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May 31, 2011

National Trust for Scotland frustrates community

The drive and enthusiasm for community ownership of land, particularly on some of the more remote west coast islands, appears to come from a desire by local people to have more control over what happens in the future. Tensions between private landowners and communities are not uncommon. However, you might expect an island owned by the nation’s largest charity, National Trust for Scotland to be more in tune with local aspirations

Families are quitting a tiny Hebridean isle amid claims residents are frustrated at having little control over island life and homes they rent.

Canna’s population of 22 could drop to 14 by the end of the year.

Geoff Soe-Paing, who is about to leave with his wife Eilidh and their four children, said islanders needed a “hand in their own destiny”.

Owners the National Trust for Scotland said departures were disappointing but a new family was expected soon.

Since the start of the year four people have left, the Soe-Paing’s family of six is poised to quit and a couple are planning to leave later this year.

The Soe-Paing’s departure will leave Canna’s school with no pupils.

The new family of four expected to arrive on the island over the next few weeks has children of pre-school age.

Mr Soe-Paing and his family have lived on Canna for five years.

“Why can’t we keep people here? Surely that is the question.”

He said depopulation was an issue for other small Scottish islands and was a result of residents not having a big enough say.

“There should be attempts made to let them have a little bit of hand in their own destiny and give them not just lip service to community empowerment,” he said. “People will come and go and that is the short-term viewpoint of the trust. Why can’t we keep people here? Surely that is the question.”

In a statement, the trust said it was very disappointed that people were leaving.

It said it was completing the renovation of a home, known as the MacIssacs cottage, on the island and would shortly be announcing the name of the family taking on that tenancy.

The trust added that it was also looking for more families to join the community.

Alexander Bennett, of the trust, later told BBC Scotland that he hoped a review of property tenures may find a way of encouraging families to stay longer.

He said: “We cannot sell property because we hold Canna in perpetuity for the nation. That means we cannot sell, but we can offer longer leases of up to 15 years which is what we normally do. Under law we could offer up to 20 years and maybe roll it on from there.”

Canna’s population decline comes in the Year of Scotland’s Islands. The celebrations started in April with events promoting the culture and creativity of island communities which are backed by European and Lottery funding.