The Life of John Lorne Campbell of Canna by Ray Perman

Canna questions

Today’s story in the Guardian moves me to write a letter to the editor.  Severin Carrell’s report on the sudden depopulation of Canna draws attention to the difficulties of living in a small, remote community and the problems facing the National Trust for Scotland.   The problem as always centres on land ownership.

Without repeating my letter word for word, (I don’t yet know if it will be printed) I suggest the Trust could learn from John’s own attitude –  far from keeping ownership and control of the entire island to himself, he was prepared to make bold decisions to encourage greater independence among the islanders.

While other Highland landlords were extinguishing crofts, John created new ones with the deliberate intention of increasing the security of his tenants. He also allowed one of his farm workers to build and own a new house on Sanday (incidentally the house currently occupied by the soon-to-leave school teacher and her family).

There is another model close to hand. Neighbouring Muck is a smaller island with a population much larger than Canna and growing.  But the answer to Canna’s problems must be found on Canna itself and, I suggest, it is already there.

As the crofting landlord of Canna, the trust has the power it needs to rebuild the community and inspire a vision for the future – all it has to do is follow the spirit of John Lorne Campbell’s legacy and adopt some of his ideas.  I am not an expert on crofting law, but I know some readers of this blog are.  Is there more the trust could do? Ideas welcome.

Above: a derelict croft is an opportunity to rebuild.  Top: a restored croft on Sanday now awaits the arrival of a new family.