Islanders vote to become kings of their own castles

DAVID Frew is dependent on his employer for both his home and castle. Over the past two and a half years, he has managed Kinloch Castle on the island of Rum for Scottish Natural Heritage, which also owns his tied house.

It is the same situation for nearly all his neighbours, whose ability to live on the island has depended on the government agency providing a job and accommodation.

In a few weeks, however, the social make-up of Rum will change. After filing into a makeshift polling station in the castle yesterday, the 17 eligible voters among the island's 29-strong population decided 15-2 for greater autonomy and to become landowners.

Mr Frew and three other SNH employees – an administrator, estate worker and reserve officer – are directors of the Isle of Rum Community Trust, which will take over land and assets around the village of Kinloch.

The move loosens the agency's grip on Rum, which has been owned by SNH and its predecessor, the Nature Conservancy Council, since 1957.

People living there have been almost totally reliant on the conservation quango, with SNH owning every building except the primary school and every house apart from the teacher's accommodation.

Under the transfer, the Isle of Rum Community Trust will take more than 370 acres of land around Kinloch in two phases, leaving SNH to manage the rest of the 26,000-acre island.

The trust plans to create five new crofts, new housing and holiday chalets.

Mr Frew said: "The biggest difference is that it allows Rum to develop as a proper community. It will give people the opportunity to be secure in their homes outwith SNH employment.

"It will allow us to develop independently of SNH, which has been impossible in the past.

"In future, the community essentially will be given the chance to develop into a balanced, normal community – exciting times."

Yesterday's vote follows a summit in December 2007, when Michael Russell, the environment minister, announced the setting-up of a task force intended to help the island become self-sustaining.

Ian Leaver, the island's development officer, welcomed the move: "Previously, if you didn't have an SNH job, you had to leave the island as you had no house. This gives people a future."

Andrew Thin, the SNH chairman, said last night he was delighted by the "historic" move.

He said it would enable economic and social diversity and independence on the island.

Rum, the largest of the group known as the Small Isles, including Eigg, Muck and Canna, had a population of more than 400 in the early 19th century.

But the then owner, the chief of the Macleans of Coll, helped the entire community to emigrate to Canada. The island was later owned by a Lancaster businessman, John Bullough, who spelled its name Rhum. His son, George, built Kinloch Castle.

Rum passed to trustees and was sold to the Nature Conservancy Council in 1957.

How it works

What were the people of Rum voting for?

They were voting on a proposal to transfer assets in the village of Kinloch from Rum's owners, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), to the community.

Will any money change hands in the deal?

No. It is not a community buyout as in other islands, like Eigg and Gigha. Land and buildings owned by SNH, worth an estimated 250,000, are being given over to the community to run.

What assets are being taken over?

In phase one, the transfer will involve the community hall, village shop and tearoom, campsite and land for at least three crofts, house plots and other development, by the end of February. Phase two, in about a year, will see more land for crofts and houses put into community ownership.

So who will be the new owner of these assets?

The Isle of Rum Community Trust. It has four island-based directors, while all 17 people on the electoral roll for the island are eligible to be members. There are also four non-island directors.

Does the trust now own the entire island?

No. It will control about 370 acres of land in and around Kinloch. SNH will manage the rest of Rum as a nature reserve.

Is Kinloch Castle part of the takeover?