DELIGHTED campaigners who are trying to buy Ulva have been inundated with messages of support and promises of cash and help since the First Minister announced their application for the right to buy the island had been successful.

Hundreds of emails and letters from all over the world have been pouring in at the rate of 50 a day to the offices of the North West Mull Community Woodland Company (NWMCDC) which is leading the buyout bid.

But now, they say, the hard work starts: raising what is likely to be hundreds of thousands of pounds to add to any grant they get from the Scottish Land Fund for the buyout of the island, which was offered for sale by its current owners for £4 million.

They will have just eight months to raise the money, and if they succeed there will be even more hard work to follow to restore the island’s population, currently just six people, and bring it back to economic and social prosperity.

Modernising the island’s main farm and sorting out housing will be top priorities, with tourism and agriculture likely to lead the revival of the 5000 acre island off the west coast of Mull.

Ian Hepburn is a director of NWMCDC, and chair of the land buyout umbrella group Community Land Scotland. He said: “It is going to take an enormous effort but it will be worth it. We’re not ruling out any proposals – anything that can help breathe life back into the place will be considered.

“The support since the announcement has been fantastic – just one example was from a guy living in the United States who had worked on Ulva in the 1970s and loved the place, promising whatever help he could give.”

Over the next week, the island and surrounding area will be visited by Scottish Government community right to buy experts. They will appoint a valuer to establish a realistic price for the island, then there will be a ballot of people in north-west Mull to see exactly what level of support there is for the buyout. Hepburn expects a large majority of the 350 residents to be in favour.

But he knows fund-raising won’t be easy: “If the valuation of the island was in the £4m region it was first offered for, and we got the maximum 95 per cent from the Scottish Land Fund, that would still leave us with £200,000 to find,” he said.

The bid to buy the island began in May this year when local people realised the owner, Jamie Howard, had decided to put it on the market.

Because they had not registered a proposal to buy the island beforehand, they had to appeal to the Scottish Government to stop the sale – which it did – and then rule on whether they could be granted the right to buy.

The First Minister took them by surprise when she made the announcement in their favour in her speech to the SNP conference..

Along with Howard, the current residents of Ulva are Rebecca and Rhuri Munro and their two young children, and long-time tenant Barry George. The Munros and George are fiercely in favour of the buyout, with George, who came to Ulva to work almost 30 years ago, saying: “The land has deteriorated and it is a priority to restore it so people can live here.”

Rebecca Munro, who runs the Boathouse restaurant on the island with her sister-in-law Emma McKie, says it would make a big difference to have more children on the island to play with her two youngsters.

McKie, now living nearby, was brought up on Ulva and has fond memories of her childhood among 30 residents of the island, who had regular community events.

Among the work needing on the island will be sorting out secure leases for the tenants, and restoring the other housing stock.

There are no tarmac roads on the island, and improving such infrastructure will be needed to develop agriculture and encourage tourists.

Ulva has historic connections with David Livingstone, Australian national figure Lachlan MacQuarrie, writer Beatrix Potter, and Boswell and Johnston. It is hoped the restaurant can be expanded, a hostel and camp site set up, and activities such as sea kayaking, pony trekking can be promoted.

The aim is for ten residents in five years, 20 in ten years, and 30 or more in 20 years’ time.