A GROUP of islanders have finally taken ownership of their land after a 13-year saga which became Scotland’s longest ever crofting community buyout row.

Pairc Estate in south east Lewis was officially handed over to residents yesterday, ending years of disputes and court hearings.

Outgoing landlord Barry Lomas and Pairc Trust, the community body representing the 400 residents, agreed a price of £500,000 for the 28,000-acre tract of land.

An outstanding legal case over Pairc - Scotland’s first test of a hostile land buyout under the controversial Land Reform Act - will be dropped.

Residents will now own almost the whole estate which extends to 11 crofting townships and an extensive coastline. The purchase price of £500,000 includes the foreshore and an interposed lease entered into by the previous owner.

Angus McDowall, chairman of Pairc Trust, said: “This is the culmination of some 13 years struggle to buy the estate on behalf of the community, and I should like to thank everyone who has played a part over the years in eventually achieving the community’s goal.

“This includes all members and directors of Pairc Trust, past and present, and particularly everyone within the community who has contributed to the substantial funds raised to purchase the estate; and to all our external funders and supporters.”

The terms of the sale were agreed by the community in a postal ballot counted on May 1 last year.

A funding package for the capital costs has been finalised in the last week with external support from Scottish Land Fund, Western Isles Council, and the local Muaitheabhal Community Wind Farm Trust, in addition to almost £300,000 raised by the Pairc Trust themselves.

Revenue funding is being provided by Scottish Land Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Mr McDowall said: “We plan that an AGM of the Pairc Trust should be held early in the New Year, at which we hope that new directors will be elected to take the trust forward for the important tasks which now lie ahead.

“We particularly want to strengthen links with other key community organisations in Pairc.”

Pairc was the only example of the forced crofting land sale legislation being used in anger since it was introduced by the former Labour administration in 2003. Elements of it were seriously flawed, which hampered the Pairc bid and required corrective legislation.

Much of the land presently has little value except as rough pasture for livestock but Scottish and Southern Energy's (SSE) application to build a £110 million wind farm dramatically raised the odds.

In the middle of the legal fight SSE sold the energy rights to International Power which plans a smaller renewable energy scheme.

Rachael McCormack, director of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: “Today is a milestone for community land ownership in Scotland and marks the culmination of an extraordinary effort by the people of Pairc.

“The path to community ownership requires vision, resolve and sustained effort - none more so that in Pairc."