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July 29, 2015

Bernera back in the spotlight

In 1874, at the time of the Highland Clearances, a group of crofters on the island of Bernera took action against the injustices that were being meted out by their landowner. Known as the Bernera Riot, the crofters marched to Stornoway to take their case to court. Against all the odds, the crofters won their case and that victory is reckoned to have paved the way for future land reform. 140 years on from that historic victory, the land reform wheel continues to turn with a landmark community buyout. 


The Scottish Land Fund is handing the Great Bernera Community Development Trust £100,000 towards the purchase of 2,260 hectares of the idyllic estate.

The remote community voted overwhelmingly to buy the island once owned by Count Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees, who was a friend of Fleming and said to be the model for his MI6 agent.

The colourful count, a former Queen’s herald, died in 2012, aged 87, having owned Great Bernera for 50 years.

It was bequeathed to his grandson Cyran de la Lanne and the family recently indicated they were willing to sell to the population of 250 people on a first refusal basis.

The estate, which includes 69 crofts, is of historical interest due to the Bernera Riot of 1874 when crofters resisted increased rents and evictions. This led to a court case which resulted in what is believed to be the first victory for crofters and paved the way for land reform in Scotland.

As well as contributing to the costs of buying the land, the Scottish Land Fund award will pay for the part-time posts of commercial manager and administrative officer.

Tom Macdonald, chairman of the community development trust, said: “That we are so close, with this grant, to achieving ownership is a tribute to the work of local residents.

“This completes the circle of land reform. It started here on Bernera, so it’s satisfying to see that the present residents can benefit from the acts of our predecessors.

“We hope that our actions now will be of similar significance for the future and will kick-start the social and economic regeneration of the Bernera community.”

Count Robin bought Great Bernera and its surrounding islands in 1962 despite never seeing it. The godson of the late 11th Duke of Argyll was not only said to be the inspiration for James Bond but that of a Royal servant in the 007 film The World Is Not Enough.

The count’s son, Patrick, a lawyer, is the former mayor of the German city of Delmenhorst. Author Ian Fleming was a personal friend of the count and had dedicated On His Majesty’s Secret Service to him.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Land Fund has also awarded Urras Sgire Oighreachd Bharabhais (USOB) £715,000 which will allow the local community to purchase 14,000 hectares of the Barvas estate croft land and a salmon hatchery.

And in Crossapol, on the Isle of Tiree, a former shop and accompanying piece of land will be brought into community ownership, thanks to an award of £141,000.

Minister for land reform Aileen McLeod said: “These communities have developed their own plans for their local land which ranges from estates to small key pieces of land that will help them to transform their communities and bring a host of benefits – economic, social and environmental.

Scottish Land Fund chair John Watt added: “Today marks a significant milestone for these remote island communities.

“With its latest support of two large island estate buyouts, the Scottish Land Fund has now helped put the majority of Lewis on to the path of community ownership.”