The Duke of Buccleuch (right) with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Rt Rev Colin Sinclair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Residents of a Dumfriesshire village have published a detailed proposal for a community buyout of land owned by the Duke of Buccleuch.
A plan by the Wanlockhead Community Trust (WCT) said that community ownership could allow for numerous business, affordable housing, environmental, tourism and leisure opportunities for Scotland’s highest village.
WCT wants to purchase 3,863 acres from Buccleuch’s 90,000-acre Queensberry Estate in and around Wanlockhead. The basis of the proposal came from an organised community discussion in 2016 to gather views on the future of the village, in which residents suggested over 90 ideas and opportunities.
A successful community buyout would be historic for the area. The trust said community ownership would pave the way for a “successful and sustainable future” for the old Lowther Hills mining community.
Buccleuch, one of Scotland’s biggest landowners, said they had been in “constructive dialogue” with the trust and hoped discussions would “come to fruition a soon as possible.” The two parties aim to finalise the buyout negotiations later in 2020.
According to the trust’s plan, community-owned renewable energy could be installed to reduce local fuel poverty and bring additional income to the trust.
Activities like native tree planting and introducing new woodlands would help to boost local ecology and improve wildlife habitats, while tree planting in river valleys would improve fisheries, biodiversity and water quality, WCT said.
Improving the local environment would also enhance existing walking and mountain biking trails such as the Southern Upland Way, as well as creating new routes and nature tourism opportunities.
Wanlockhead is already known for its Museum of Lead Mining, gold panning courses and the nearby Lowther Hills Ski Centre. WCT said post-buyout tourism would be supported with new amenities, festivals, events and attractions, as well as new accommodation and facilities for camping and caravanning.
A mountain resort could be established, with year-round activities like curling, zip-lining and dry slope skiing, the trust added. Residents also hope for new local amenities and more diverse land management, including vegetable poly-tunnels and smallholdings for new farmers.
WCT said only two significant planning applications had been made in the last 30 years, both by parties other than Buccleuch. Similarly, few planning applications for new houses were made over the same period.
The trust also complained that the village was largely ignored in the local development plan produced by Dumfries and Galloway Council, despite having the region’s largest conservation area and other attractions.
In the first decade of community ownership, WCT proposed to open an office and hire a development officer to engage with residents, businesses, and community groups as well as oversee development proposals, project management and to find funding.
WCT would also support local enterprise and market the village to tourists and visitors, improve paths and routes, and add signage and maps. A renewables and energy efficiency study would be conducted, while volunteer programmes to support environmental, heritage and community projects would be installed.
The group originally sought to buy around 14,000 acres of land, but the proposal was rejected by Buccleuch. Discussions surrounding the revised proposal were assisted by the Scottish Land Commission, which was set up by the Scottish Government to support land reform initiatives, and Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners.
The study was joint-funded by the government’s Scottish Land Fund, the National Lottery Community Fund and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise. WCT expects funding for the buyout to come from the government’s Scottish Land Fund and other sources.
“This feasibility study represents many years of work as well as Wanlockhead’s highest aspirations regarding land ownership and land use”, said WCT chair, Lincoln Richford. “We believe it offers a clear vision and pathway for our community to develop a successful and sustainable future.”
A Buccleuch spokesperson said: “We have been involved in constructive dialogue with the Wanlockhead Community Trust for some time in relation to their plans to acquire land. These discussions are continuing and we hope they will come to fruition a soon as possible.”
Wanlockhead was founded in around 1680 after the Duke of Buccleuch built a lead smelting plant and workers’ cottages, according to Undiscovered Scotland. The relationship between residents and Buccleuch has been fraught in recent years, however.
In 2017, we reported that Buccleuch’s plan to build a large wind farm on the hillsides between Sanquhar and Wanlockhead was met by fierce opposition from locals. They warned the construction would unearth contamination from old lead mines and undermine their plans for a buyout.
Earlier in 2017, villagers were shocked to learn from a news release that Buccleuch had sold off a bowling green and clubhouse that the local community thought belonged to them.
In 2016, Buccleuch was slammed for failing to protect residents and hikers by sealing off toxic waste ponds left over from lead mining in the surrounding hills two years after an official recommended doing so.
The Buccleuch buyout plan in full