Today, 23rd July 2010, the people of Bute have bought a section of Rhubodach Forest at the north end of the island from the director and actor Lord Attenborough. It was just in September 2009, that the Bute Community Land Company was formed to apply for permission under the Land Reform Act of Scotland to buy Rhubodach Forest. The support and enthusiasm for the buyout on Bute has been unbelievable with over 1,700 signatures gathered in just one week in Sept 2009 to present to the Scottish government with the application. Following this registration a community ballot had to be held within 3 months and over 50% of the registered electoral on Bute had to vote under the rules of the legislation. The ballot held in February was the biggest community ballot ever held in Scotland. The people of Bute rose to the challenge with 52% of the electoral voting and of those an amazing 93 per cent of voters in favour of the buyout. A let down by a funding agency at a very late stage left things in doubt, yet the buyout was able to go ahead. There was a further delay regarding the subsale of the commercial forestry, as quite understandably, Lord and Lady Attenborough requested that the commercial forestry remain in local ownership. Fortunately, Mount Stuart Estate made a reasonable offer for the commercial forest allowing forestry jobs to remain on the island. As a result of these complex negotiations we have a acquired 161 hectares, including ancient oak woodlands with negotiated rights for use of lands sold on for walks and cycle paths, plus a hydro scheme.
What an exciting time with the purchase finally being sealed today! Our achievement is even more amazing given the tight time lines imposed by the right to buy legislation and the constraints of the wider UK economy at this time. At the BCLC Extraordinary General Meeting on May 3rd members were made aware about the difficult funding climate that BCLC faced and how this made compromises inevitable. Those present supported the proposal to own less of the forest without any debts to pay back. We are delighted that this has been successfully achieved today and look to developing the community proposals for walking and mountain bike trails, woodland play areas, hydro power, eco lodges and a unique forest hub with the view of attracting the green tourist market to Bute in the forest at Rhubodach.
Douglas Cowan, HIE’s Area Manager for Argyll and the Islands, said: “HIE has been a strong supporter of this project, with both our Community Land Unit and the Argyll Area Office at HIE providing advice and funding towards the land purchase, legal staff and office costs, alongside ongoing advice and support. The value in terms of community confidence which this project has achieved should not be underestimated. The buyout of Rhubodach Forest has the potential to bring significant and long-term benefits to the residents of Bute through strengthening the economy, increasing visitor numbers and creating business, training and employment opportunities for the whole community.”
John McGhee, Chair of BCLC commented: “The purchase of the Forest has been a huge challenge for us, particularly given the lack of public funds, but what is fantastic is the way the community has pulled together and demonstrated its ingenuity and determination to have a say in the future prosperity of the Island”.
Commenting on the successful buyout Jim Mather, local MSP, Enterprise Minister said: “I am so proud of the Bute Community Land Project and the local people who have made this all happen. They have shown enormous perseverance, imagination, energy and resilience to get this result and they will not stop now. They have started a process and unleashed new levels of confidence that are now unstoppable and will deliver real benefits for Bute and its people”.
For her part, Roseanna Cunningham agreed that: “This has been an extraordinary achievement and I congratulate all those involved for their creativity in reaching a solution to the funding issue despite the current challenging financial circumstances. With that level of commitment by the local community I am certain that the venture will be a huge success for the people of the island and look forward to future developments with great interest”.
As those of you at the EGM are aware we have not been solely restricting our efforts to the forest. BCLC are opening a shop, Brandish Bute, to showcase local Bute produce and arts and crafts. In this we hope to replicate the success of our close neighbour Arran, in branding and marketing our Bute products. Our new shop manager, Claire Murray is keen to take this forward.
We do remember that we are on a steep learning curve and things can take a wee while to get going – so if you have suggestions and questions about the work and projects in the forest please liaise with Claire at the Brandish Bute shop which is acting as an info hub for forest projects and she will assist in taking forward all suggestions and ideas to the BCLC board. We would encourage everyone to come in to Brandish Bute to browse or buy some local produce in celebration of our historic achievement and to support the shop and Bute producers!