On Wednesday 12 August, Wanlockhead, Scotland’s highest village, voted to approve the purchase of 3,863 acres of land from the Buccleuch Group, in one of southern Scotland’s largest ever proposed community land buyouts. 55.6 percent of voters were in favour of the buyout and 44.4 percent of voters were against it. 69 ballots were cast in support of the proposal and 55 were cast against it. Voter turnout was extraordinarily high, with approximately 81.5 percent of eligible voters in Wanlockhead casting their ballots.
Lincoln Richford, Chair of the Wanlockhead Community Trust, says, “This is the first big step towards a brighter future for our community. If we can own the land, we can make our own decisions about its use. Today, locals said ‘yes’ to self-empowerment and self-determination. It is an historic day for all of us.”
The community land buyout area, which is predominantly situated around the former lead mining community, is currently part of Buccleuch’s Queensberry Estate. It contains a portion of the popular walking route, the Southern Upland Way; Wanlock Dod, a Scheduled Monument; the Mennock Pass and numerous other sites of natural, historical and recreational significance. Wanlockhead, nestled in the scenic Lowther Hills, is fast becoming a popular tourist destination. It boasts the Museum of Lead Mining; Scotland’s highest pub, the Wanlockhead Inn; and Scotland’s most southerly ski slope on Lowther Hill, a site shared with neighbouring Leadhills.
Dominika Torka, WCT Board Member, says, “There is so much potential here for us in Wanlockhead. It is very exciting where we can go as a community with this buyout, if we put our minds to it.” The Wanlockhead Community Trust released a feasibility study in the spring of 2020. The report outlined potential projects that could be initiated by villagers should the land be owned by the community, including: recreational opportunities (walking, biking, skiing, wildlife watching etc.), business development, affordable housing for families, agriculture, forestry and environmental restoration.
The Trust is currently in the final stages of a joint valuation of the land with Buccleuch. The community group will soon apply to the Scottish Land Fund in addition to other foundations to raise the funds needed to purchase the land. Says Richford, “We enjoy grassroots support. We enjoy the political support of all of the major political parties. We will also secure funding support during this next crucial phase of our campaign.”
Oliver Mundell MSP was in attendance at the ballot in addition to local activist, Amanda Burgauer, and Norma Slimmon, Convenor of Mid and Upper Nithsdale SNP Branch. Social distancing measures and health and safety regulations regarding Covid-19 were enforced during the ballot proceedings at the Wanlockhead Community Centre.