Crofters in legal move to acquire their farms

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SCOTTISH crofters trying to reverse a feudal system of estate ownership by collectively buying the estate that owns their small farms have instructed lawyers to begin the process that could remove the crofts from the sale of the estate, writes James Cusick.

The Assynt Crofters' Trust learnt this week that its revised bid for the North Lochinver estate, near Ullapool, north-west Scotland, had been turned down.

Liquidators acting for the bank which took over control of the estate from the bankrupt Scandinavian property company that had bought it two years ago for just over pounds 1m, had regarded the trust's bid of about pounds 250,000 as inadequate. The estate is being offered for sale at pounds 470,000.

Bill Ritchie, secretary of the trust, said that lawyers had been instructed to take the first steps towards the trust taking over control of the crofts. Under crofting law, each crofter has a right to buy out their crofts. Collectively the crofts on the estate can be purchased for a total of pounds 39,000.

Although they represent only 15 per cent of the 21,000-acre estate, negotiations with a land tribunal over further common grazing rights and their control could mean the crofting trust owning about half.

Mr Ritchie said: 'The sellers, surveyors John Clegg in Edinburgh, have been instructed to open negotiations with us. We have informed them, as agreed at a meeting of all the trust members, that our offer still remains on the table.'