A community group which wants to breathe new life into a small Inner Hebridean island has taken a major step forward in its bid to buy it.

The North West Mull Community Woodland Company wants to take over the 4500 acre Isle of Ulva, which was recently put on the market by its current owner.

The island is said to have attracted interest from wealthy investors, however the community group wants to entice residents with fresh housing stock and new economic activities such as farming and fishing.

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Scottish ministers have now given the group consent to register its interest in purchasing the island under land reform rules.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives communities the right to register and then go on to buy land and assets under certain conditions. But while the powers have been successfully used across rural and urban Scotland, it is the first time permission has been granted to a community group to register interest in an island.

It means the group now has around eight months to create a viable economic plan and raise funds to take over the purchase of the island.

Ulva was put on the market by current owner Jamie Howard, whose family has owned the island for more than 70 years. While the island once had a thriving population of more than 800, it is currently home to just six residents.

Land Reform Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said community right to buy powers is unlocking the potential in urban, rural and island communities and giving local people a say in their future.

“The Isle of Ulva is steeped in history and rich in wildlife. At its height Ulva had over 800 residents and now has only a handful, a story which is unfortunately all too common to many of our island communities.

“The North West Mull Community Woodland Company is the first organisation to use community right to buy powers to register interest in buying an island. One of the group’s key objectives is to increase Ulva’s population and other small communities should take encouragement from the group’s ambitious plans.”

North West Mull Community Woodland Company Ltd – known as The Woodies – was set up in 2006 and has already successfully taken over acres of forests on Mull from the Forestry Commission Scotland.

Ulva is not the first Scottish island to attempt a community buyout. The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust successfully took ownership of the Isle of Eigg in 1997, after meeting the sale price of £1.5m through a series of grants and a major fundraising campaign.