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May 5, 2020

Village buy-out

Irrespective of whether it was when they learned their landowner had submitted plans for a large wind farm which they feared would cause local contamination from old lead mines, or when they discovered their bowling green and clubhouse had been sold from under their feet, the villagers of Wanlockhead, in Dumfries and Galloway had had enough. They decided the future of the village should lie in their hands. Three years of on-off negotiations with the Duke of Buccleuch have reached the point where there is finally real optimism that the highest village in Scotland will soon be under community ownership.

RESIDENTS of Scotland’s highest village have a “clear vision” of the future as their buyout bid from one of the country’s biggest landowners moves forward.

Around 200 people live 467metres up in Wanlockhead, a former mining village currently owned by the Duke of Buccleuch.

Residents hope to purchase more than 3860 acres of what is now part of Buccleuch’s Queensberry Estate.

Now a feasibility study and business plan from the Wanlockhead Community Trust (WCT) reveals what the future could look like in the area, which lies one mile from Dumfries and Galloway’s boundary with South Lanarkshire.

It shows how the community could change and develop over the next few years once the buyout is complete – something that could happen within months.

The newly published plan proposes new campsites and festivals to develop the economy plus continued gold panning as well as increased tree planting and other measures to care for the land.

The Wanlockhead Inn, which is Scotland’s highest pub, already runs the increasingly three-day heavy metal Wildfire Music Festival, but it’s hoped that community ownership could provide villagers with opportunities focused around heritage tourism, cycling and mountain biking and the arts.

Part of the area is also said to be ideal for “voluntourism”, in which visitors interested in “wildlife, nature, reforestation, countryside access and environmental management” get involved in local projects.

The document states that attracting higher visitor numbers is crucial to a sustainable future. Experts say a dedicated development officer will be needed for at least three years, with costs reaching £40,000 a year. It says: “The land asset has existing income streams from a number of sources, including gold panning, rental from one house and from wayleaves and licenses.

“These are not sufficient to support a development officer to help access and deliver development funding and projects. The trust’s focus must therefore be on developing and growing the visitor economy to support other ongoing efforts, bringing employment and jobs into the area and securing those that are

already there.”

The 40-member WCT had initially aimed to purchase as much as 14,000 acres of land from Buccleuch. This was revised after lengthy talks involving the Scottish Land Commission and Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners.

An agreement in principle has now been reached and it is hoped that a final deal will be struck later this year.

Lincoln Richford, WCT chair, said: “This feasibility study represents many years of work as well as Wanlockhead’s highest aspirations regarding land ownership and land use.

“We believe it offers a clear vision and pathway for our community to develop a successful and sustainable future.”

The report – paid for by the Scottish Land Fund in partnership with the National Lottery Community Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise – was prepared by Edinburgh consultants Urban Animation.

Director Richard Heggie said: “Community land ownership has proven to be a successful route towards resilience and sustainability for places across Scotland. Wanlockhead now has the opportunity to join these communities in taking control of its land and its future.

“We wish the people of Wanlockhead every success in their exciting and transformational venture.”

Funding for the buyout will likely be provided by the Scottish Land Fund and other backers after the village holds a future formal vote endorsing it.