Land ownership is a strong political motive. " people getting a stake in the land, land belonging to them and their family for generations " It's also a strong personal motive - "Ownership lit it up for us". Owning land is tangential to most people's lives but when you do, it's deep and powerful.
On the other hand, owning land is a big decision for a community to take. Ownership means responsibility, including legal liabilities, especially with open access. Sometimes people hesitate because they just aren't used to land ownership, they don't know what to expect. "It can take a long time for a community to get used to an idea."
Alternative ways of ownership
Legal ownership isn't the be all and end all. Individuals can earn a stake in community woods through blood, sweat and tears equity: "Everyone can have shares in this woodland you get some just by being there; more by doing and making - shares by sweat and blood "
One reason for wanting woodland to be owned by the community, rather than a family, is to ensure stability for a long-term vision. Otherwise one person could always sell the woodland on, and a completely different management philosophy could take over.
Examples - the types of ownership represented by those present:
- The host woodland, Wooplaw, is community owned - limited company.
- Taliesin is owned by a group of individuals, but their vision is that it belongs to all comers: "Succession is a problem: we need more volunteers, more workers."
- Hill Holt Wood was privately owned, but now is owned and managed by a social enterprise. It's the ultimate degree of community ownership - the Forestry Commission said it would never happen
- One wood was owned by a group of families - they are now deciding what happens next.
- In Fife, there are scattered villages, with scattered fragments of woodland in the landscape. The challenge then is how to connect them? - how to persuade people to take responsibility?
- Some land near Fort William has recently been gifted by industry. The community has just decided to take on ownership.
- What's more, between us we had links - e.g. via the Community Woodlands
Association - to the whole range of community woodlands throughout Scotland.