Community power on the Isle of Eigg

Ten miles off Scotland’s west coast lies the Isle of Eigg, an 8 kilometre long and 5 kilometre wide island teeming with wildlife and landscapes just as exceptional as its history and people.

In 1997, Eigg’s inhabitants successfully fundraised £1.5 million for a community buy-out of their island, ending 169 years of successive absentee owners who had left the island’s infrastructure crumbling.

20 years on from the buyout and the island is flourishing. The population has increased by 60% (now at 105) and the island is owned and managed by the Isle of Eigg Trust which is made up of three bodies: the Isle of Eigg Residents’ Association, the Highland Council and The Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The Trust has overseen the provision of better housing, the restructuring of croft land, the establishment of a waste collection service, better forestry management to bring back wildlife-friendly trees, and, the establishment of ‘Eigg Electric’ the island’s own renewable company that uses a mix of wind, solar, and wave energy to power the homes and businesses on Eigg.

How to avoid communities being left with no other option but to raise astronomical amounts of money to buy their way out of an arguably feudal system of land ownership is still a topical issue in Scotland, and land reform remains on the political agenda.

With Brexit looming, the islanders are seeking assurances from both the Scottish and UK governments that the EU funding that has been instrumental in supporting development on the island will be matched with other schemes. It was EU grants that funded the island’s refurbished pier and community hall, for example, and farmers on the island rely on farm subsidies.

But whatever the future brings, the islanders on Eigg have shown that sustainable development can lead to the social and environmental renaissance of a community, whether it be rural or urban, big or small.