A small community said its "impossible dream" is about to become a reality with success for what is described as the south of Scotland's biggest community buyout.

The 2,300 villagers of Langholm, a few miles north of the English border, have been hoping to buy one of the UK’s most famous grouse moors, owned by one of the UK’s most powerful hereditary landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch.

Their goal is to convert Langholm Moor into a model for climate-friendly and sustainable ecological restoration, powered by small-scale wind and solar farms, spurred on by an upsurge in community buyouts across Scotland.

And they say that buyout is set to go ahead following one of the most ambitious community fundraising campaigns ever seen – with the community of Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway raising the final funds needed in the nick of time.

A landmark community buyout agreement of £3.8 million for over 5,000 acres of land has been reached between The Langholm Initiative charity and Buccleuch – paving the way for what they describe as "the creation of a huge new nature reserve to help tackle climate change, restore nature, and support community regeneration".

Discussions will continue over the remaining 5,300 acres of land the community has expressed an interest in buying.

The Scottish Land Fund, a government fund that backs buyouts, made the Langholm Initiative a time-limited offer of £1m, provided it raised the rest of the money by October 31.

If it failed to acquire Langholm Moor by that date, the money would have vanished and Buccleuch could put it back on the market.

The sale of Langholm Moor, famous among conservationists as the site of a 25-year-long research project into the survival of widely persecuted hen harriers on grouse moors, is seen as a significant moment for Scotland’s land reform movement.

Benny Higgins, a former banker who is chairman of Buccleuch Estates, said they have reached a "significant agreement" with The Langholm Initiative, adding that the deal "demonstrates what can be achieved when everyone involved is committed to working together".

He said: "The community has done a tremendous job in raising the funds to make this historic acquisition, and the plan to create a nature reserve has attracted widespread support. We wish the project every success.

“Engaging constructively with the communities in which we operate as a business is important to us. We have a long-standing policy of reducing our overall footprint to enable us to invest in other projects, and will continue this policy of selling land to interested farmers, community bodies and organisations which express an interest.”

Margaret Pool, chairman of The Langholm Initiative, said: “This is an amazing result for Langholm which will live long in the memory. Our community has a strong cultural connection to this land, which has never been sold before, and securing it for generations to come means so much to so many. Huge thanks to Buccleuch for their positive engagement.”

Forestry Journal: the Duke of Buccleuch.the Duke of Buccleuch.

The Duke of Buccleuch, a hereditary title dating to 1663, was once the UK’s largest private landowner, and the family still holds 217,000 acres of moorland, farms and forestry, and a £250m urban property portfolio.

The family’s homes include Drumlanrig castle, an estate dating back to the reign of Robert the Bruce, and the Boughton estate in Northamptonshire.

Roseanna Cunningham, environment and land reform secretary said: “The completion of The Langholm Moor project is a momentous moment for land reform in Scotland. The project secured a £1 million Scottish Land Fund grant in June, and it is of great testament to The Langholm Initiative that they have secured additional funding, and worked collaboratively with Buccleuch Estates, to bring 5,000 acres of land into community ownership. I commend both The Langholm Initiative and Buccleuch Estates for enabling the buy-out to be completed.

“This is significant news for the South of Scotland but also demonstrates that, when working together with a shared goal, local communities can be a power vehicle for change. I applaud the Initiative wholeheartedly for realising their ambition and look forward to it inspiring other community groups to drive and deliver their own projects right across the country.” The purchase – to be finalised by January 2021 – will lead to the creation of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, with what the campaigners say will incorporate "globally important peatlands and ancient woods restored, native woodlands established, and a haven ensured for wildlife including rare hen harriers".

The initiatives say the project will also support community regeneration, including through plans for the community to capitalise on new nature-based tourism opportunities.

The project had faced significant obstacles which, campaigners argue, expose new problems that threaten the Scottish land reform movement’s ambitions.

Buccleuch Estates wanted £6m for Langholm Moor, and the villagers had just 16 weeks to find the money.

But in the run-up to the deadline, Buccleuch Estates and The Langholm Initiative agreed a revised £3.8 million price for the purchase. With The Langholm Initiative still requiring substantial funding in the final weeks, £500,000 was secured from the Bently Foundation.

During the final week, an "extraordinary" surge of more than £50,000 donations to the charity’s public crowdfunder – including £24,000 on one day alone – saw the appeal support a target.

In the final 48 hours before the deadline, and with the community still some £150,000 short of the total funds needed, The Woodland Trust agreed to contribute £200,000 to the project – taking The Langholm Initiative over the line.

Carol Evans, director of Woodland Trust Scotland, said: "We are thrilled to support The Langholm Initiative's exciting plans with a financial contribution and help deliver new native woods set in an appropriate mosaic of other habitats at Langholm. The world faces a climate emergency and a biodiversity crisis. This initiative is a fightback against both threats."

John Watt, Scottish Land Fund Committee chairman added: “This is a momentous day for The Langholm Initiative and the wider community, who have pulled together and worked extremely hard over recent months to meet their fundraising goal. On behalf of the Scottish Land Fund, a huge congratulations to everyone involved. We are proud to be able to support them with a £1 million award that will contribute to their exciting community ownership plans.”

This story first appeared in The Herald.

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