2003 Update on Community Land Trusts in Scotland by Caroline Whyte

Borve and Annishadder Township

Alaistar Nicolson, secretary of the Borve and Annishadder Township, described in a January 2003 e-mail the changes that have taken place there in recent years:

"Since 1996 another Crofter Forestry scheme amounting to 60 hectares has been established by the Grazings with the approval of the Township and a third scheme of around 120 hectares is planned for 2003. All schemes are predominately native broadleaf with some Scots Pine and areas of natural regeneration, and should enhance the area and provide additional income for the Crofters involved."

"Several directors provided input into the Duthchas pilot project that operated in the Trotternish area of Skye between 1998 and 2001." (This project was funded by the EU as an experiment in economic planning. The community, one of three in Scotland involved in the scheme, was asked to come up with a plan for the development of the Trotternish area, with an emphasis an preserving the area's ecology. Detailed information about the project is online at www.duthchas.org.uk )

"We also collaborated with the local Housing Association with a view to providing new local housing within the Township, [though] unfortunately due to circumstances outside the control of the Township this has not been able to proceed. In addition, the Township has been able to pay back the Highland Fund loan."

"As for future plans, we are keen to work with the wider community on anything that will enhance the economic, social and environmental aspects of our area. The main drawback is time to research and take ideas forward, but I suppose that now that we own the land we can take our time to consider future developments."

The Borve and Annishadder Township's website is at borvetownship.community.sitekit.net/welcome.asp; e-mail is borve@sale.prestel.co.uk.

Assynt Crofter's Trust

The Assynt Crofter's Trust has also achieved a great deal in the last few years. Bob Cook, the Trust's secretary, outlined the Trust's achievements for me in a January 2003 e-mail.15 new directors were elected by the townships in the course of the past decade, "bringing new skills and enthusiasm to the Board". There have been 13 new entrants to crofting in 7 townships in the area, and the crofters have co-ordinated the medical treatment of their livestock and are now exploring the idea of growing new crops such as Bog Myrtle, a herb with medicinal properties.

39% of the Trust's income each year comes from brown trout fishing, and 8 boats have been bought and hired out to anglers. The Trust also holds 800 hectares of native woodlands which are newly planted, and carries out 193,000 worth of contract forestry work in the parish. Cook explained that "the area has to be deer fenced, the ground then prepared for planting, the trees are then planted and later each tree is individually fertilised. This is very labour intensive work and carried out by locally recruited squads." The forestry work provides the equivalent of 3 part-time jobs per year.

The Trust is planning to build four new houses for rent at an affordable level over the next year, in conjunction with Albyn Housing (a housing trust). Cook writes, "They will never be for sale and therefore will form the nucleus of a housing stock on the estate. If this is successful we hope to build more." The Trust is also negotiating with North of Scotland Water, the local utility, to install a Reed Bed sewage system, which will be about the size of a tennis court and should easily cope with the sewage treatment of the four original houses as well as the four new ones, with capacity for expansion.

Additionally, the Trust is exploring the use of hydro power, having set up the Assynt Hydro Ltd in 1999. A 500,000 micro hydro scheme has been running now for more than two years. Initial plans for it met with considerable resistance from Scottish Natural Heritage, an environmental group, because of fears that it would adversely affect the habitats of a pair of black-throated divers and a colony of fresh water pearl mussels living in the area where the turbine would be built. However, the crofters came up with an innovative water level control system which hopefully will ensure that the habitat is preserved, and the SNH agreed to the project. Cook writes, "It is a 200 MW scheme and the regeneration which has taken place around the site has completely hidden the construction. It has had virtually no impact on the environment." The scheme will revert to full ACT ownership in 2015. More information about the scheme can be found at the Trust's website.

The Trust's activities have enabled it to make a profit annually, which is reinvested in the community. It supports a part-time employee. Much of the administration is done by a team of volunteers, who Cook says work an average of 4,800 hours of voluntary time annually - "the equivalent of 2 full-time jobs or some 36,000 investment each year".

Other Community Land Trusts in Scotland

There have been numerous new developments in Scotland over the past few years with regard to community land trusts - in fact, over 90 communities have now set up land trusts with the help of HIE. Alastair Nicolson, Community Land Advisor at HIE (and no relation to Alaistar Nicolson!), explained in a January 2003 e-mail that "land reform legislation in the form of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill has raised the profile of this type of land ownership. Following the enactment of legislation early this year we expect many [more] communities to take advantage of the opportunities it will present for them."

This increase in community ownership has come about despite the fact that none of the communities involved have bought or taken over government-owned estates - notwithstanding the UK government's announcement in 1996 (mentioned in the original text) of its intention to transfer at least some of its site-owned crofting estates to communities. Some communities have bought land from the the Forestry Commission, but the bulk of purchases were actually from private landowners.

A good explanation for the apparent lack of interest in government-owned estates can be found in a Web article that describes case studies of community land ownership in Scotland. Lorna Campbell writes that:

"initially, there was a flurry of interest from a number of crofting townships, and by mid-2000, CTAS [the Crofting Trust Advisory Service] had attended 22 open and township meetings, provided nine additional advisory visits, assisted with legal fees for four cases and provided assistance with eight feasibility studies. Two of these were in the Uists, three in Sutherland and three in Skye.

"However, crofters usually face a dilemma once the feasibility study is completed and they sit down to look at the benefits that would accrue through direct ownership...Crofters' reasons for maintaining the status quo have centred around a number of factors, namely: the lack of perceived benefit from transfer of ownership; satisfaction with Department management and the Secretary of State as a landlord; differences of opinion between the townships involved; and, in a couple of cases, the feasibility study indicating that it would not be financially advisable for the crofters to take ownership as a trust.

"There is also some doubt about whether such transfers could proceed 'at no consideration' as originally intimated by Michael Forsyth, and the one community that is interested in owning a Department estate is currently in negotiation on this point."

Clearly though there has been much success with community purchases of privately-owned estates. In June of 1997, HIE set up the Community Land Unit (CLU), intended to support community land initiatives by providing advice and financial assistance. According to HIE's website, the unit's aim is "to increase the role of communities in the ownership and management of land and land assets, and the sustainable management of these resources for the benefit of the community". Nicolson writes that "all of the acquisition projects supported by the CLU have had the benefit of a community consultation / feasibility study and business planning process to make sure they are viable in the long term." HIE also has a Community Energy Unit whose purpose is, Nicolson writes, "to support community renewable projects by giving advice, and through financial support for feasibility studies etc."

Nicolson adds that "the funding available for community buy-outs has been augmented with the establishment of the lottery funded Scottish Land Fund. This grant programme is actually administered by us in the CLU, but decisions on funding are made by the independent Scottish Land Fund Committee. This programme has made available 10m for community land purchase and development, across rural Scotland."

Examples of the newer trusts that have been established with the help of HIE include a Community Forest Trust at Abriachan, which is the first of its kind in the UK. The 534-acre forest had previously belonged to the Forestry Commission, and was bought in 1998 by the 120-member community of Abriachan. The Trust's goals include creating new jobs, re-afforestation of the area with native species, and improving access to the woods and hills, which attract a lot of walkers as part of the Great Glen Way. In fact, the issue of access rights was what triggered the community's interest in forming a Trust. More information about its activities can be found at www.members.tripod.com/abriachan/index.html .

Another recently established trust, The Isle of Eigg Trust, was formed in 1997 and holds the entire island as its property. It is a partnership between the residents of Eigg, the Highland Council, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The Trust has organised the establishment of a new Pier Centre, "An Laimhrig", which contains a shop/post office - whose predecessor had been closed because it couldn't keep up with Health and Safety regulations - in a new building which also includes a crafts co-op and cafe, as well as the Trust's office. Most of the energy needs of the building are met by a micro-hydro plant that was completed in 2000. The Trust also has a subsidiary construction company which employs a team of renovators to help restore housing stock on the land, in order to improve the quality of the tenant's accommodation. In addition, the Trust manages the island's forest area with the goal of encouraging regeneration of native species. Its impressive website is at www.isleofeigg.org.

Nicolson comments with regard to the Isle of Eigg, "A study is underway on the island to identify potential renewable energy solutions to meet the power requirements of the islanders. The island, like its neighbours (Rum, Muck, Canna and the Knoydart peninsula), is not linked to the national grid. Knoydart, also the subject of a community buy-out, has recently upgraded its private hydro power station. This facility is also entirely owned by the community, and was upgraded using CLU grants, European grants and funding raised by the community.".

Detailed information about community land trusts in Scotland and the roles played by CTAS and the CLU can be found at the Caledonia Centre for Social Development's website (www.caledonia.org.uk/socialland) and, in particular, Lorna Campbell's article at www.caledonia.org.uk/socialland/clu.htm. The CLU's own website is at www.hie.co.uk/CommunityLand.htm .

The Scottish Crofting Foundation (formerly Scottish Crofters' Union), is located at The Steading, Balmacara Square, by Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DJ, tel +44 (0)1520 722891, fax +44 (0)1520 722932, e-mail hq@crofting.org.

The Social Land Ownership website "celebrates the size, diversity and range of patterns of common ownership that comprise the social land sector in various parts of the world". It includes detailed descriptions of some of the Scottish land trusts.

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