Transforming land ownership

The 11th annual Oxford Real Farming Conference took place on 8th and 9th January. Both the Biodynamic Land Trust and the Biodynamic Association were represented among the hundreds of participants. The conference highlighted that radical changes are needed to our food and farming system to meet the many challenges the world faces. A packed programme featured a wide variety of sessions including many issues around access to land.

These included, ‘Transforming Land Ownership and Stewardship Models for the Future’. The session considered how landowners might take a different approach to enable fair and responsible stewardship of land to meet current and future challenges. Three landowners from Scotland and England (from the Falkland, Windy Ridge and Hardwick Estates) shared their approaches in seeking to move from ownership to participatory governance models. Land reform is also a key area of work for the Scottish Land Commission. One of the Commissioners highlighted how they have been looking at different models of ownership in more detail.

Those familiar with the Biodynamic Land Trust will know that the organisation features such a model. As a Community Benefit Society (CBS), the Land Trust is governed by a set of rules, registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, and owned by its members. Members buy shares and have voting rights based on one member, one vote. A number of the projects enabled by the Land Trust have, in turn, developed under the structure of a CBS. It is a democratic approach to land ownership which can provide opportunities for succession for established or new businesses. In the Land Trust’s case it also supports environmentally sustainable farming methods.

A subsequent conference session on ‘Farm Succession, Family Business and Democratic Ownership’ considered some of these opportunities. It featured the successful story of the Land Trust’s project at Rush Farm, Stockwood CBS. The formation of Stockwood CBS to purchase the farm facilitated the continuation of a family biodynamic farm through offering community shares in the society. It now has more than 300 shareholder owners. The Land Trust’s most recent project at Oakbrook Farm has seen the formation of Oakbrook Community Benefit Society. This also has the promotion of environmentally sustainable farming methods at its core.

The publication today of the government’s new Agriculture Bill sets out plans to reward farmers and land managers with public money for “public goods”. These include environmentally sustainable farming methods. The Bill highlights recognition of the importance of the way in which land is managed. By removing the link from payments based solely on size of landholding, the changes could also provide more opportunities for a change in ownership as well as management of land.

Tom Brenan
Operations Manager, Biodynamic Land Trust

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