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Cold War spy base to become whale-listening site in community buyout

RAF Aird Uig, which sits on the most north westerly point of the UK, will return to the community.

Airg Uig: Base will be turned into whale-listening station. GHCT

A former Cold War spy base in the Outer Hebrides it to be transformed into a whale-listening station, after a community buyout was finalised.

An official ceremony to hand over Aird Uig on the western side of Lewis to the Gallan Head Community Trust (GHCT) will take place on Friday.

The isolated surveillance station, formerly known as RAF Aird Uig, was built to give early warning of a Soviet attack following the end of the Second World War.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advance of satellite technology made the base redundant and a pair of long distance radars which had protected the UK for decades were dismantled.

The GHCT bought the site with funds from the Scottish Land Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Big Lottery and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

It is hoped the new whale station will help to boost the economy of the remote area, which is the most north westerly point of the UK, by creating jobs, a visitor attraction and learning opportunities.

Dr Aileen McLeod, minister for environment, climate change and land reform, said: “Congratulations to the GHCT on the buyout of the former RAF base at Aird Uig on the Isle of Lewis.

“The fact that such a small community has taken this step into community ownership is a testament to the skills, drive and tenacity of the members and directors of GHCT.

“I’m sure that the proposed developments will make a real difference to the local economy and beyond.

“The Scottish Government is committed to assisting communities in taking control of their own futures, this is why we provide financial support to local communities through the Scottish Land Fund.”

The Comhairle’s chair of sustainable development, Councillor Alasdair Macleod, congratulated the achievement of the GHCT, saying: “Ownership of land that has been denied to the general public for so long as a prohibited area in Uig, Isle of Lewis, will ensure that the community improves their environmental, social and economic well-being and the Comhairle congratulate their successful effort to acquire their land.”

Ard Uig: Buyout of the afcility completed © HEMEDIA / SWNS Group

The buyout was completed through the Scottish Government Community Right to Buy process after many hours spent by trust members pullng together funds, makng plans and working on a proposal.

More than 100 meetings took place prior to the buyout.

Artist and author Jill Smith, chair of the GHCT said: “We are so fortunate to have this opportunity to share our amazing landscape and heritage to benefit our own and neighbouring communities.

“The trust is highly motivated to make the most of the opportunities we now have. Small steps are already making a big difference.

“On behalf of the trust I, would like to express our great appreciation of the help and support we have been given by so many people.”

The trust plans to return the land as much as possible to its natural state.

It has also launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund a new visitor centre on the site.

Other plans include a planetarium and a marine hydrophone. Work is due to start on the new facility this summer.

Ard Uig: Work on new facility to begin in the summer Nicholas Mutton, licensed for reuse (cropped)

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