When we launched the Land Reform Hub we also circulated a survey to get a sense of how individuals involved in land and rural businesses saw the issue of land reform.

So what did the survey responses indicate? The first point is that the majority of respondents felt they were well informed or somewhat well informed – but around 25% didn’t. Interestingly that tracked into whether land reform was influencing decisions, with more than a quarter indicating it hadn’t influenced them. But for the majority of our respondents it definitely was. To my mind this indicates that land reform is high on the agenda of estates and farms, and if we can shine further light on that and widen the understanding of it, we will, hopefully, expand informed understanding.

It is interesting to see it already shaping decisions. There is a 'soft law' dimension to this, which is how the discourse of land reform influences behaviour rather than just the black letter of the law itself. If the question is asked on whether engagement had increased between landowners and land managers, and communities, there is a strong sense that the answer is yes. Most people would regard that as a positive thing, but the question always remains as to how much should be voluntary and how much legislated, and where the boundary lies on interfering with private property rights.

We were interested to know which aspects of future land reform survey participants thought were most likely and highest was agricultural holdings, with concentration of land ownership less likely. It is difficult to draw any strong conclusions, although it certainly seems to be the case that we will see further legislation in agricultural holdings first. Indeed, we anticipate that there may be some changes emerging in legislation next year.

We also got a sense that survey participants are putting the economics of farming, housing and renewables above that of recreation, wildlife and tourism. That is perhaps not surprising. That doesn't necessarily mean tourism or wildlife is not valued, but that the fundamentals have to be right for a viable rural economy. Undoubtedly tourism has an important role to play, and agritourism is set to be a chart climber. But, it is ultimately 'the economy stupid' to coin a phrase, and that is the big challenge facing policy makers both in land reform and climate change. If we cannot get the economic models right, then any reform will struggle.

This leads into an interesting point raised about community rights, and the accountability of community purchases. This is the big unknown question, as to how enduring these outcomes will be; this year, next year, in ten years' time and in a generation's time. Land ownership and management is a long game that cannot be measured solely in short term gains. When society is faced with so many challenges, climate change being the big one, and the pandemic a close recent second, the question at hand is how high on the agenda is land reform for the man in the street? What is critical, is making sure food and energy supplies are secure, that climate change is mitigated, and the environment and biodiversity is protected. Land reform undoubtedly has a role to play in achieving some of these objectives, but reform should not be seen as an end in itself, because to do so would likely miss the real targets.

We will run some further surveys in the future, so do please take a few minutes to complete them and share your thoughts on the issues that matter to you.