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Community bid to buy-out local sporting estate

A COMMUNITY is looking to buy-out all or part of a huge sporting estate amid claims more could be done to support the local population.

A packed public meeting in the village hall of Leadhills, in the hills of South Lanarkshire, has agreed to investigate a potential buy-out under land reform legislation.

This could give the community the right to first refusal if all or some of the Leadhills Estate comes on the market.

However, they do not have the absolute right to buy like crofting communities enjoy whether the owners want to sell or not.

For centuries the Leadhills Estate had been owned by the family of Lord Hopetoun. His main base is Hopetoun House on the outskirts of Edinburgh which is regularly cited as one of Scotland's finest stately homes and is now owned by a charitable trust.

But Leadhills is run primarily for grouse shooting and has been linked to wildlife crime. Its sporting rights over 11,500 acres are being offered for lease for a 10-year period along with a head keeper's house and up to six under keepers' houses - price on application.

Many among the 350 people who live in and around Leadhills believe the estate could work better for the community.

As the name suggests, the area was a major lead mining centre, until the industry's decline in the 1930s. Local people looked to the Highlands and Islands where their counterparts had taken control of their own destinies and most of the 500,000 acres now under community ownership. It was decided to see if something similar might work in Leadhills

Freelance illustrator Andrew Foley, who attended the weekend's meeting with his wife, said the houses in the village were "cradled in the middle of the estate".

"The general feeling of the group that has put the community buyout proposal forward is that they would like a greater stake in that land.

"There was a lot of interest and there was a majority who wanted to investigate this. But I got a sense there were also some who were not totally on board," he said.

Meanwhile Anjo Abelaira, who works freelance in the marketing and tourism sectors in Scotland and Europe, said: "I came here five years ago and fairly quickly realised there was a general feeling that the estate could provide a lot more opportunities for the local community than it did.

"A few of us got together and started to talk about what more could be done with this amount of land so close to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

"We had a lot of ideas from tourism to hydro to farming, instead of it just being for shooting playground. It is the size of the island of Guernsey, so it should be able to offer more than it has done as just a sporting estate."

He said 57 people had signed forms agreeing for a community company to be formed with the purpose of registering an interest in the estate. This is well over the 10% legally required and a steering group has now been set up.

A spokeswoman for the estate said: "Leadhills Estate is very much part of the community and has always welcomed the opportunity to support local initiatives.

"Leadhills is a productive farming estate and grouse moor and marketing for a new sporting tenant is well underway. The Trustees are very much committed to Leadhills, have an ongoing programme of investment and there are no plans to sell.

"We are, however, interested in discussing ways in which all interested parties can work together to stimulate greater economic growth in the area."

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