Five residents bid to buy Scottish island

Five residents bid to buy Scottish island

Five residents bid to buy Scottish island

When tycoons in helicopters began landing on Scotland's Isle of Ulva, its five tenants feared their way of life might be coming to an end. The remote island of pristine beaches, lush hills and craggy coastlines was put on the market this year after decades of ownership by an aristocratic family.

Now the islanders are using a law introduced last year by Scotland's nationalist government to suspend the sale and give themselves time to buy the land, hoping a government fund will help them do so. "I think community ownership is the way forward," said Emma McKie, 33, who remembers a time when a thriving farming community lived on the 12-km long island off Scotland's west coast. They are facing a deadline of June 2018 to buy the island off its "laird" Jamie Howard, who put it up for sale for 4.77 million Euros.

The glossy sales brochure for Ulva offered prospective buyers the unique opportunity to own "one of the finest private islands in northern Europe", when it was first put up for sale in July.  

McKie said islanders were concerned that any outside buyer may remove the tenants and close off the island. "If you have that kind of money, why would you keep the island open to the public, why wouldn't you keep it for yourself,", asked McKie, who runs the island's only cafe with her sister-in-law Rebecca Munro.

The Land Reform Act passed by Scotland's pro-independence First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's government allows for the sale of private assets to be suspended to give community bodies the right to buy the land. Ulva is an idyllic location with views of Ben More mountain and the spectacular Eas Fors Waterfall on the neighbouring island of Mull.

Visitors' first port of call when stepping off the ferry from Mull is The Boathouse cafe. "My husband's family go back several centuries on Ulva," said Munro, 30, who is originally from Dumfries on the Scottish mainland.

"They would have Christmas parties and there were a lot more children going to Ulva primary school, so it was just a lot more vibrant."

The Boathouse attracts around 5,000 visitors a year.  At its height Ulva had a population of over 800 and its decline can be traced back to the Highland Clearances, when landlords conducted eviction of Scottish farmers in the 18th century.