I spent Monday in the Morar Hotel near Mallaig chairing the Rum summit. Nope -- not that kinda rum and no drink was taken. But with luck and hard work, a shift of control from SNH to the community should be a cause for minor celebration in a year's time.
Rum has been owned and managed by Government conservation agencies since 1957, with SNH hands on the tiller since 1992. Rum is the mountainous "Small Isle" neighbour of Eigg (where I was a Trustee during their campaign to buy the island a decade ago.) It has only 31 inhabitants -- the majority are SNH staff who've only been there for a couple of years. SNH control the land, housing and employment on Rum and that's made it hard for an independent island community to develop. Meantime the cost of renewing facilities (including Kinloch Castle made famous by the BBC's Restoration programme) has strained SNH budgets. So the nature agency has taken a bold decision. It'll concentrate on what it does best -- nature conservation -- and allow the community to take over control and day to day management of the village and glen around Kinloch. That will not be an overnight shift. There are no vacant houses for new folk to move into, the current power supply is iffy and arrangements for secondary age children so awkward, families have left rather than send their teenage kids to Mallaig. Happily that last problem is getting ironed out -- a new hostel will open in Mallaig early in the New Year so the island kids can stick together and have one place to call home. Kinloch Castle needs millions spent soon -- and its not clear if the Princes Regenration Trust's ambitious plans will attract enough government cash.So figuring out how to transfer land and management responsibilities from SNH control will not be a doddle. Thats why Environment Minister, Mike Russell, and 20 folk from SNH, the Scottish government, local agencies and the Small Isles communities pitched up in the hotel on Monday, to plan a better future for Rum.
Mike was hugely upbeat about the island's future: "Rum has tremendous potential. It is unique in its geology and nature conservation interest and has untapped potential for sympathetic economic development, especially around tourism and land management. So how could I refuse his invitation to chair a taskforce to push these good intentions forward with a view to standing in some new community owned housing on Rum next year? This Minister doesn't mess about! The day ended with SNH heid bummers Ian Jardine and Andrew Thin in agreement with the Rum community reps about the urgent things to tackle. And that's a brilliant start. I dont say this often, but it's an honour to be helping direct the effort of people who've been faced change squarely. And after almost 8- trips to Eigg in the 1990's during the buyout, I look forward to sailing with Ronnie and the Sheerwater again!