THE potential community buy-out of thousands of acres of Langholm Moor could not have come at a better time, says an MSP.
When the bill for the new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency went through parliament, an amendment was passed requiring the agency to support such buy-outs.
Colin Smyth, South Scotland, who visited the moor last week with Kevin Cumming, Wild Eskdale project manager, said it would be an ideal site for eco-tourism.
He also believes a successful community buy-out for Langholm Moor could pave the way for more community ownership in southern Scotland.
Two community groups are currently considering bids for a part of the moor after Buccleuch announced its intention earlier this year to sell 25,000 acres, which includes Langholm Moor.
Buccleuch opened a consultation on the sale in May, with a view to putting the land on the market in August if there was no registered interest.
After two groups in Langholm and Newcastleton expressed an interest in different parts of the land, Buccleuch agreed to extend the initial period for bids next March.
Mr Smyth says this should be extended further, if need be, to allow the community to develop a detailed bid for the land, given it would have to secure significant funding.
He said: “This really is a great opportunity to bring the moor under community ownership and we need to do all we can to support that.
“It’s a spectacular Site of Special Scientific Interest on Langholm’s doorstep and is already well used by the community and visitors. It’s one of the best places in the country for hen harriers.
“I know the two groups are working round the clock to prepare bids for different parts of the site and they have my full backing.
“Too much of Scotland’s land is still the hands of too few. A community buy-out would put ownership in the community’s hands and be the best way to safeguard the natural and cultural heritage of this beautiful landscape.
“At the same time it will open up new opportunities to provide a real economic boost to the area by developing eco-tourism, attracting more people to a part of our region all too often overlooked and under promoted.
“I’m pleased Buccleuch extended the initial timetable for bids and I hope it will be flexible in allowing sufficient time for community bids to be developed for what is a complex process.
“I hope any bid will be given the full support of the Scottish Land Fund through grants but its funding application process will not fit into the timescale of eight months. There is a discussion to be had with Buccleuch over that issue.
“About 560,000 acres of land in Scotland have been subject to community buy-out but only 800 acres are in southern Scotland.
“There have been buy-outs at Castle Loch, Lochmaben and the Mull of Galloway and they are a huge success. I hope Langholm Moor is one of the next.”
He explained that in northern Scotland one of Highlands & Islands Enterprise’s priorities was to support community buy-outs and they had staff employed specifically to prepare bids for communities.
He wants to see the same thing happening with the new agency in the south.
He added: “The Mull of Galloway has been transformed since the buy-out in terms of visitors and the environment.
“It was bought by a group and the RSPB has a reserve there, too, and they work together. There is also a very good café.”
He believes the buy-out will benefit not only the community but also Buccleuch because the land does not fit into its economic portfolio. The land is surplus to its requirements.
He said: “It’s in Buccleuch’s interest to see a successful community bid. For its reputation, it would be a positive thing.”
One concern Mr Smyth has is that the Community Land Fund ends next year and the government has not said whether it will continue.
He said: “It’s my assumption that it will and it will increase significantly because we must drive forward community ownership.”