WHEN the North West Mull Community Woodland Company bought the Isle of Ulva in 2018, the aim was to ensure the island’s social and economic development for current and future generations – including the management of its biggest resource, land.
Agriculture plays a central role in the plans and since the buy-out the group has undertaken an ambitious project to reintroduce and increase sector activity, alongside delivering wider environmental benefits.
A large-scale programme of work has been carried out to enclose the hill, create a new park and replace derelict fences. Stone-built dykes have been restored and a bracken control initiative is under way.
A small flock of sheep was joined by a new herd of heifers two years ago, bought from hill farms on the neighbouring Isle of Mull – and Ulva will see a new stock bull making its arrival in the next few months.
Now NWMCWC has signalled the next phase in returning Ulva Farm into an active livestock unit and is advertising for a resident part-time livestock manager for the next two-and-a-half years, which it is envisaged will lead to a full tenancy.
“Getting farming moving again on Ulva is vital for the sustainable future of the island’s community and environment, but we are the first to admit that we ourselves are not farmers,” admitted John Addy, one of the community group’s directors.
“We were keen from the start to offer somebody the opportunity of taking on the tenancy on Ulva and becoming a valuable member of the island’s community, but we were also conscious of how difficult it is to build up a farming business from scratch without a sizeable starting capital.
“A lot of investment and initial work is needed to bring the farm into a condition that supports sustainable, efficient and safe livestock management alongside tourism and other interests on the island.
“Our strategy since the buyout has therefore been to get the farm up and running as much as possible so that we can hand something over that is workable for a new tenant.”
Should there not be enough work to fully occupy the new livestock manager, Iain MacKay, of Torloisk Farm on Mull, has offered them additional work to help supplement their income, as well as mentoring support.
“Managing an island hill farm in our part of the world requires a specialist skillset so having the offer from an experienced farmer to share their knowledge of the local farming challenges and opportunities is really appreciated,” said Addy.
MacKay has been a hill livestock farmer all his life, and has been involved at policy and political level to speak up for new entrants and tenant farmers.
He said: “It is increasingly difficult these days for new entrants and tenant farmers to get access to land, especially land that comes with a decent tenancy which offers the longer-term security needed to grow a sustainable, profitable and resilient farming business.
“I had to deal with a lot of challenges as a new entrant tenant farmer and my business was held back for many years because of that.
“That’s why I welcome tenancy opportunities coming onto the market. I am very happy to be able to help the revitalisation of Ulva Farm and, if needed, offer support to the incoming future tenant by sharing my knowledge and experience of hill farming and giving them additional work here at Torloisk.
“Neighbouring is an important tradition amongst hill farmers, and I would like to see this type of collaboration continue for the benefit of the next generation.”
NWMCWC has cast a wide net enlisting the support of the Scottish Land Matching Service (SLMS), a Scottish Government-funded initiative, hosted by NFU Scotland and supported by a range of Scottish rural based organisations.