Highlands & Islands

Troubled times on idyllic island of Canna

Image caption The Spence family are looking forward to setting up home on Canna

BBC Scotland's Jackie O'Brien has visited two of Scotland's smallest inhabited isles to see how their communities are faring in 2011 - the Year of Scotland's Islands.

For the first of two special reports, Jackie went to Canna, the most westerly of an island group called the Small Isles.

Duncan Spence was taking in the view from a window of his family's new home.

"It's not bad. It's idyllic really, especially on a day like today when it is still and warm," he said.

But Duncan, his wife Alison and their two young children have arrived on Canna in turbulent times.

Canna's population is in decline.

Geoff and Eilidh Soe-Paing and their four children are about to leave and when they do the island's school will be mothballed until the Spence children are old enough to attend.

Another couple are also leaving to move to the nearby island of Eigg.

Mr Soe-Paing has previously criticised Canna's owners the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) for a set-up that limits families to leasing their homes during their work for the trust, not allowing them to buy and own the properties.

The Spences moved to Canna from Laggan, Inverness-shire.

However, the couple have had previous experience of island life, living off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

Mr Spence said: "We are getting the realisation that this is where we are going to live and we are excited and looking forward to the challenge of it all, of the move and making a life here."

Soon to leave Canna are John Clare and his Skye-born partner Sheila Gunn who arrived on the isle in 2007 to run a bed and breakfast.

Mr Clare said people should be given the opportunity to move to Canna on a permanent basis.

Image caption John Clare and Sheila Gunn run a bed and breakfast on the island

He said: "Once they know they have the security to stay where they are living they can set their roots down and plan their future.

"At the moment you cannot plan your future at all."

But Amanda McFadden, who runs the island's restaurant, said the fact the National Trust for Scotland owned and managed Canna was attractive to potential new islanders.

She said: "That is part of its charm for us.

"Because it is a protected island it will never have second home ownership, there won't be huge developments, there won't be lots of holiday cottages."

NTS area manager Alexander Bennett said the trust was looking into the possibility of changing home leasing arrangements.

He said offering shared equity could be one way of allowing people to stay longer.

Mr Bennett said: "It will mean they will have a financial stake in their home which they will be able to recoup if they decide to move on."

One of Canna's long standing residents is Murdo Jack.

He said: "People said I would never stay here and what would I do in a place like this?

"I have been 15 years living here and 20 working and I have no intention of going."

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