The Morvern community has been pursuing community land ownership for over fifteen years. Community-owned land would provide a whole range of opportunities for local people; from jobs and housing to rebuilding connections with the land. Community land ownership is identified in Morvern’s 2010 Community Growth Plan as fundamental to unlocking key objectives, especially retaining and increasing the resident population in a demographically sustainable way, securing the community’s future.
Since 2017, when the sale of Killundine was first mooted, Morvern Community Woodlands (MCW) has led efforts locally, first to determine whether community ownership of this estate would be viable and following this, to find out what exactly it could deliver. A feasibility study carried out by independent consultants in 2019 showed that community ownership was viable, with the proceeds from sale of commercial forestry on the estate being re-invested in restoring infrastructure and contributing to a diverse range of additional projects. A detailed business plan prepared by consultants in early 2020 showed how the release of the value contained in timber on the estate, as well as contributing to the wider economy of the West Highlands, could underpin sustainable development on the remainder of the estate.
Key findings of the feasibility study (October 2019; revised February 2020):
- Community owned land in Morvern would be a key asset underpinning the future sustainability of the community.
- Killundine has a commercial timber resource which could be used to support other activities, once investment in infrastructure is completed. 355ha of mature conifer are ready for harvest, and in the first ten years this is estimated to yield £1,100,000, with expenditure of £870,000. Significant costs that affect the value of the timber crop include: a levy of c£2 per tonne for extraction of timber through Fiunary Forest; a substantial charge for use of Lochaline pier (estimated at 1/3 of the standing timber value). There is scope to plant new areas of woodland, although this will depend on other land use priorities. In total, up to 460ha of new woodland could be created which, in the first ten years, might generate a surplus of £60,000. There is potential to establish a local tree nursery to supply plants for replanting and also for any new planting. The woodland Special Area of Conservation is adversely affected by herbivores and invasive rhododendron.
- The farm is non-viable in its current form. Livestock rearing on the estate has been compromised by the previous planting of significant areas with trees, the lack of investment in buildings and the sale of Basic Payment entitlements. Rearing sheep and cattle as a whole farm enterprise would result in a loss of over £16,000per annum. Alternative use of the farmland could be found. The land could be divided (in part) into a minimum of 6 crofts enabling families to live on the estate and to have diversified activities as well as other employment.
- There are five houses on the estate, but only two of these are currently occupiable and neither would meet Scottish Government standards for letting from 2022 onwards. Renovation costs of all houses and buildings is estimated at up to £420,000. The community could build its own new housing on Killundine or provide land for construction with a partner organisation. Two properties, when restored, could be let as holiday cottages. The steading is a particularly difficult property to address, with extensive renovation required.
- The estate has excellent recreational opportunities for local people on foot, bike or horse and there is potential to develop a small tourism enterprise with a low-impact campsite and/or pods.
- The estate has a large land resource which provides opportunities for a range of business and environmental proposals.
Key elements of the business plan (March 2020)
The business plan addressed in detail the financial position and consequent financial priorities of a new community owner once acquisition has been completed.
The plan and financial projections showed that community ownership is viable and the estate would be able to run profitably, with surpluses being re-invested in the asset.
For the business plan, 5-year financial projections were prepared. These projections examined income scenarios from forestry harvesting and new planting and the financial implications of a range of elements, some of which have costs for setting up as well as providing an income in due course:
- Approximately 81,000 tonnes of timber are available for harvesting
- Sale of harvested timber would deliver significant income
- Costs of infrastructure development and road levy reduce the above income
- Renovation/ upgrade of 2 properties can support a self-catering tourism business
- Development of a campsite can be combined with the above
- Creation of 6 new crofts in phase 1 with potential for more to follow is feasible
- Lease of empty farm buildings as storage space delivers a small income
- Sale of a house plot can cover some cashflow issues in the short term
- Sale of affordable plots can be developed from year two onwards
- Rental of grazing can deliver a small income
- Additional income from moorland deer management may be available
- Potential for additional income from carbon credits
Some proposals were found likely to be cost neutral, as costs would be paid for by existing schemes or grants:
- Continuation of the existing sporting lease to a third party
- Peatland restoration
- Native woodland restoration and rhododendron control
Cashflow issues for the construction of the required forest roads were identified. Two different approaches to address this were proposed: either a secure bank loan or forward selling of timber.