June 13, 2022
The 25th anniversary of the landmark community buyout of the Isle of Eigg merits special mention this week. It’s worth reminding ourselves that this took place at a time when there was no land reform legislation in place to strengthen the community’s hand. Nor was there a Scottish Land Fund to ease the struggle of raising the purchase price. That was largely raised through more than 10,000 donations from the members of the public (including an anonymous donation of £750,000). Eigg (and Assynt crofters) have blazed a trail for countless others to follow. Enjoy the party.
Twenty-five years ago, the residents of Eigg completed the purchase of their island. It marked the end to a system of absentee landlords and the start of a time of innovation and growth.
“In the 1990s, the whole community suffered from the poor management and bad decisions of several private landlords,” said Maggie Fyffe, secretary of Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust and one of the islanders involved in the community buyout.
“People were being threatened with eviction, there was no investment in any of the island buildings or infrastructure and we were all very worried about what might eventually happen.”
Eigg is one of the Small Isles, a group of islands south of Skye. It is only about five miles (8km) long and three miles (5km) wide.
The island is steeped in history, including a bloody feud between the clans Macdonald and Macleod of more than 400 years ago, and a legend of murderous female warriors.
A lack of tenure of farms on Eigg was among the reasons behind the buyout
In the 1990s, Eigg was home to about 60 people. Many of them were deeply unhappy about how the island was managed, particularly a lack of security in the tenure of homes and farms.
Talk began of mounting a community buyout.
Ms Fyffe said the purchase by crofters of the 21,000-acre (8,498 ha) North Assynt Estate in the north west Highlands in 1993 gave Eigg’s residents the confidence they could be successful.
With support from others across Scotland, a campaign was launched to draw attention to the plight of the islanders.
A fundraising appeal – called Let’s Crack It – was set up with help from Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust to raise money for the purchase.
For a time, there was an asking price of £3m, but the sale was eventually completed for £1.5m.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise provided a grant of £17,000 but the rest was raised by donations, including an anonymous donation of £750,000.
On 12 June 1997, islanders marked Eigg’s “independence day”, having successfully completed the buyout.
Ms Fyffe said: “It was very, very hard won. There was no land reform legislation and there was no land fund at the time.”
A piper helps mark the community purchase in June 1997
She added: “A huge number of people helped us along the way – 10,000 individuals donated to our appeal.
“It’s that kind of thing that’s very important on the anniversary.”
Since 1997 the population has grown to 110, and includes young families.
The island has also moved away from reliance on fossil fuel generators to power homes and businesses.
Its renewables scheme was the first in the world to provide electricity 24 hours a day from a mix of wind, sun and hydro power, and has inspired similar systems in Africa and the Americas.
Eigg achieved a world first with its wind, sun and hydro renewable energy system
Eigg’s original shop and café have been completely redeveloped and it now has a craft shop and space for a cycle and kayak hire business.
There are new visitor facilities and office space for the trust. Existing housing stock has been refurbished, and there are plans for new homes.
There is also a tree nursery which is growing thousands of native plant species to sell to other islands and the mainland.
The heritage trust’s director Lucy Conway told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “It’s extraordinary seeing the contrast between then and now and the difference the community buyout has made.”