Community buys land from Highland Clearances estate

Marrel Garbh Allt, the area now under community ownership. PIC: Contributed.
Marrel Garbh Allt, the area now under community ownership. PIC: Contributed.
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A community in the far north east of Scotland has “followed in the footsteps” of their land reforming ancestors with a buyout of land from the Sutherland Estates.

Around 3,000 acres of land near Helmsdale are now in the ownership of The Garbh Allt Community Initiative Estate after it was purchased for around £250,000.

The area of east Sutherland now under community ownership. PIC: Contributed.

The area of east Sutherland now under community ownership. PIC: Contributed.

The change in ownership will affect around 150 residents with plans to build tourism on the back of the area’s wildlife, archaeology and history with hopes to draw more families to permanently settle there.

Anne Fraser, chairwoman and director of The Garbh Allt Community Initiative Estate, said: “The buy out will bring a new approach to land ownership in the east of Sutherland.

READ MORE: Community given £4.4m to buy isle of Ulva

“The significance of this is not lost on the Directors, who follow in the historic footsteps of the founders of the first branch of the Sutherland Land Law Reform Association in the 1880’s, which in turn became the parent of the Highland Land League.

“At least 50 per cent of our directors can trace their ancestors back to the Land League and what came before it.

READ MORE: The last township to survive the Clearances

“This movement and its vital achievements in securing land rights are commemorated in a memorial cairn, appropriately located in the centre of the now Garbh Allt community owned land, over three decades ago.

“We have a vested interest in what happens to our community, not just because of our ancestry but because we want to see it thrive.

“For a long, long time the Highlands has not been thriving. We have a chance to change that.”

The Sutherland Estates is synonymous with the 19th Century Highland Clearances when around 15,000 people were evicted from iys land to make way for sheep grazing.

Ms Fraser said the buyout came about after the estate had approached residents over its planned sale of land around Marrel, West Helmsdale, Gartymore and Portgower, where some of those evicted from the surrounding straths settled.

Ms Fraser said: “Sutherland Estates came to us. Most of the buyouts that have happened so far have been aggressive but we didn’t have that fight. It happened relatively easily.

“While the estate is fully aware of its historical profile, there is the younger generation coming through now. They have worked really hard with us after offering the land to the community. I hope more landowners will do the same.”

Ms Fraser, a mental health nurse practitioner, said the majority of land was used for crofting with careful discussion required with the community over how the rest of its new territory was used.

One building - an old icehouse - was included in the sale with the potential to buy more property in the future, Ms Fraser said.

“We have been working hard at this for more than two years but the real work starts now. We need to get the community thinking about what they really, really want to happen here,” she added.

This buy-out cost in the region of £250,000 and was funded by the Scottish Land Fund, which is financed by the Scottish Government, and the community fund set up to benefit those living around the Beatrice offshore windfarm.

A “stunning show of support” for the buyout led to 95 per cent of resident backing the purchase, Ms Fraser said.

It is also believed to be the first community land buyout on Scotland’s east coast.