Work The Land

Overview —

This paper argues against claims that land reform would harm rural employment and seeks to illustrate the kind of jobs that could be created instead and the positive impact radical land reform would have on employment and on wages in rural areas


Robin McAlpine

Craig Dalzell

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Rural depopulation is not a problem faced only by Scotland but is a worldwide trend – and yet Scotland is the 47th least densely populated country in Europe. Our history is marked by the Highland Clearances of the 16th and 17th centuries and mass emigration in the 19th and 20th centuries which have made rural depopulation a particular issue. And this trend continues; in 2019 the areas of Scotland which saw the highest drops in population and the fastest rise in average age were heavily skewed towards rural and coastal areas.

There are many reasons for this including housing availability, the impact of rurality on public services, utility availability (particularly broadband) and educational opportunities. But probably none is more significant (and particularly for younger residents) than the availability of employment opportunities. Put simply, where there are a lack of viable job opportunities suitable to sustain incomes, the population driver is inevitably towards either decline or an ageing population, increasingly of retirement age.

What this paper seeks to argue is that claims that land reform (and particularly the reform of large estates and the uplands) would harm rural employment is only sustainable if policymakers disregard the impact of alternative uses of that land and the employment potential that creates. It does so by looking at a range of alternative uses for the land, describes the jobs which could be created.

To do this this paper will seek to identify existing salary data for each of the jobs suggested, or for jobs which are of a closely similar nature. It will then (where possible) try to identify what is known about the area currently dedicated to that activity and the total employment numbers that have been created by that land area to indicate the job-to-land-area ratio. Finally, it will make a rough estimate of how much of that activity Scotland’s land could sustain if ownership was reformed and from there estimate a ‘conservative maximum’ number of jobs that might be created.


― It is argued that the reform of either land ownership in Scotland or its grouse moors would harm fragile economies by reducing employment opportunities. The paper argues that this is only true if alternative possible uses of the land are ignored and examines ten possible alternative uses and the jobs they could bring.

― The current use of land is not efficient in terms of creating jobs and incomes. Scotland’s private shooting estates create 2,640 jobs directly and indirectly and an average income for those jobs of £11,401 – which is less than minimum wage for a full-time job. No hill farm makes a profit without public subsidy; the £11,052 average income for sheep needs £38,124 of subsidy and the average income of £24,378 for beef requires £46,268 in subsidy. These activities take up a large proportion of Scotland’s land.

― Ten alternatives job types are examined – land manager, wildlife manager, commercial forestry, wood processing, deer stalking/venison, horticulture, crofting, energy engineer, housebuilding and ecotourism. All apart from crofting (which is best considered a supplementary income) pay more than the average incomes from current use.

― In each case a conservative potential number of jobs is estimated. These cannot be summed to create a total as without mapping Scotland and allocating land for each purpose there would be double counting where land has more than one potential use.

― Nevertheless, the potential in jobs in rural Scotland is in the tens of thousands.

― These are only the direct jobs created by these ten opportunities and this does not include the large number of indirect and induced jobs which would also be created in supply chains, services, retail and leisure, public services and as a result of growing communities, nor the potential for existing businesses expansion, home-working relocation and job start-up entirely unrelated to these ten job types which would be made possible as a result of significantly expanded housing availability.

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