Dramatic changes in Highlands and Islands land ownership over the past 20 years are illustrated in one of two new maps which have just been published online.
The rise of community ownership across the region since the pioneering achievements of the Assynt crofters in 1992/93 is shown in the first map to be published by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
It also includes earlier examples such as the Stornoway Trust in 1923.
HIE supports communities to acquire, manage and develop assets with income generating potential to deliver economic and social benefits.
According to the development agency, around 150 projects have received financial assistance from HIE towards acquiring land or other assets. These assets are now owned and managed by the community for the benefit of local people.
As of March 2012 more than 420,000 acres (169,967ha) were in community ownership in Highlands and Islands. This is more land than owned by the National Trust for Scotland, John Muir Trust and RSPB combined.
The second map details over 40 communities with growth projects which HIE supports by assisting local organisations to employ development officers.
The range of initiatives is vast. As well as owning whole estates and islands, local people are developing renewable energy projects, creating employment, building infrastructure and providing a diverse range of services to make their communities stronger and more sustainable.
The launch of the maps comes as HIE’s longstanding Director of Strengthening Communities, John Watt OBE, retires after 32 years of working from HIE and its predecessor, the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB).
John said: “HIE's work in strengthening communities is a vital part of its economic development role. The work that we and our partners pursue in helping communities acquire and then manage and develop land, buildings, energy projects and so on continues to make a real difference to the lives of thousands of people, many in our most fragile areas.
“As a geographer it is particularly rewarding for me to see the interactive maps on HIE’s website. They illustrate not only the wide geographical spread of exciting community-led development projects, but also offer details of the rich diversity of initiatives which are making Highlands and Islands communities stronger and more resilient.”
In December 2009, John was awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours list for services to community development. In recent years he has been involved in community land buyouts throughout the Highlands, including the isle of Eigg, South Uist Estate, Gigha and Knoydart, and has headed up HIE’s Strengthening Communities function for the last nine years.
The Community Growth Map can be found by visiting: http://www.hie.co.uk/support-for-communities/account-management/map.html
The Community Buyouts and Land Ownership Map can be found by visiting: http://www.hie.co.uk/support-for-communities/community-assets/community-map.html