Page last updated at 07:40 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Bute ballot over Richard Attenborough buyout

By David Miller
BBC Scotland environment correspondent

Campaigners will need to raise about 1.4m in order to buy the land

Islanders on Bute are voting on plans to buy almost 2,000 acres of land currently owned by film director Richard Attenborough.

The scheme's supporters said the purchase of Rhubodach Forest could help transform the island's fortunes.

More than 5,000 islanders have a vote in what is Scotland's biggest ever ballot on a community buyout proposal.

The forest, which lies at the northern end of Bute and offers spectacular views of Argyll, is valued at £1.4m.

Bute Community Land Company, which has been set up to organise the buyout, is confident it can raise enough cash for the project, primarily from public grants and loans.

It also believes it can win the community support needed to allow the bid to proceed.

More than half of the 5,000 islanders who are eligible to vote must take part in the ballot for it to be valid.

If the majority of those who cast a vote are in favour of the buyout, the proposals will go ahead.

Christine McArthur, a director of Bute Community Land Company, admitted that the size of the ballot has created difficulties.

She said: "During community buyouts in smaller islands, like Eigg or Gigha, fewer than 100 were eligible to vote.

"Here we've got well over 5,000. That brings particular challenges in trying to reach everyone and get a positive message out."

Islanders are still debating whether to go ahead with the plan, but campaigners believe community ownership could allow the forest to become a destination for eco-tourism, with improved access for walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

Richard Attenborough
Lord Attenborough is the current owner of the Rhubodach Forest

Wood from the forest would also be used to provide carbon neutral heating for homes in Bute, while many local business owners believe the plan could help attract a new generation of visitors to the island.

Sara Goss Melvin, who runs the Boathouse Bed and Breakfast overlooking the harbour in Rothesay, said: "We need to make Bute an island that everyone wants to come to and that means you've got to have things for people to do.

"You've got to give the modern tourist what they want and buying the forest would help us do that."

Lord and Lady Attenborough, the current owners of Rhubodach Forest, have not commented publicly on the community buyout proposal.

Islanders have until Thursday to take part in the postal ballot. The result of the vote is expected to be announced on Friday.

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