Absentee owners of two Highland estates are being challenged to “democratise” the companies that own them to give more power to local people and land rights activists.
Mount Stuart Trust owns 28,000 acres on the Isle of Bute and is wholly controlled by five members of the Marquess of Bute’s family, plus an accountant and lawyer. None of them live on Bute.
The Applecross Trust, which owns 61,000 acres of the Applecross peninsula in Wester Ross – featured in the popular TV series Monty Halls’ Great Escape – is controlled by seven people and chaired by Richard Wills, of Andover, Hampshire. Again, none of the members live in Applecross.
More than 90 applications for membership rights were delivered yesterday to the Registered Offices of the companies in Edinburgh.
The campaign is being led by Land Action Scotland, a new network of land rights activists across Scotland which said that, if successful, the members will work with local residents to hand over the companies to community control.
Applicants include supporters from across Scotland as well as local people from Bute and Applecross.
Land Action Scotland has also launched today a new website on which the wider public is being invited to submit online applications for membership.
The group’s co-ordinator Andy Wightman said: “The aim is to democratise these private organisations which are meant to operate on a charitable basis.
“They exert enormous influence over the local communities of Bute and Applecross and yet they remain in the exclusive control of a handful of people who to date have shown no interest in extending participation to local residents.
“The time has passed for aristocrats and wealthy families to hide their continued control over vast tracts of Scotland behind front companies and charities, fig-leaves that allow them to keep control. The people of Bute and Applecross have the right to be members of these companies and play a full and democratic part in the future of the estate.”
A spokesman for the Applecross Trust said: “The trust provides very significant investment within Applecross aimed at supporting its objectives and benefiting the various local communities. Its public record speaks for itself and various works being carried out by the trust could act as an effective business model for other fragile Highland communities.”
The Applecross peninsula, directly opposite Skye, Raasay and Rona, remains one of the most remote areas of Scotland, once only accessible by boat and footpath. In 1850 nearly 3,000 people lived in the scattered townships; now there are fewer than 300.
The Clearances were responsible for some of the depopulation, but lack of local opportunities and work contributed.
There was no response from the Mount Stuart Trust yesterday.