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Isle of Eigg

Success on the Isle of


In 1997, a major community buy-out took place when residents on the Isle of Eigg bought the island. Richard Baynes describes the benefits this has brought for people and wildlife.


bird of prey floats over a patch of open hillside edged by conifers. With several swift flaps of its wings it rises and circles again. “A buzzard,” says John Chester without looking. He had spotted it long before me.

A tanned figure in faded outdoor clothes and hat, Chester has been the Scottish Wildlife Trust Ranger on the Isle of Eigg for almost 30 years. There isn’t much he doesn’t know about the island. The conifers form part of a large plantation in Eigg’s centre. Chester explains that, in recent years, the community has created paths and clearings among these non-native trees. Parts have been replanted as native woodland, others have seeded with trees naturally. Open patches such as the buzzard’s target are purple with heather. The bog – a Site of Special Scientific Interest in a wood that had been drained – has been restored.

“It’s certainly benefited wildlife,” says Chester. “Butterflies and dragonflies in particular. Within a year of creating these clearings, hen harriers were breeding here for the first time and we’ve had two or three pairs ever since.


“That buzzard is flying over ground we cleared, hunting voles.”

The wildlife revival would almost certainly not have happened without the community buy-out of the island. After the island was sold in 1975 to a wealthy socialite, many became unhappy with his management and, gradually, much of the island’s infrastructure fell into disrepair. In 1995, the island was sold to a German artist called Maruma. However, Maruma’s finances were shaky and a creditor forced a sale. In April 1997, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust (IEHT), which had pulled together £1.5million, bought the island. The Scottish Wildlife Trust played a vital role, making up a third of the IEHT board and using its expertise in communications and sourcing funds to facilitate the bid.

Long before any of these developments, the Trust had a ranger here. The wildlife importance of the island, with its maritime location, variety of species and rich basalt soils, had long been recognised.

Mark Foxwell, the Trust’s Highlands and Islands Reserves Manager, says: “It’s just a very diverse place. If you are tired of watching birds of prey then you can

The people on Eigg are united in their love of the island’s rugged grandeur

watch basking sharks or killer whales.” At the time of the buy-out, he says the Trust’s Conservation Committee could see that supporting the community would have a range of benefits for nature conservation. That has demonstrably proved to be the case.

The Trust is still a partner in the IEHT, along with the islanders and Highland Council, and leads on the island’s conservation, but Foxwell says islanders and the IEHT need little prompting.

“The clue’s in the name: if you look at the objectives of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, that’s why heritage is in there – particularly referring to the natural world.”

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