Ulva island buyout wins support in Australia

There are hopes to repopulate Ulva which once had a population of 600 but is now home to just six people. PIC: Contributed.
There are hopes to repopulate Ulva which once had a population of 600 but is now home to just six people. PIC: Contributed.
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Hopes for a community buyout of Ulva have been boosted by a number of donations from Australia and several pledges from those keen to relocate and invest in the future of the tiny island.

Ulva has been put on the market by current owner Jamie Howard, who inherited the island in the Inner Hebrides four years ago, for £4.25m.

It is hoped the buyout will encourage more businesses like The Boathouse seafood restaurant to set up on the island. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk

It is hoped the buyout will encourage more businesses like The Boathouse seafood restaurant to set up on the island. PIC: www.geograph.co.uk

Ian Hepburn, director of the North West Mull Community Woodland Company which is leading the buyout bid, said the mood of the group was “positive” given the support they have received both at home and abroad as they attempt to purchase the island and repopulate the community.

READ MORE: Can Scotland’s empty landscapes be repopulated once again?

He said: “We have had a great deal of interest from families in Australia and have had significant contributions from several of them.

“We are looking at how we can tap into the Scottish diaspora. There is a strong feeling for the old country. Some of it may be over romanticised but it is actually quite humbling when you realise the support that is out there.

READ MORE: The Scottish islands owned by the communities who call them home

He added: “We have had a significant amount of support and people from Scotland and across the world, some with connections to Ulva, who would like to set up a business here. The interest in people wanting to live on the island has been extremely valuable.

“People who have a keen interest to move here , to live here and to develop a business is exactly what we are looking for.

“We are not looking to maintain an island that limps along for another 15 years. We really want to develop the island, to repopulate it and to revitalise it.”

Just six people, including the landowner, now live on Ulva with a single family making up the bulk of the population.

Just over 600 islanders were recorded there 180 years ago, with shoemakers, boat carpenters and tailors among those scattered over 16 villages.

Many were forced out during the Highland Clearances to Australia and North America after the collapse of the kelp market and the potato blight.

The descendants of this diaspora could potentially play an important role in allowing for the purchase of the island and its repopulation.

Another strong connection between Australia and Ulva has been forged through Lachlan Macquarie, the last chief to live on the island.

He emigrated to Australia an became the first governor of the British colony New South Wales in 1809. He was later dubbed the “Father of Australia”.

Ulva is now used to welcoming visitors, including Macquaries from all over the world, who are keen to find their roots.

Contacts has also been made with Clan Macquarie wit hopes to establish links with Macquarie University in New South Wales as support for the buy-out is sought.

Meanwhile, a District Valuer is due to arrive on Ulva to give an independent assessment of the island’s true worth.

Included in the lot is B-listed Ulva House, 9 other residential properties, two agricultural steadings, a church, two moorings and three anchorages.

The valuation figure will be made available on December 12 which will lead to a local ballot to determine the way forward and focus work on detailing the island’s business plan.

The crowdfunding campaign to support the buyout process has raised around £15,500 so far.

Up to £1m could be available through the Scottish Land Fund to make the purchase with larger grants available in exceptional circumstances.

Mr Hepburn said the goal was to have 30 people living on Ulva over the next 20 years.

He added: “If we were to simply refurbish the housing that was unoccupied, the population could go up to around 20.”

Giving residents security of tenure, upgrading housing and expanding economic activity on the island were the three main planks of the buyout bid, Mr Hepburn said.

A bunkhouse on island has sat unused for three years with the island’s farm under utilised, he claimed.

Those running the seafood cafe on Ulva needed to move beyond short term leases in order to grow the business and have confidence to invest, he added.

A fish farm and oyster farm helped to keep the population up to around 30 in the early 1990s, but both businesses have long closed down.

“All we want to do is to repopulate Ulva and to build on the basis of what is already there,” Mr Hepburn said.

Mr Howard, whose family have owned Ulva for around 70 years, earlier told The Times newspaper he was “distressed” by any suggestion he has neglected to take care of the island’s community and infrastructure.