The Scottish islands owned by the communities who call them home

Great Bernera off Lewis is close to becoming owned by residents.

Great Bernera off Lewis is close to becoming owned by residents.

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Residents on some of Scotlands most glorious islands have taken charge of their own futures in a series of community buyouts.

Centuries of Scotland’s feudal land laws have been ripped up in the process - bringing and end to chronic underinvestment and disinterest of landowners in many cases.

Here we look at five islands where power has been put with the people - and where opportunities, population, and income now continue to grow.

GREAT BERNERA

Population: 250

This island settlement in Loch Roag is linked to Lewis by road bridge and was previously owned by Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees - an aristocrat, friend of writer Ian Fleming and part inspiration for James Bond.

Eigg has the first completely wind, water and sun-powered electricity grid in the world,

Count Robin gave the community first refusal to purchase Great Bernera following his death in 2012 and last year 85 per cent of the community turned out to vote on the buyout. In total, 142 backed the purchase of the island with 37 against.

The community trust received £100,000 from the Scotland Land Fund - financed by Scottish Government - to help purchase the 2,260 hectares of the Great Bernera Estate including 69 crofts around Kirkibost, Tobson, Hacklete, Breaclete and Croir.

Ideas to boost the island economy range from a new four-star hotel to a campervan site, renewable energy development and a pier at Kirkbost.

The purchase of Great Bernera, which has yet to be completed, will close a powerful chapter in Scotland’s history of land ownership.

Gigha

Gigha

The Great Bernera Riot of 1874 broke out when crofters resisted increased rents and evictions. The court case which followed ledto what is understood to be the first victory for crofters and paved the way for land reform in Scotland.

READ MORE: Population of Scotland’s islands on the rise

EIGG

Population around 100

Large parts of the Isle of Lewis is now under community ownership. Pic Tom Richardson/Wikicommons

Large parts of the Isle of Lewis is now under community ownership. Pic Tom Richardson/Wikicommons

Bought in 1997 for £1.5m, Eigg is considered the beacon of community land ownership in Scotland that dismantled the old feudal-style of governance and replaced it with a sustainable, democratic and thriving alternative.

Both residents and thousands of complete strangers - aided by a £1m anonymous donation - pitched into secure the Hebridean isle from German artist Professor Murama.

The population has since risen from around 65 to more than 100 with eight pupils now at the school, including one in nursery.

The island has the first completely wind, water and sun-powered electricity grid in the world. Energy is drawn primarily from four wind turbines and the Laig run of river hydro scheme with excess stored in a battery bank until required. Each household has a 5KW maximum rule.

A community construction company has built around 30 new homes and is responsible for maintenance and repair of others on the island.

Meanwhile, community-owned broadband network allows some islanders to work remotely for companies on the mainland.

READ MORE: How much land in Scotland is community owned?

RUM

Population around 30

Eigg’s neighbour went through a far smaller community buyout in 2009 when the island’s 17 adults voted in favour of taking ownership of Rum from Scottish Natural Heritage.

The vote, which had 100 per cent turnout, put residents in charge of the tiny township of Kinloch and its 13 homes, farm buildings, shop and surrounding land.

Fresh work is being put in to take the population to a more sustainable level, with plans for new housing and more attractions for tourists.

GIGHA

Population 170

Gigha, off the west coast of Kintyre, was put up for sale by businessman Derek Holt - former owner of Skibo Castle - in 2001 and was bought by islanders for £4m raised by the Scottish Land Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

With the buyout came 47 cottages, four farms, a hotel, quarry, wind farm and 54-acre garden.

However, the community was required to pay back £1m by 2004, a fifth of which had to generated by the community’s own fundraising efforts. This was done in honourable grassroots style with soup and sandwich days, celidhs, quiz nights and sponsored slims helping to meet the target. The sale of Achamore House followed.

The population has dramatically risen since the buyout, when just 96 people lived there, but the trust ran into challenging times and announced debts of around £2.7m in 2014.

A major restructing of the way the island was run took place, which has led to good business and new optimism. The Gigha Hotel, which was run solely by the community and closed for long spells of time, is now fully reopened and doing brisk trade with a new landlord at the helm. A project to create more moorings is due to be complete by the summer, with hopes for a long, busy summer, and housing plots have been identified for sale.

Gigha is only 20 minutes from the mainland by ferry, with many residents able to work from the mainland as well as enjoy the simplicity and beauty of island life.

BARVAS ESTATE, LEWIS

Population around 300

Not all of Lewis is in community hands but a growing patchwork of buyouts has left the majority of the island owned by its residents.

The latest is Barvas Estate which covers 44,000 acres and around 330 crofts on the west of the isle.

The owners - the Duckworth family of Lancashire - offered the community first refusal to buy and a deal is due to be signed and sealed within the next few weeks.

The family have used the estate since the 1920s and usually only stay on the island for the salmon season.

The purchase price will be between £600,000 and £700,000 which will be advanced by the Scottish Land Fund with plans in place to build a renewables development and a campsite to help generate income.

A large swathe of the island has been in community ownership since 1924, when industrialist Lord Leverhulme gifted Lews Castle and 64,000 acres of land to the people of Stornoway parish. The Stornoway Trust was established to manage the substantial estate on behalf of the community.

Other community-owned land on Lewis includes the 56,000 acre Galson estate, bought for £1.2m in 2007.

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