As a designer, I usually work with those who have been fortunate enough to purchase land. But I also work with communities and groups who are overcoming the challenges of access to land and providing what essentially becomes common land for the benefit of all. This is something I feel very passionate about.
Land ownership and land access are hot topics here in the UK, both north of the border here in Scotland, and south of the border, where land access rights are even more limited. (In Scotland, there is the ‘Right to Roam’.)
With land largely lying in the hands of the few, common land is often in increasingly short supply. If we are ever to rebuild a healthy connection between people and the natural environments they inhabit, we must repair the disconnect and make sure that land is accessible to all and, crucially, utilised for the benefit of all.
One key thing to remember is that there is a very big difference between large land owners, who fence off acres and acres of land for their own private enjoyment and profit, and small-scale land owners with what are, in essence, private gardens. The balance must be struck between private property, and public good.
I help communities to develop plans for common-good schemes, be they community gardens or farms, conservation and restoration projects, public parks or re-wilded areas. These spaces and the huge benefits they bring show just how important it is that we do not overlook public needs beyond food production alone.
We need food, of course. We need productive, sustainable farms. But we also need those farms and food producers to focus on local community need, and of course environmental necessities – not solely on profit. Whether you are a landowner thinking about how your own land might be used, or someone without access to land looking for solutions, there are ways to come together.
It is important to recognise the complex web of interests and emotion tied up with the emotive issue of land ownership, land use and land access. But ultimately, whether we own land or not, it is important to remember that we are all the custodians of the natural world around us. Land was not placed there for our profit. But it can be maintained and nurtured for the good of all – not just for the personal enrichment of the few.