Ownership of Land
The ownership of land
in the islands has always been a contentious issue. From the competing
claims to the Western Isles by the Scottish and Norwegian kings, to the
relatively modern land-raids of the 1920s, the land which provides food,
shelter, and employment for the people of the isles has frequently been
the cause of conflict. As in other parts of the Highlands and Islands, the
people of this area suffered dispossession and hardship during the Highland
Clearances, and many left the islands to settle in other parts of the world.
The clan lands passed from the community to being the private property of
landlords, and with few exceptions they have remained so.
Most of the estates in
the Western Isles, though privately owned, are under crofting tenure,
that is to say tenant crofters have agricultural, grazing, and housing
rights which leave the landlord with little real control apart from some
fishing, shooting, and mineral rights. Parts of Harris, Benbecula, Barra,
and Vatersay are owned by the Scottish Office Agriculture & Fisheries
Department (SOAFD), a situation dating from a time when the government purchased
land to enable the creation of crofts in order to assist the relief of
hunger and unemployment resulting from the lack of access to land by the
local people. Some of these land settlements were made as late as the 1920s.
'A Land fit for heroes' was promised to servicemen returning from the first
World War. The government however withdrew their promises and in some instances
the land was taken by force by returning servicemen.
Around Stornoway and
the adjacent east coast of the island, the land is owned by the resident
community who elects a management Board of Trustees. This land was given
to the community by the previous owner, Lord Leverhulme, before he disposed
of his estates in Lewis in 1923.
The Western Isles
History of Settlement
(A Tourist Brochure)