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March 25, 2009

Happy Birthday to Knoydart

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the community’s famous buy-out of the Knoydart estate. To celebrate, the Knoydart Foundation are planning a programme of events over the next few months which starts with a birthday celebration this week on 26th and an evening of music and dance on 28th. Knoydart’s 10 Music festival gets underway during April.

Knoydart’s Past

In 1983 Philip Rhodes, a Surrey businessman, bought the estate and set up the holding company Knoydart Peninsula Ltd. He then began selling large and small packages of land around the periphery of the peninsula, reducing the size of the estate from 58,000 to 18,000 acres. This process was regarded by many as asset stripping but at least it provided opportunities for new blood and shared ownership. Several of the businesses which now exist, the range of holiday homes and the diverse nature of the community stem from Rhodes’ time.

The remaining estate was sold to failing Dundee jute company, Titaghur, for £1.7m in 1993.

Chairman Reg Brearley, a member of the General Synod of the Church of England and owner of Sheffield United, said he wanted to turn the estate into a training camp for underprivileged teenagers but was refused planning permission.

Neighbouring laird Cameron Mackintosh, the West End impresario who spent much of his childhood near Mallaig, was part of a consortium which made an £800,000 bid in 1995, but it was rejected.

In 1998, Knoydart Peninsula Ltd’s mounting debts left the estate workers without salaries. Another English businessman, Graham Avery, took control before passing it on to an associate, Stephen Hinchcliffe, a man who, in November 1998, was described by a High Court judge as “unfit to be involved with the management of a company”.

Control of Knoydart Peninsula Ltd was assumed by the receivers in October 1998.

Attempts were then made to draw up a long-term lease whereby the Foundation would rent the estate from the Mackintosh Foundation. In spite of the best efforts of all concerned the lease option failed in January 1999. It was swiftly followed by successful negotiation between the receivers, the Bank of Scotland and the Foundation partners. The estate was purchased for £750,000.

Several organisations and individuals made significant contributions towards the purchase, namely : the John Muir Trust (£250,000), the Chris Brasher Trust (£200,000), Sir Cameron Macintosh’s Foundation matched the Government’s contribution (through Highlands and Islands Enterprise) of £75,000, Scottish Natural Heritage (£50,000). An anonymous donor gave £100,000. The initial deposit and working capital were provided by the community’s public appeal.

The purchase marked the end of fifteen years of unstable and uncertain ‘mortgaged ownership’ and hopefully will help to put an end to the practice of buying Scottish estates out of vanity or to make a quick profit. What is needed is a long term commitment to the well being of the area and its people and natural heritage. This the Knoydart Foundation aims to provide.

Knoydart’s Present

The Peninsula is now divided into several ownerships. As well as the Knoydart Estate, land is owned by The John Muir Trust, The Kilchoan Estate, Camusrory Estate, Inverguserain Farm and the Rubha Ruadh Estate and numerous smaller estates. The only indigenous people in Knoydart are the fourteen children born here but the community is strong, diverse and very committed to the area. The population including children is on the increase. The community has become very resilient. Residents are determined to halt the decline and instability that has been the cause of so many people having to leave.

The management of the Knoydart Estate is now overseen by the Knoydart Foundation Board. The Board is responsible for lease or rent of all residential and commercial properties, Estate maintenance and restoration, and conservation/heritage management projects. The Board’s policies are implemented by the Development Manager and by three related organisations.

These are:

o Knoydart Trading Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of Knoydart Foundation limited by shares) which has responsibility for trading activities from the letting of certain Foundation properties, including the hostel, and from stalking lets.

o Knoydart Hydro Ltd (a wholly owned subsiduary of Knoydart Foundation limited by shares) which has responsibility for the lease, management and operation of primary (hydro electric) and secondary (diesel generator) supplies and for revenue earning from electricity sales.

o Knoydart Land Management Group is a consultative group with wide representation from the Foundation members. This group aims to make recommendations to the Board about the management of the natural resources of Knoydart and to act on behalf of the Foundation as requested.

o The Knoydart Forest Trust is a separate and complementary charitable organisation. Company No: SC194055, Charity No: SCO29274. It has a formal management agreement with the Foundation to manage and develop woodland. It is wholly administered by the community and works in partnership with the Foundation and other local landowners to deliver sustainable woodland management and economic development for the benefit of all. The Trust has already begun to implement its woodland plan which brings into management the neglected Inverie woods and will expand and enhance the outlying native woodland on the peninsula.

By May 2000 the Foundation and Forest Trust had produced Business Plans for their respective areas of responsibility and the Land Management Group had produced a Natural Heritage Management Plan. (Copies of these are available for reference in the Foundation Display Office in Inverie Village).

Local residents are office bearers in all these organisations and there is close liaison with the Knoydart Community Association. In these ways decisions taken by the Board invariably reflect the majority view of residents.