a Scottish landscape


In 1996, Canongate Books published my book, Who Owns Scotland. It provided an overview of the topic of landownership in Scotland and details of over 1500 landholdings covering just under 70% of the land area of Scotland. Within a few years, it became clear that the data itself was of use to people but not in the limited form allowed for in the pages of a printed book which would rapidly become out of date.

Around 2000, the internet and computer mapping had advanced and it was possible to undertake a project like this website in a way which was impossible in 1996. I constructed some mock-up pages and canvassed opinion about making such information available on the internet. The response was positive and I raised some money from generous sponsors through the Caledonia Centre for Social Development to begin the process of research.

My ambition was to map who owns Scotland in a far more systematic and detailed way than I had had time to do in the book which was compiled from sources of varying quality and has known errors and omissions. I thus decided to research all landholdings from the raw title deeds held in the National Archives of Scotland and recorded by the Registers of Scotland in the Register of Sasines and Land Register. This is a slow and time-consuming process but provides far more consistent and reliable information than before. It also permits the more systematic and straightforward updating of the data.

The website was launched in 2001 and was originally intended to be complete within three years. That it has taken longer is predominantly down to the fact that it has been developed on an essentially unpaid basis, the idea being that it would provide the information for a revised and updated version of the book.

Along the way, the Scottish Executive thought about the need for this kind of information resource and, for reasons I never agreed with, decided that it was not needed. I continued to expand the site and am grateful to Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise for funding studies into landownership in the their areas, the data from which is included in this website.

In 2003, I began working with Noel Darlow, a web coding guru from Ayrshire and, in June 2003, we launched a website based on a dynamic online database which saved a lot of time in editing content.

In 2005, the Ordnance Survey contacted me and, over the course of some months, made it clear that the agrements I had entered into with them to use their mapping were no longer appropriate. As a result, all OS mapping was removed from the site in 2007. The whole sorry tale is told here. Over the past two years, I have rebuilt the site with out of copyright mapping (see Mapping for further details).

Then, in May 2009, I was informed by the Registers of Scotland that an arrangement I had with them for research was to be terminated. This prompted me to review the whole project and how it was financed. I am grateful to all who have donated funds along the way to keep the site going. The mains costs have been web hosting and map licencing. It is now clear, however, that, with increasing research costs, the website needs to be moved onto a more sustainable financial footing. It was relaunched in its current redesigned format in September 2009.

Thank you to the following for their support to date: