Good Eiggs

Scottish islanders delighted as they win battle to buy their homeland
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The Independent Online
The residents of a wild and beautiful Scottish island which has been at the centre of a bitter eight-month ownership battle finally bought their tiny homeland yesterday.

Who should own the small outcrop of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, has been the subject of a heated debate during many years of landlord rule, and especially since the previous owner, a German artist called Marlin Eckhart Maruma, who owned it for just 15 months, put it up for sale in August last year with an asking price of pounds 2m.

The islanders saw their chance but the campaign they launched to raise money from public donations to buy Eigg seemed like a wild Celtic dream, especially considering the ease and frequency with which rock stars and businessmen snap up such islands to create private hideaways.

However, against the odds, the members of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust clinched the historic deal in Edinburgh yesterday, paying pounds 1.5m. The 63 islanders will take possession of the 7,400-acre outcrop on 12 June.

They called on those who pledged money to honour their promises. Personal pledges accounted for pounds 150,000 of the pounds 1.5m raised by the appeal; about pounds 1m was pledged by an anonymous group of a dozen wealthy sympathisers; and more than pounds 400,000 came in smaller donations, many for just pounds 1.

The National Lottery refused to give the Eigg Trust any money - they had hoped for pounds 750,000 from the charitable fund - because it wanted the trust to be led by wildlife interests and not the islanders.

The islanders, who last year unsuccessfully tabled a bid for the island thought to be around pounds 1.2m but who now own the island in a trust with the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said they were delighted.

Maggie Fyffe, secretary of the trust, said: "This is the day we have all dreamt about since we formed the partnership and set out on our journey into the unknown.

"It is a great day, not only for Eigg, but for all communities who live under a landlord's whim. It shows that people in the Highlands and Islands are no longer prepared to be bought and sold like cutlery for their master's table.

"Over the last few months we have had everything thrown into this plot from opera stars to international companies promising the earth. Nobody would have believed the script if Alastair Maclean had written it. But we all stood firm together and won through," she said.

Ms Fyffe added that this was a significant victory for those pushing for land reform in Scotland. "We have shown what is possible and we could not have done it without fantastic public support. People from all walks of life have shown with their donations that they backed us from the start," she said.

"We now have security of tenure and can get down to controlling our own destinies. Together with the council and the wildlife trust we can now plan a sustainable future for this island and its ecology.

"This is a victory for land reform in Scotland and we are going to have biggest and best party ever here," she said.

Michael Foxley, the chairman of the Highland Council's land and environment committee, said the deal was a victory for "people power" which set a precedent for local people to be involved in buying land and estates.

"Most importantly this will give the islanders security of tenure and the ability to attract loans and grants to upgrade their homes and businesses," he said.

Colin Strang Steel, a partner in the Edinburgh office of Knight Frank - the firm of estate agents which has been dealing with the sale of the island - said he was delighted the battle for Eigg was finally over.

Happy ending to a 700-year tale

Yesterday's victory for the islanders of Eigg, the "Garden of the Hebrides", marked the end of private ownership which has dominated the island for the past 700 years. Since 1308, owners have ranged from a former Times journalist to the former Olympic bobsleigh racer, Keith Schellenberg, who bought Eigg for pounds 270,000 in 1974.

The latest, eight-month, sales round has been a tense time for the islanders and was their third attempt to buy. In December last year their first bid of pounds 1.2m was rejected as too low. Two schemes, one for a singing school run by the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, the other for a holiday complex, both came to nought and now the peace of the island is assured.