Langholm Initiative

Reviving Lands, Nurturing Communities
A community development trust that has purchased 5,200 acres of land, creating a nature reserve as part of a wider economic regeneration project that breaks up large estates formerly owned by private landowners


Enclosure—the conversion of common land into private property—has had a profound impact on both rural landscapes and the lives of the people who lived and worked there. In the medieval period in the UK, local communities used common land to graze livestock and grow crops, harvest timber from woods, and share water resources such as streams and wells. Over time, however, the increase in population and the growth of towns and cities exerted pressure on this land. To meet the growing demand for food, and to generate more income from the land, landowners began to enclose the land—by constructing physical barriers such as walls and fences, and by establishing legal property rights.

The process of enclosure accelerated in the 16th and 17th centuries, with the growth of the wool trade, when landowners forcibly evicted tenant farmers and began to convert large areas of common land into sheep walks. This was reinforced by a series of government acts authorised by powerful land owners and aristocrats, culminating in the General Enclosure Act of 1801, which divided and privatised the remaining common “wastes” such as fens, marshes, heathland, downland, and moors. Rights of access were stripped away from tenant farmers, and landless cottagers lost access to common pastures. Enclosure maps, in particular, were important instruments for organising and controlling land, and they reflected and strengthened the power of those who created them.1Roger Kain, John Chapman, and Richard Oliver. The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales 1595-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). The rural landscape was transformed, with fields, hedgerows, and woods being replaced by large, open fields and pastureland.2Harriett Bradley. The Enclosures in England: An Economic Reconstruction (Kitchener: Batoche Books, 2001). Today, the legacy of enclosure can still be seen in the British landscape, with large areas of private farmland and the decline of biodiversity and natural habitats.


Around 2,300 people in Langholm, a small town in Dumfries and Galloway, came together in 1994 to address the issues of land use and biodiversity loss in the area, which is one of the most intensive sheep-farming regions in Scotland. Langholm experienced a significant recession in the 1990s as the textile and coal industries began to decline, and many residents moved away in search of work. The initiative was focused on restoring the natural habitats and ecosystems that have been impacted by centuries of human intervention and promoting sustainable land use practices. Their goal was to buy Langholm Moor, “one of the UK’s most famous grouse moors, owned by one of the UK’s most powerful hereditary landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch”.3Severin Carrell, ‘Scottish Villagers Plan to Buy out Landowners for Eco Moorland Project’, The Guardian, 25 June 2020 <> [accessed 3 February 2023]. The area encompasses around 10,000 hectares of land and is known for its rich natural beauty and diverse wildlife including a mix of farmland, forests, ancient woodland, and wetlands.

In 2021, the Langholm Initiativesuccessfully raised the funds to purchase around 2,100 hectares of land and put them back under communal ownership. This community buyout was a historic moment for Scotland’s land reform movement and paved the way for the creation of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve aiming to establish rewilding practices at huge scales and regenerate the biodiversity of the area. Currently the initiative has launched their campaign to purchase further 2,000 hectares of land, planning to plant new areas of native, broadleaf woodland and aiming to create a wilder landscape that provides a rich mosaic of habitats, allowing a wide range of wildlife to thrive.

The Langholm Initiative’s community buyout brought the land back under communal ownership, allowing the community to exercise stewardship over the land and make decisions about its use, preventing future possible developments driven solely by profit motives while preserving the cultural and historical heritage of the area. This is an important tool for community-led development and sustainable land use, as it empowers communities to shape their own future and protect their natural resources for future generations.


External links

Isle of Ulva—community owned island 

Sarayaku, Ecuador—The Kichwa community of Sarayaku has been advocating for their land rights and protecting their ancestral territory from oil exploration, setting a precedent for Indigenous land rights with their legal victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and informing the rights of nature movement 

Niyamgiri, India—The Dongria Kondh tribe successfully resisted mining operations on their sacred lands in the Niyamgiri hills, drawing global attention to Indigenous land rights and the protection of natural resources with their activism 

Māori, New Zealand—Māori communities involved in various land rights and treaty settlement processes, asserting their rights to their ancestral lands and resources 

Croftinga form of small-scale, subsistence agriculture that was traditionally practiced in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Scottish Crofters Commissionestablished in 1886 to address and protect the right of the crofters