The people's own island...

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FOR SCOTTISH crofters who aspire to be masters of their own territory, a scrap of land in the Hebrides has become a symbol of a community's triumph over a series of indifferent foreign lairds.

The 60 residents of Eigg recently celebrated the first anniversary of a successful campaign to buy the island.

The deal, clinched in June 1997, ended 700 years of private ownership and was seen as an important victory for advocates of Scottish land reform.

Locals, who now own the windswept outcrop in partnership with the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, raised pounds 1.5 million to buy the land. The deal made Eigg the first community-owned island in Britain and marked the end of decades of alleged neglect at the hands of absentee lairds.

The most recent was Marlin Maruma, an eccentric German artist who paid nearly pounds 2 million for the 7,400-acre island in 1995. Mr Maruma, who failed to fulfil a promise to invest pounds 15 million, was forced by creditors to put Eigg up for sale after only 15 months. Islanders saw their chance and launched a public appeal that brought thousands of donations from around the world.

For decades, Eigg, an hour's ferry ride from the Scottish mainland, was regarded as a rich man's plaything.

Mr Maruma bought it from Keith Schellenberg, a Yorkshire businessman who fell out with residents after his vintage Rolls-Royce was set alight. Crofters now have security of tenure on their land, and the community is putting together a development plan for the island based on tourism, farming and wildlife.

Another source of inspiration is the Assynt estate in Sutherland, which crofters bought from a private landowner six years ago. They run and manage it, and have introduced a number of innovative projects, including forestry, hydro-electricity and fish farming.

Kathy Marks