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August 29, 2012

NTS is not for us

The National Trust for Scotland is the country’s largest membership organisation – 308,000 at the last count.  Whether size is a factor (see previous Briefing) is not clear, but there’s something about NTS that a small community off the west coast of Lewis appears to be uneasy with– at least as far as having the charity as their landlord is concerned.  The previous owner died recently and bequeathed the island to the National Trust.  Not if this group of crofters has anything to do with it.


By Iain McIver, The Scotsman 20th August

A GROUP of crofters will attempt to prevent an uninhabited island – used by the Royal Family as a picnic spot – being handed to the National Trust for Scotland in an aristocrat’s will.

Little Bernera is a few yards across a narrow channel from its larger neighbour, Great Bernera, on the west of Lewis, where Count Robin Mirrlees lived for 40 years as laird until his death in June aged 87.

Islanders have decided they want to own both islands themselves and will use Scottish right-to-buy legislation to block the transfer to the trust of 250-acre Little Bernera, which the count once thought of leaving to Prince Harry. 

They also plan to use the legislation to force the count’s family in Germany to sell them Great Bernera.

Although the bequest to the trust was only announced last week, the 230 islanders had been planning for many years what to do when the count died. 

They will move to take ownership of 7,000-acre Great Bernera, Little Bernera and Kearstay, a small island that in the 1980s issued its own postage stamps.

Little Bernera, known for its unspoilt but hard-to-reach beach, also has a ruined historic chapel and a disused graveyard. 

It quickly became a favourite out-of-the-way picnic spot for the Royal Family when the Britannia took them on an annual Western Isles cruise. They were thought to have picnicked there at least four times. 

Count Mirrlees once flew from London to welcome the royals, after being tipped off they were to spend an afternoon there, but he arrived in time to see Britannia disappearing round a headland.

Six years ago, with his own son failing to reply to his letters, he said in a local radio interview: “I am going to leave Little Bernera to Prince Harry. If he doesn’t want it, fine, but he can have it if he wants it.”

The Great Bernera Development Trust was set up at a meeting last week to buy the three islands. Its spokesman said: “This is the first of many steps towards a buy-out, and we’re pleased to see it happen.”

Bernera resident Norman A Macdonald said: “However much we all liked the count, he did us no favours by leaving
Little Bernera to the National Trust for Scotland. I would have rather he had left it to Prince Harry. He would have been
easier to deal with.

“Our ancestors are buried on Little Bernera and the remains of their houses are there; my great-great-grandfather is at rest there; the villages of Hacklete and Breaclete still put sheep there.”

Miguel Head, press secretary for Prince Harry, has searched records at Clarence House in the past few days, but has been unable to find an offer of a bequest from the count. 

He said: “None of us have any recollection of this offer having been made. There is no record of it that we could find.”

An NTS spokeswoman said it would “not be appropriate” to comment.

The count, a descendant of King Louis Philippe I of France and godson of the 11th Duke of Argyll, bought the 7,000-acre Great Bernera in 1962 without even visiting. He had seen a newspaper advert about the sale.