THE landowner of a Scottish estate has pledged £17,000 to a community land buyout – and has called on 99 other non-Scots property owners to do the same.

Jeremy Leggett is also calling on the Scottish Government to create a tax on land bought by incomers like himself.

The social entrepreneur has stepped in to help the “agonising” plight of the Morvern community who have less than a fortnight left to raise £1.7 million towards their proposed buyout of a “ghost” estate.

If they can’t make the Hallowe’en deadline they will lose a £1m grant from the Scottish Land Fund and the estate is likely to be sold on the open market.

As their application for charity status has been held up due to a backlog, they are unable to apply for grants from charities and trusts.

Their sole hope now is to raise the cost from private donors but although some neighbouring landowners have claimed they are supportive of the community’s aims, only Leggett has come forward with an offer.

READ MORE: Why new non-Scot property owners should help communities with a tax

He took over Bunloit, a 1200-acre estate at Loch Ness earlier this year after raising £2.4m through crowdfunding.

A climate change campaigner who founded the UK’s biggest solar company, Solarcentury, he is now working with experts to increase the biodiversity on the estate and introduce measures that will capture carbon.

“I am hoping to show the grouse blasters that there might be another way of running Scottish estates other than turning them into deserts, burning the heather and blasting grouse out of the sky,” said Leggett, who is a member of the Green New Deal group. “It is not going to be easy to make enough money to sustain it but there are all sorts of ways you can do it.”

He told the Sunday National that the proposed Morvern buyout was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity but the position the community is in was “agonising”.

“If they don’t find the money, the chances are it will go to some hedge fund owner from London who wants to buy a place to show off to his friends,” warned Leggett.

He said “socially useless money” was being used to “buy up Scotland”.

“If I were a native Scot, as I aspire to be, I would be furious about that,” said Leggett. “I am told by estate agents that average land values are going up by 20% a year – that is the road to ruin. If I were Nicola Sturgeon I would contemplate what they have done in New Zealand which is to say the shop is shut and overseas people can’t buy because we are selling to our own people.”

Leggett said it was a huge issue that had to be fixed.

“The biggest problem is growing social inequality and you lose the cohesion of society if that happens,” he said. “It is so acute now that in places like Aviemore and the Isle of Mull local folk can’t work because there is nowhere for them to live. They can’t buy because it has all become unaffordable and they can’t rent either because it has all been rented to folk coming up on holiday. It is deeply unfair.”

READ MORE: Insh: National Trust for Scotland branded 'imperious' for island sale

He said that if the Scottish Government could not ban people from south of the Border or from overseas from buying land and driving up prices, it should introduce a special tax.

“I think the Scottish Government should tax people like me,” he said. “Even a small surcharge on sales prices would help communities like Morvern purchase their own land. This would, at least to some degree, help address inequality.

“What I am talking about is a small tax that is hypothecated: dedicated to the single task of redressing the unfairness built into Scottish land ownership.”

However even if such a tax were introduced, it would be too late for Morvern.

No-one has lived on the 2500 hectare Killundine Estate for seven years and there are five empty houses as well as empty buildings which could provide much-needed housing for the 350 strong community.

“It is a kind of ghost estate,” said Alasdair Firth of Morvern Community Woodlands group (MCW).

The group believes that in community hands the estate could provide employment and crofts as well as help bolster the Lochaline school roll which has recently fallen to 13, despite being graded as “excellent” in recent inspections.

If the community succeeds in buying the estate on the north shore of the Sound of Mull, the aim is to harvest the £1m of standing timber and regenerate the woodlands with native broad-leaf trees and a mix of commercial conifers.

The beauty of the area could also prove to be a lure for tourists and there is potential for the development of walking and cycling routes.

THE estate is currently owned by the Lauder family who are supportive of the buyout but have been wanting to sell the estate for the last three years.

“They could have sold it on open market but they didn’t,” said Firth. “However we have been working on the premise that we would complete the sale by March next year. If we don’t get the Scottish Land Fund money that looks implausible.”

He added that while several charities and trusts had told the group they would like to help they could not fund them until they achieved charity status.

“The charity regulator has not been able to process applications as usual as they say there is a backlog because of Covid, but it means we have been left in a difficult position as our only fall back is to find donors,” said Firth.

“The other big landowners around here have said they are supportive but they have not reached in their pockets yet. People that have been supporting us tend to be people that don’t have that much money, maybe because they understand the situation and feel people like them could benefit, whereas it is a rare landowner that decides to help because they can.” The group has broad support from the community but an official ballot has also been held up by the lockdown and the results will not be known until the end of this month.

“We had the ballot set up to go in March before the land fund had even made a decision but it got pulled by the council because of the lockdown restrictions,” said Firth.

“If we had been able to hold it then we would have been able to be in a better position now.”

It is just one of the many challenges the group has faced over the last few years.

READ MORE: This is why we need radical thinking to future-proof Scottish land

“We have done a lot of work on feasibility and business planning but we don’t have any paid staff at all so we have done everything in our spare time,” Firth said.

“It was great to get the offer from the Scottish Land Fund but we are also really frustrated at being left in a position where we have to try and raise that remaining amount of money in our own spare time without any help.

“The Land Fund is quite bureaucratic and everything has to go through the board who only meet every month or so but if they had someone in a position to be able to answer questions quickly that would help.

“Maybe, even if we do fail, lessons will be learned,” he said.

The Office for the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) said it was operating with fewer resources due to the pandemic and it was taking longer than usual to answer queries and process any applications.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We strongly support community right-to-buy and actively encourage community ownership initiatives by providing a wide range of advice and guidance to groups considering a community acquisition of land.

“We also fund the Scottish Land Fund, which makes £10m a year available to community groups who wish to take ownership of assets.

“While we welcome all ideas on how to support community ownership, there are no plans to introduce new taxes or levies of the sort described.”