'We need to be able to control our own destiny'

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The Independent Online

The land Reform Bill for Scotland could mean the difference between life and death for the small Highland crofting community of Laid.

The land Reform Bill for Scotland could mean the difference between life and death for the small Highland crofting community of Laid.

The residents of the 18 crofts and 10 other households in the township by the western shores of Loch Eriboll in Sutherland, have been trying for years to secure the rights to their homeland.

There has been human habitation in and around Laid for thousands of years – the town boasts one of the best preserved iron-age wheelhouses in Europe and a selection of bronze-age cairns.

The present settlement was founded in the early 1800s, when many of the present inhabitants' ancestors chose a croft by a loch rather than a free trip to America during the Highland clearances.

For the last few years the crofters of Laid have been trying to negotiate a deal with a Liechtenstein-registered company called Vibel SA, which bought the 9,400-acre Durness estate 13 years ago for £45,000, with a view to creating a quarry.

The size of the the community has tripled in the last 10 years due mainly to a concerted effort to cultivate tourism and shellfishing in the area, but residents fear it could still die out without more development and investment, particularly if a quarry is excavated.

Hugh MacLennan, of the Laid common grazing committee, which was set up to launch a hostile bid for 2,500 acres of the estate, said: "We need to be able to control our own destiny. Laid is a beautiful, unspoilt part of the world and the community here has fought hard to preserve what we have. There is not much work to be had. Almost everybody in the town relies in some way on tourism for a living and we want to be able to build on the abundance of historical sites and wonderful scenery which surrounds us."

Mr MacLennan, a crofter-cum-guest house proprietor, who can trace his family connection to Laid back to AD690, continued: "We are also well placed to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the new IT and call-centre industries. Many of these places struggle to find staff in the central belt with wages of around £12,000 or £14,000 a year, but here that is considered a good wage.

"There are so many possibilities for us and other similar rural communities provided we can take control of our own lives instead of relying on absentee landlords who have little or no interest in us.

"Our next move will be to form a company to exploit our right to buy as soon as the Bill goes through," he said.

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