In a move which will send shockwaves through Scottish political and land reform circles, the community body is taking legal advice with a view to potentially triggering a clause in land reform legislation.
The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 introduced Part 3A into the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which allows qualifying community bodies to buy land which is being used or managed in a way that results in or causes harm to the 'environmental wellbeing of a relevant community'.
ACT believe John Muir Trust’s decision to cull deer out-of-season on their land, without recourse to impacted neighbours, represents such an action and are prepared to take decisive measures to stop it.
Scottish Government’s regulators NatureScot granted John Muir Trust an authorisation for the deer cull, which ACT has described as ‘gratuitous killing’.
The crofters will now consider their position, with a view to joining a community buy-out of Quinag mountain, purchased by John Muir Trust in 2005.
ACT has also complained to the Environment Standards Authority and Scotland’s independent charity regulator over the actions of NatureScot and John Muir Trust in Assynt.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is backing its professional deer stalking members within the local community, whose jobs are likely to be threatened by John Muir Trust’s culls.
Assynt Crofters’ Trust are no strangers to using land reform law to protect local interest.
They created history in December 1992, launching the first community attempt of its kind to buy the 21 000 acre North Lochinver Estate from liquidators for Swedish land speculators to whom long-term owners, the Vestey family, had previously sold the estate in a deal worth over £1m.
The estate was to be split into 7 lots and offered to purchasers, causing alarm amongst the crofters; some of whom had ancestors who were forced to leave during the clearances.
On 1st February 1993, they received the titles for the estate in a £300 000 deal, almost half of which was raised by the crofters themselves and their supporters.
Upon news of the success, which inspired later buy-outs in Eigg and Knoydart, late Chairman Allan MacRae- son of a local gamekeeper- told the community ‘we have won our land’.
Today the estate, known as North Assynt Estate, consists of circa 21 000 acres of land including 12 crofting townships.
You can read more about John Muir Trust’s out-of-season deer culls, here: https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/latest-news/2023/2023-09-01-the-john-muir-trust-at-it-again-in-assynt.php