National Trust for Scotland criticised for selling off tiny island of Insh where owner lived in cave

National Trust for Scotland has been criticised after it sold off an island that was gifted to the charity following the death of its cave-dwelling owner.
The island of Insh in the Slate Isles off the coast of Argyll has been sold by National Trust for Scotland to a private owner. Stewart.The island of Insh in the Slate Isles off the coast of Argyll has been sold by National Trust for Scotland to a private owner. Stewart.
The island of Insh in the Slate Isles off the coast of Argyll has been sold by National Trust for Scotland to a private owner. Stewart.

Insh, which sits in the Slate Isles off the Argyll Coast, has been sold for £353,000, according to documents obtained by The Ferret news site.

It was put on the market after it was bequeathed to the conservation charity by David Brearley, the sole occupant for 30 years who reportedly inhabited a cave to the north of the 90-acre island.

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NTS has been criticised after Insh was sold to a private company with interests in tourism, whose director also reportedly wants to harvest seaweed on the island, given claims locally that Mr Brearley wanted Insh to remain in a natural state.

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The charity said it was given no direction by Mr Brearley over future use of Insh, which is defined by rough grass, rocky outcrops and a natural cave. The ruins of two crofthouses can also be found here.

Mike Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, told The Ferret: “I certainly don’t think that private sale was the only answer.

He said that, given reports of Mr Brearley’s wishes for Insh, it would have been right for NTS to consult both locally and with national heritage bodies before putting the island on the market.

Mr Russell added: “NTS has always been a bit imperious in its approach and it is unfortunate to see that tendency coming to the fore again.”

NTS said there were no instructions given in Mr Brearley’s will over how he wished Insh to be used, with no additional documents submitted.

A report was written by the charity to examine all options for Insh before it was placed on the open market.

A National Trust for Scotland spokesman said: “The Isle of Insh was gifted to the Trust as part of a wider legacy which we are very grateful for. There were no conditions attached and as such, following a careful assessment of its heritage value, the potential added value of Trust ownership and the costs and benefits of that, we were content for the executors of the estate to dispose of the island.

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“The island was already in private ownership and had been uninhabited for some years, so effectively that situation remains unchanged.

“The Trust was approached by a private landowner with a premium offer, but our charity instead ensured that the property was openly and fairly marketed by the executors of the estate to allow everyone an opportunity to bid."

The new owner of Insh is Gorebridge-based West Coast Heritage Limited, a business involved in ‘holiday centres and villas’, according to Companies House.

It is understood director David Mackman hopes to harvest seaweed on the island and improve accessibility to the public, with plans to create a new safe place for boats to dock. However, plans are currently on hold.

NTS, which faced a £28m shortfall this year due to the impact of Coronavirus, was given a £3.8m lifeline by the Scottish Government to help it protect a number of jobs at risk of redundancy.

Last year, NTS pulled an income of £57.9m with £22.35m generated by donations and legacies.

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