Islanders vote to buy Barvas Estate on Lewis

Barvas Estate on Lewis has an adult population of 919. Picture: Community Land Scotland
Barvas Estate on Lewis has an adult population of 919. Picture: Community Land Scotland
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Islanders have voted to buy a 44,000-acre Hebridean estate, which includes the only place in the UK where baby gannets are slaughtered for food.

Barvas Estate on Lewis, which is home to some 300 crofts and has an adult population of 919, has been owned by an England-based family, the Duckworths, for more than 85 years.

But the landowner last year indicated his willingness to sell and offered the community first refusal.

Urras Sgire Oighreachd Bharabhais Community Company explored the idea of taking over the estate, which includes the remote offshore islands of North Rona and Sula Sgeir, where the controversial annual slaughter of 2,000 baby gannets – known as guga – takes place each August.

More than half the population eligible to vote took part in a ballot on Thursday night.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of proceeding with purchasing the estate, with 417, or 80 per cent, voting for a buyout, compared with only 80 against.

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The project’s steering group wants to build 40 new affordable homes in the area, plus a five-turbine community wind farm and an environmental interpretation centre.

The community believes it could eventually get an income of about £60,000 a year from the estate.

Director Kenny John Macleod said: “We are delighted with the endorsement the community has given us. It has been a long journey, as it was first raised around ten years ago.”

The group will now seek funding from the National Lottery and Scottish Land Fund.

Virtually all of the estate is under crofting tenure, although the owners operate a small lodge and employ water bailiffs and a gamekeeper.

The Barvas Estate was created out of a 1924 carve-up of Lewis when the previous owner, soap magnate Lord Leverhulme, fell on hard times and sold many of his Hebridean assets.

Rural communities refused his free-gift offer to take over the land for nothing, so the island was split into separate estates and sold off privately.

Barvas has been in the control of the same Lancashire family since then.

It was purchased by John Talbot Clifton for £2,900 and passed to his Duckworth relatives when he died in 1928.

The idea of a potential buyout was first mooted more than a decade ago when engineering company Amec revealed plans to pay around £10 million to the landlord to build a massive wind farm on the estate.

The giant energy scheme was refused by the Scottish Government.

However, a 2007 feasibility study suggested establishing a handful of community-owned turbines along with new houses and an environmental interpretation centre.

The latest buyout move gained momentum when the owner said he would sell.

The value of the land and salmon hatchery, excluding property and fishing rights, is rumoured to be £2m.