Plans for Scottish rural parliament
The Scottish government is moving ahead with plans to create a rural parliament for Scotland.
Ministers said it would offer "a greater voice to rural communities" but would not be a further layer of government.
The creation of a rural parliament was included in the Scottish government'sProgramme for Scotland 2011-2012.
An initial meeting with interested parties has already been held to consider the shape of the parliament.
Earlier this month, groups including the Association of Scottish Community Councils, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Youth Parliament discussed what the institution could look like.
The next step will be a meeting in May with representatives from existing European rural parliaments.
A report has also been published, highlighting the experiences of countries which already have rural parliaments, including the benefits and potential pitfalls, success stories and the various formats used.
The Rural Parliaments in Europe reportwas produced for the Scottish government by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) Rural Policy Centre.
It looked at rural parliaments in six countries - Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia.
Rural Policy Centre researcher Mike Woolvin said: "Our study found that government involvement and commitment to setting up a Scottish rural parliament is important but that it must be done in partnership with others.
"Enthusiasm, engagement and drive from the grassroots is vital, as a rural parliament cannot be imposed from the top-down.
"It is particularly vital that the parliament is well resourced from a variety of sources and that recommendations are quickly translated into actions by policy-makers and politicians."
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said there were many benefits to living in Scotland's more rural areas, but the distances involved brought with them different challenges from those faced in less-remote parts of the country.
He added: "Scotland's Rural Parliament will empower our rural communities, giving them a stronger voice and genuine access to decision-making.
"By doing this I am confident that our resilient and entrepreneurial rural communities will get the support and opportunities they need to flourish and grow."