The Scottish Land Commission ("SLC") published a discussion paper intended to answer some of the questions that have arisen around community benefits from investment in natural capital.

The paper is intended to build on the SLC's recent Protocol on responsible natural capital and carbon management which is set within the context of the Scottish Government's Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement ("LRRS"). In particular, the Protocol states that "Landowners and managers should work with the local community to identify opportunities to share the benefits from the management of natural capital and carbon with them and to support local priorities and aspirations.”

As the paper identifies, natural capital projects often involve permanent changes to land use and/or management and as such the LRRS envisages" meaningful collaboration and community engagement." The paper states that it is vital that communities are engaged in a meaningful way and share in the benefits generated by natural capital projects.

Defining community benefits

The paper highlights that "community benefits" can mean different things to different people and proposes a definition of community benefits as:

"Community benefits are packages of intentional benefits, arising from investment in natural capital enhancement, creation, and restoration projects, provided on a negotiated basis for the long-term benefit of the geographically local community."

The paper expands on the reasoning for the proposed definition, but it is important to note that the intention is to create a definition of a voluntary community benefit package and not compensation for the impact on the community.

Respondents to the paper were invited to comment on whether the proposed definition is correct and provides sufficient clarity.

Delivering community benefits

The next portion of the paper concerns the delivery of community benefits in ongoing natural capital projects. The paper recognises that their findings have been drawn from only a small number of case studies and additionally that some of the case studies used did not have a specific aim or objective or delivering community benefits.

Alongside the delivery of community benefits, this portion of the paper also seeks to reiterate the importance of collaboration, both with the community (perhaps as part of feasibility studies prior to projects commencing) and also between different organisations and stakeholders.

Respondents were invited to contribute their experiences on how community benefits have been delivered and what those experiences can inform about the role of collaboration.

Expectations about community benefits

The final portion of the paper proposes a number of principles which can be used to understand good practice, summarised as follows:

  • Community benefits should be delivered to and within the geographically local community that will be affected by, or can influence, the planned project;
  • Community benefits should be considered early-on in project development and integrated into natural capital projects, where possible;
  • Community benefits should be rooted in engagement with the community and in an understanding of local needs and priorities;
  • Community benefits should be agreed with the local community and aligned with local strategic and development plans, where available;
  • Community benefits should be a considered and deliberate element of natural capital projects;
  • Community benefit should be proportionate to the scale of the project and to the impact of the projects on the local community; and
  • Community benefit should be clear and identifiable.

The paper concludes with a general comment on how the SLC can encourage and support further responsible practice alongside expectations of community benefits and how they can be embedded in practice. It highlights that the SLC are seeking to stimulate discussion and, as such the paper, which is now closed for comments, had invited comments on how responsible good practice can be supported and encouraged..


Simon Boendermaker

Senior Solicitor

Kate McLeish