Canna in 1938 by Margaret Fay Shaw

In the 1930s it wasn’t that unusual for wealthy men to buy up whole islands, but John Lorne Campbell was an unusual young man.

A nice surprise in the post, a review in Farming Scotland Magazine which,  not surprisingly, concentrates on John’s modernisation of the farm on Canna. Interestingly, it also highlights his essential belief that efficiency must go hand in hand with wildlife conservation and sustainability.

When John bought the island in 1938 it was with the intention of proving that traditional Hebridean culture could coexist with modern farming methods. He had studied rural economy at Oxford and was keen to put what he had learned into practice.

What he found on Canna was a farm which, although cared for, had been starved of investment. Kelp and manure were the only fertilisers, there was no electricity (or inside toilets for farm workers) and there was no machinery of any sort – ploughing and every other task depended on horse and man power.  His wife Margaret recorded the scene with her camera.

Birds and butterflies were to thrive in the meadows of Canna but shortage of money and the outbreak of war meant that it was years before John could modernise the island. Electricity came with ex-army generators in the late 1940s and John bought his first tractor with an unexpected legacy from his American grandmother.

Mechanisation could not do everything, however.  He noted with regret in his diary that bracken was taking over high on the hill where it was too steep for tractors to reach. In previous generations when the population of the island was much larger, there would have been teams of men to do the work. Not any longer.