Two island communities receive funds to buy estates

Bernera Bridge
Bernera Bridge

A Hebridean island, which paved the way for land reform in Scotland, will be brought into community ownership, thanks to funding announced today by the Scottish Land Fund.

The Great Bernera Community Development Trust receives £100,000 to purchase the 2,260 hectares of the Great Bernera Estate including 69 crofts around the townships of Kirkibost, Tobson, Hacklete, Breaclete and Croir.

Back in March 2015, the local community of Great Bernera voted overwhelmingly to buy the islands once owned by Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees. The Estate is of historical interest due to the Bernera Riot of 1874 when crofters resisted increased rents and evictions. This led to a court case which resulted in what is understood to be the first victory for crofters and paved the way for land reform in Scotland.

As well as contributing to the costs of buying the land, the Scottish Land Fund award will also pay for the part-time posts of Commercial Manager and Administrative Officer.

Welcoming the funding, Tom Macdonald, Chairperson, Great Bernera Community Development Trust, said: “That we are so close, with this grant, to achieving the ownership of “The Crofting Lands of Bernera” is a tribute to the work of local residents helped by various agencies. This completes the circle of land reform. It started here on Bernera, so it’s satisfying to see that the present residents can benefit from the acts of our predecessors. We hope that our actions now will be of similar significance for the future and will kick-start the social and economic regeneration of the Bernera community.”

Also in the Western Isles, Urras Sgire Oighreachd Bharabhais (USOB) receives a Scottish Land Fund award of £715,000. This will allow the local community to purchase 14,000 hectares of the Barvas Estate croft land and a salmon hatchery. Ownership will empower the community to lead and control the management and future development of the Estate and enable them to create new, sustainable economic and social opportunities for the benefit of local people.

Angus MacLeod of Urras Sgire Oighreachd Bharabhais Community Company, said: “All the Directors of the USOB Community Company are delighted with the Scottish Land Fund award. This new funding heralds a welcome chance for Barvas Estate residents to decide on future community matters in a progressive manner.”

Meanwhile in Crossapol on the Isle of Tiree, a former shop and accompanying piece of land will be brought into community ownership, thanks to an award of £141,000. The project, driven by the Tiree Community Development Trust, will empower the local community to purchase and develop the assets to produce new business and economic opportunities for the area.

Minister for Land Reform, Aileen McLeod said, “ “I am delighted to see the latest round of Scottish Land Fund awards which will help six communities in south Ayrshire, the Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire and the Western Isles bring land into community ownership.

“These communities have developed their own plans for their local land which ranges from estates to small key pieces of land that will help them to transform their communities and bring a host of benefits; economic, social and environmental. I am looking forward to watching them develop the land on which they live and work to realise their goals and ambitions, as the Scottish Government seeks to support community land ownership and bring more land into community ownership by 2020.”

Scottish Land Fund Chair John Watt, added: “Today marks a significant milestone for these remote island communities, each of which will take ownership of locally important pieces of land. With its latest support of two large island estate buyouts, the Scottish Land Fund has now helped put the majority of Lewis onto the path of community ownership, along the way enabling and empowering more people to take control of their own futures.”

Rachel Mackenzie, Area Manager, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said, “We have been working with the Great Bernera Community Development Trust for some time to help them develop their plans to acquire the Estate. The news of the Scottish Land Fund Award is excellent and a tribute to all the time and hard work the group and community have invested in the project. Acquiring the Barvas Estate will give the local community the resources and control they need to deliver some really exciting projects for the benefit of people living in and visiting the area. We are looking forward to working with them in the future to help them realise their ambitions for the estate.”

The First Minister announced in her Programme for Government that the Scottish Land Fund will be increased to £10 million from 2016-20.