Rural Law

So last week I was busy counting down to the Royal Highland Show, and this week it is almost upon us. There is a huge amount of press about the Show and it’s interesting to see the hot topics of the season emerging.

Inevitably, there’s a huge amount of chatter about CAP Reform. Although the SAF submission deadline has passed, it’s an issue which is likely to remain at the top of the agenda. Many farmers will be very interested to hear what EU Commissioner Hogan has to say when he visits the Show this week.

Aside from CAP Reform, the other hot topic is land reform, in all its guises. Until the much-anticipated land reform bill is available, there will continue to be speculation about the nature and extent of the Scottish Government’s proposals. What has become clear is that, despite concerns raised by Scottish Government’s own Rural Affairs Committee, the bill will address a number of the recommendations made in the final report of the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group. We await the bill with interest!

Another aspect of the wider land reform agenda is the Completion of the Land Register of Scotland. Although the 10 year timetable for getting the whole of Scotland on the Land Register was announced over a year ago, when the Scottish Government first imposed its 2024 deadline on Registers of Scotland, it is only now that the implications are becoming more widely known.

I’ve blogged previously on the importance of landowners being aware that registration is voluntary, not compulsory. It’s important that message isn’t lost: unless they are public sector bodies, land and property owners are not obliged to register their land unless they do something which would “trigger” registration (such as the grant of a lease of over 20 years).

So why consider voluntary registration? There are distinct advantages for owners of Scottish property in having a title registered in the Land Register, as opposed to the outdated Sasine Register. When registered correctly, land on the Land Register benefits from accurately mapped boundaries on the Ordnance Survey map, giving certainty over the extent of ownership and, in most cases, a state backed warranty from Registers of Scotland.

This can offer greater clarity in day to day management and also in land transactions, since properties have more readily ascertainable boundaries and rights. This could be of particular advantage where the property involved is sizeable (either in terms of extent or the number of properties within an individual portfolio), especially where the boundaries with neighbours are currently uncertain. This is common in the case of many rural properties which are currently unmapped.

Another reason for registration which you may have read about is the threat of “Keeper Induced Registration” or “KIR” (this is basically the power of Registers of Scotland to go ahead and register your land for you, without requirement for your consent). It has been suggested that KIR may lead to a “race to the register” by landowners who would rather deal with registration themselves, to ensure it is done correctly. At this point, I think the implications of KIR are still unknown. We’re expecting a consultation document from Registers of Scotland shortly which should clarify how this power is likely to be used. We’ll blog further once we have more information on this.

In summary, the message is that all land and property owners should – sooner rather than later – consider the merits of registration, bearing in mind their individual circumstances.

If you think registration is a good idea in your circumstances, or are looking for guidance about the pros and cons of registration, please get in touch and we can discuss how our specialist registration team can help you.

Alternatively please arrange to meet us at the Show. Members of the team from our offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh will be there on Friday (and some other days too) – so please do get in touch.

Rural Law