Historic Eigg milestone marked
RESIDENTS of a Hebridean island are celebrating the 20th year since its historic purchase by the community.
Eigg is owned and managed by Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust (EHT), a partnership of residents, the Highland Council (HC) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT). Prior to 1997, the island was owned by ‘absentee’ German landowner Dr Maruma.
Under the previous landlord system, residents suffered from a lack of home and business security and poor housing conditions. Unemployment on the island was high with only seasonal working available. The infrastructure was also poor and there was no mains electricity supply.
The community felt the only way the island could develop in a sustainable way was through a community buyout. A major fundraising campaign was launched by EHT with the support of the HC and the SWT. Members of the general public donated the entire purchase price of £1.5 million and High- lands and Islands Enterprise gave the buyout a grant of £17,000.
The deal officially went through on June 12, 1997, but there were celebrations in the Sound of Eigg on April 4 as that was the night the island’s then 63 residents were told the good news.
Mark Foxwell is a trustee of EHT and reserves manager for the Highlands and Islands with SWT. He told the Lochaber Times that Eigg is now a shining example of what can be achieved when people are allowed to take control of their own destiny.
He added: ‘Eigg really was on its knees with the problems of unemployment and poor infrastructure but now it has this energy and is really quite stimulating.
‘Eigg was pre-land reform and pre- community ownership. At that time (1997) there was no established model of how or if this would work but when you visit you see how compelling a place it now is. The population has gone up from 60 to 70 to more than 100, the schools have enough children to make them viable and people are working.’
Animals living on the island have benefited too. He added: ‘There are three or four pairs of Hen Harriers which live on the island.
‘In the north of England there are not any, even though the land is suitable for them. This is because of islanders’ consideration towards nature. In most other places these birds are persecuted because they are predators and they eat the things you maybe don’t want them to but Eigg has found a way to let them stay in a sustainable fashion. You can sit in the restaurant and watch them hunting and it really is a joy to watch.’
The community of 2017 will have a ceilidh on the island to mark 20 years of ownership on June 17.
Members of the Eigg community on April 4, 1997, the night they found out their buyout bid had been successful.