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Assynt Community Buy Back Their Land - 44,400 Acres

1st June 2005

Assynt Foundation is set to take over the Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates from the Vestey family, bringing the land into community ownership. The 44,400 acre estates, in Sutherland and Wester Ross, include the iconic mountains of Canisp, Suilven, Cul Mor and Cul Beg and many beautiful lochs.

Terms for the formal contract of purchase have been agreed and the date of entry has been provisionally set for 14th June.

In December 2004, the Assynt Foundation was granted the right to buy the Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates, together with the 14-bedroom Glencanisp Lodge, under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. They have successfully raised the 2.9 million needed to buy the land within the timescale of the act - with 24 hours to spare.

Alistair MacAskill, chairman of Assynt Foundation, said: "We are elated to be bringing the land into community ownership and creating this opportunity for current and future generations of people in Assynt and we are profoundly grateful to all those who have contributed funds, from the many individual donations of a few pounds right up to the 1.6 million grant from the Scottish Land Fund. We feel very proud that our appeal seems to have captured the imaginations of so many people and organisations who have reached into their pockets to help us.

"We do not underestimate the challenges from here but we are determined to manage the land for the benefit of the local community and the wider public. That means we will be changing the way the land is run: it will no longer just be a private sporting estate. Instead we will be working to achieve not only economic but also environmental sustainability, and creating jobs and new opportunities for local people through good stewardship."

Alastair MacAskill went on to acknowledge the co-operation of the estate owners. "They and their advisers have engaged constructively with us throughout the process and we appreciate this approach "

Bill Ritchie, vice-chairman of Assynt Foundation, who played a key role in the ground-breaking Assynt Crofters Trust buy-out in 1992 said: "Today's a very exciting day. We have successfully navigated the new legal landscape created by the Land Reform Act, guided by a great team of professionals - Douglas Graham, our solicitor, Graeme Scott and co, our accountants and Neil Ross at the Community Land Unit. Without them and the many others who helped we'd have been lost in the legal and bureaucratic fog, so they deserve our heartfelt thanks."

The Scottish Land Fund has contributed 1.632 million, just over 55% of the total purchase sum and the third largest award in the Fund's four year history. Highlands and Islands Enterprise's (HIE) Community Land Unit has awarded 605,000 to the Foundation.

Congratulating the Foundation on its achievement, Scottish Land Fund Chairman, David Campbell, said: "The community have done a tremendous job in raising so much over a very short period. We hoped that our announcement, earlier this year, of 50% towards the purchase price would encourage the confidence of other funders. So, with the target almost achieved, we are delighted to provide the last brick in the wall.

"The scale of support from all those involved underlines our joint belief in the Assynt community and their ability to protect and enhance this unique, fragile asset for their own future and for Scotland."

At a total cost of nearly 3 million, the Assynt community land buy-out is the second largest to date in Scotland. Head of the Community Land Unit Andrew Anderson said that their contribution is the largest that HIE has made to assist a community buy-out.

He said: "When you consider what the community has achieved in pulling together this amount of money in a relatively short timescale, it demonstrates their drive and commitment to making this work.

"Since this project kicked off in August last year, we have been advising the Assynt Foundation on the use of the Community Right to Buy legislation, and the development of the project. The community has some innovative and exciting plans for landscape scale environmental management and community regeneration of this land, including the aim of establishing the first community-owned National Nature Reserve on Drumrunie. The emphasis on Glencanisp will be croft creation, developing eco-tourism and working with the Highland Council to identify land that can be made available for affordable housing.

"This is going to be a big challenge, and HIE is committed to continuing to work with the Assynt Foundation to help develop and realise these ambitious plans."

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has pledged a contribution of 100,000, in recognition of the significant area of designated sites which the land supports, and Assynt Foundation's commitment to managing the land for the benefit of the natural heritage. The estate includes part of Inverpolly Special Area of Conservation, a wildlife site of European importance, and also lies within the Assynt Coigach National Scenic Area.

SNH Chief Executive, Ian Jardine, said: "We support the forward looking approach proposed by the Foundation. They have given a commitment to manage the area, in the interests of its wildlife and scenery as well for its people.
Indeed the vital role of the environmental quality of the area in providing social and economic opportunities is key to the Foundation's approach. We are therefore very pleased that SNH is able to lend its support to the purchase and we look forward to working with the Assynt Foundation."

The John Muir Trust has provided 50,000 towards the purchase, and offered 15,000 per year for five years towards management costs. In addition they assisted by introducing the Assynt Foundation to the Tubney CharitableTrust.
Nigel Hawkins, director of The John Muir Trust said: "We are delighted to have been invited to work with and assist the local community in the purchase and future management of this outstanding area - one of the finest wild landscapes in Britain.

"Local people now have the opportunity to be guardians of this national treasure and to manage it in ways which safeguard and enhance its wild land and natural heritage qualities while at the same time creating real local benefits.

"We congratulate the community on this exceptionally bold and brave venture and for showing a level of dogged determination and commitment which augurs so well for the future. We wish them all the very best".

The Trust has been invited to appoint a director to the board of the Assynt Foundation.

The Tubney Charitable Trust has awarded a grant of 550,000 to the Assynt Foundation to help towards the community purchase.

The Trust is delighted to support the Foundation's plans for restoring the biodiversity value of these estates, part of which was until recently designated as part of the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve. Despite years of overgrazing by deer, significant parts of the estates still warrant European designations for the habitats and birds present. Control of deer numbers will allow the habitats of the estate to regenerate naturally, while providing sustainable development opportunities for the local communities.

Jonathan Burchfield, the Chairman of the Tubney Charitable Trust said, "We were impressed with the skills and passion brought to this initiative by local people, which have resulted in a realistic approach to creating huge biodiversity benefit across this wild and beautiful landscape. The local people have brought in expertise from all appropriate partners. We are particularly appreciative of the help provided to them by the John Muir Trust supporting their application to our trust".

The Trust's grant was specifically for purchase of the land associated with the estates.

Nick Forster, Programme Director - Environment for the Tubney Charitable Trust, visited the estates in May. "Many people would look at the spectacular scenery and feel there was nothing wrong. However the pressure of deer grazing has been damaging habitat of national and international importance. By reducing this pressure the Foundation will improve the condition of upland heath and blanket bog, and allow native woodland to regenerate naturally. The opportunity to do this on such a scale is very special. It would be fantastic to see the National Nature Reserve designation regained, and we believe that the Assynt Foundation can achieve
this vision."

Assynt Foundation
Assynt Foundation is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. The aims of Assynt Foundation are:
To create opportunities for local people to live and work on the land in
sensitive and sustainable ways and to safeguard and enhance the natural
heritage and the wild places on behalf of the nation
To Get people back on the land by creating crofts / small holdings at Ledbeg
Encourage and support the entrepreneurial ambitions of local people
Provide the opportunity for local people to become involved in sustainable
eco tourism
Create employment around innovative approaches to deer stalking.
Create employment around the monitoring and enhancement of the natural
heritage features.
Create employment around the protection and expansion of the ancient
semi-natural woodlands on Drumrunie and on the south shore of Loch Assynt.
Create employment around the upgrading and maintenance of the existing
network of footpaths.
Create employment around the development of Glencanisp Lodge.

The John Muir Trust
The Trust owns Strathaird (16,000 acres), Torrin (5,000 acres) and Sconser 8,400 acres) estates on the Isle of Skye; Sandwood estate (11,500 acres) in Sutherland; East Schiehallion (2,260 acres) in Perthshire and the Ben Nevis estate (4,185 acres) and has a track record of working with local communites.
For more information visit the Trust's website

The Tubney Charitable Trust
The Tubney Charitable Trust, is a grant making charity, accepts grant applications from UK registered charities seeking to conserve the natural environment of the UK through achievement of Biodiversity Action Plan targets; and to improve the welfare of farmed animals both in the UK and internationally. For more information, visit the Trust's website at

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