Sustainable Estates for the 21st Century
: The motivations of landowners in upland Scotland: Exploring challenges to sustainability

  • Pippa Wagstaff

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


This study is part of the ‘Sustainable Estates for the 21st Century’ project, designed to understand how best to manage the relationships between people, place and the economy in the Scottish uplands. Large areas of these uplands are owned by private landowners who make significant decisions on land-use. However, past research has provided little insight into landowner decision-making: it is out-dated, inconsistent and offers limited explanation of underlying motives and priorities. In order to address this, a large-scale structured survey was combined with Q methodology and case study interviews on 11 estates.
The results indicate that most private landowners have strong economic priorities, but they are not striving solely for instrumental goals of income or financial security. Those on purchased estates are also motivated by personal ambitions: expressive goals. On inherited estates, landowners are motivated by intrinsic motives: a strong sense of duty and attachment to place. Time and money clearly impact significantly on private landowners’ motives and priorities for estate management:
* The fundamental priority underpinning estate management is economic; only when the estate is financially secure are other issues considered to any significant extent.
* Environmental priorities are most evident on purchased estates without economic constraints.
* Lengthy family ownership creates strong ties. An increased sense of duty and commitment to social priorities comes with longevity of tenure.
Despite the strength of the underlying economic motivation, most landowners are ‘satisficers’ trying to balance multiple objectives in order to address the various challenges to sustainability. This was particularly evident on large inherited estates where landowners take a paternalistic role. Consequently, retaining such landowners appears to be an important factor in building resilient communities.
Although grants still incentivise many landowners to provide public goods, their contributions to all aspects of sustainability could be better rewarded. Government policy should improve the alignment of landowners’ and public goals to achieve long-term sustainability in the uplands.
Date of Award4 Mar 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SponsorsHenry Angest Foundation Scholarship
SupervisorMartin Francis Price (Supervisor) & Charles Warren (Supervisor)

Cite this