both case study regions, local community organisations, and particularly those that are financially resourced (and staffed), played a critical role during the pandemic in relation to coordinating volunteers, re-tasking staff to community support roles, providing support to other community groups and using their networks to target available support to where it was most needed. Community landowners developed novel, place-specific approaches through strategic partnerships (e.g. between service providers and community anchor organisations). Their experience highlights the importance of ‘everyday’ resilience – community capacity, cohesion, and access to locally-controlled infrastructure – in an emergency context, such as the pandemic.