A PRICE tag of £6m has been put on more than 10,000 acres of land in Langholm being sold by Buccleuch.
The company has agreed a deal with the Langholm Initiative to buy the land for the community.
If it goes ahead, it will be the biggest community buy-out in southern Scotland and will have a massive impact on the town’s ability to determine its own future.
The 10,500 acres includes nine residential properties.
The plan will be the first in which a community positions the environment and climate change at the heart of the decisions it makes.
The central aspect of the plan is the creation of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, which will deliver community regeneration, climate change action, ecological restoration, wildlife conservation and develop outdoor tourism.
The ambition has met widespread support. Both locally and nationally 23 organisations have written letters of support.
Cross-party political support from MSPs Oliver Mundell, Conservative; Colin Smyth, Labour; and Joan McAlpine, SNP, has been shown as well as support from the John Muir Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland, Woodland Trust, Forest and Land Scotland and Borders Forest Trust.
The Moor’s cultural importance is celebrated annually by the Common Riding which marks the boundaries of the historic common land.
The land has national and international natural heritage, being both a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area for breeding hen harriers, the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK.
Kevin Cumming, project leader, said: “This is one of the most important and forward-thinking community plans in the UK.
“We’re in a climate emergency and the decisions we make now will have a massive impact on future generations.
“We have worked extremely hard for six months to get to this stage of the process. It has been a positive experience working with Buccleuch and we’re excited to try and get the buyout over the line.”
Some of the other plans include planting nearly 500 acres of native woodland, peatland restoration work, developing modern business units and creating an eco-campsite.
Last month the Initiative applied to the Scottish Land Fund for £3m and approached South of Scotland Enterprise to support the purchase.
Kevin added: “Southern Scotland lags far behind the Highland and Islands in the support it has received for community land ownership.
“This is despite facing many of the same issues such as an ageing population, youth migration and loss of industry.”
It is hoped the remaining money will be found through a large-scale crowd-funding campaign which is likely to kick off in May. The Initiative is also pursuing other sources of funding.
Kevin said: “This project extends beyond the community because of its positive climate action.
“We raised £8,000 in eight days through a crowd-funder to help us undertake our investigations into community ownership.
“These donations came from all over the world. It’s rare that we, as individuals, have the opportunity to make a difference on this scale and we hope people will support us.”
A Buccleuch spokesperson said: “We’ve worked closely with the Initiative on the potential sale of land, including areas of Langholm Moor, and these are progressing well.
“We hope we will reach a positive conclusion before the end of this year.”
Gavin Graham, chairman of Langholm Walks, said: “I have just spent an hour on the moor watching two male hen harriers hunting.
“It is the best place in mainland UK to watch these beautiful birds.
“Buying the moor is so important for the future of these beautiful birds and will, if properly managed as I am sure it will, be a magnet for people looking for wildlife experiences in such beautiful countryside.
“Given time, Langholm can become a major destination for wildlife enthusiasts and an education centre for young people to learn about the habitat we have on our doorstep.”
Roger Maxwell, Langholm Common Riding chairman, said it was “excellent news” for the community at a very difficult time for everyone.
He added: “It will be a great asset to the community. I’ve been up there a lot lately with the lockdown and when you look over the back of Whita, it’s a great area.
“It’s so wild and has so much wildlife. We’re very lucky to have that as an asset.
“From the Common Riding point of view, it will be great to see it back in community hands.”
Margaret Pool, Initiative chairwoman, said they were due to hold a big fundraiser with entrepreneurs in London last weekend but it had been cancelled.
“We’re going to start a crowdfunder on Facebook next week and hope that will kick off things. It will give us an indication of the support out there.”
Membership of the Langholm Initiative has soared to about 600 as a result of the bid to buy the land.
Margaret added: “That increase bodes well and now the press release has gone national, we may see membership numbers explode. People from as far as Devon, Cornwall, northern Scotland and Ireland have joined.”
Chris Miles is chairman of the board of trustees at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and is the county recorder for Dumfriesshire. He runs the Dumfriesshire Botany Group.
He said: “This is great news and, for someone interested in nature, it’s very exciting. I’m sure the community will want to put nature at the heart of their plans for the moorland.
“That is because the moorland will do more for the community in the future by being rich in nature which will attract visitors to the town.
“With restored and restructured habitats for nature, it will play a bigger role in adapting to climate change, storing more carbon and managing the flow of water.”
Colin Smyth, South Scotland Labour MSP and its rural economy spokesperson, says the government must throw its support behind the plan.
He said: “This really would bring significant benefits to the Eskdale community and its economy.
“It would open up opportunities for eco-tourism and boost the environment by better promoting and protecting a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
“The positive difference, which community ownership has made in other parts of our region in terms of jobs and opening up access, is there for all to see and we would see those same benefits if Buccleuch facilitated the ultimate transfer to the community.”