Canna’s development trust gets control of its destiny

National Trust for Scotland hands responsibility for Canna’s regeneration to development trust run by residents.


Moving to a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland may sound like an idyllic new start, but despite a worldwide competition attracting the interest of hundreds of people, the population of Canna is still stuck at 15.

Now the people living on one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Hebrides have been handed control of the efforts to attract new residents, with the hope that a new approach will finally start to boost the numbers.

More than a decade ago the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which owns the tiny island south of Skye, launched a global recruitment campaign to find new families to settle on Canna, the most westerly of the Small Isles, a cluster of islands south-west of Skye best known for the memorably named Eigg, Rum and Muck. Canna measures 4.5 miles (7.25km) long by a mile (1.6km) wide.

That appeal made headlines across the world, and 350 people applied, but the initiative has been dogged by repeated rows. Many of the families and couples attracted there quit the island, complaining of poor, dysfunctional management and broken promises by NTS.

The latest row flared up in early November after one couple, whose four children were the only pupils in Canna’s primary school, left for the mainland and threatened legal action. That again left its population hovering at about 15.


Confronted by yet another defeat to a strategy conceived at their base in Edinburgh, NTS officials have told the Guardian they have now abandoned that approach entirely. “We have to move beyond a paternalistic model,” said Dominic Driver, head of natural heritage at NTS. “We need to support the local community to develop itself.”

They have handed control of Canna’s regeneration to a development trust run by residents, many of whom are Gaels who trace their history on the island to ancestors who settled there during the Jacobite rebellion nearly 300 years ago.

In a deliberate break from the NTS approach, the Isle of Canna Community Development Trust will no longer prioritise keeping open the island’s tiny single-room school, which is now mothballed, and has not set a target for exact numbers of new residents.

Armed with £100,000 in funding, their objectives are more pragmatic and mirror the highly successful switch to an off-grid green energy system pioneered by the neighbouring island of Eigg.

They are erecting a wind turbine and solar panels to end the island’s round-the-clock reliance on inefficient and polluting diesel generators, in a £100,000 project jointly funded by the NTS. A tidal causeway that links Canna with its tiny sister island of Sanday will be upgraded to make it accessible all day.

Read the full article at The Guardian.

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