The Clan Donald Estate

Fearann na h-oighreachd Clann Dòmhnaill

The 20,000 acre estate in our stewardship includes crofting land, several common grazings, a farm, commercial and heritage properties and commercial and natural woodlands.

The Clan Donald Lands Trust charity

The Clan Donald Lands Trust (CDLT) CDLT was founded through a Clan Donald community buyout of part of the old Macdonald Estate in 1971. As a registered charity (Scottish charity number SC007862) the Trust has no capital shareholders and our local community is the main capital beneficiary of the charity. Most of our revenue goes to local payroll and local suppliers.

Each year we employ community members from many local families and take pride in our long history of community wealth-building. Over half a century we have employed many hundreds of local people and invested millions of pounds into the local economy.

CDLT is a charity dedicated to our indigenous heritage, culture, people, and land – locally here in Skye and across the Gàidhealtachd. We are at the centre of our community here in Sleat, both as a large local employer and, together with our local crofting and farming partners, as a steward of the wider estate. In addition, CDLT has invested in education, cultural events, grants, and sponsorships.

We welcome local development and partnership ideas. The door is always open; get in touch!

More information on who we are and the charity  HERE.

Clan Donald Estate management premise

CDLT manages the Clan Donald Estate land and property as charitable assets which contribute to our core charitable purposes. The principle areas of interest for the charity are Clan Donald and Gàidhealtachd heritage and culture and our over half a century of direct investment into local jobs and the wider local economy.

Crofting

CDLT’s estate is primarily a crofting estate and the majority of our land is occupied by crofters and crofter common grazings. Crofting is a mixed agricultural system based on small-scale occupation of land. Unique to the Highlands and Islands, crofting is a vital part of indigenous culture.

CDLT is committed to ensuring a viable future for traditional crofting on Skye, working in partnership with Common Grazing Committees and individual crofters within their townships.

Agriculture

Agriculture is a crucial part of local life, being important for the economy, communities and the environment. As well as the significant crofts and associated common grazings across the estate, we also lease large areas of land to local people for sheep and cattle farming.

Deer Management and Game Shooting

Red deer and roe deer are native to Sleat and Skye and play an important part within the island ecosystem. Both species are present on the CDLT estate. Humans are a natural predator of deer in the UK, and we cull deer to maintain herd welfare as well as for the health of the environment. Our highly experienced wildlife managers use non-lead ammunition, with deer carcasses being processed by a skilled Island butcher and sold for affordable prices in our café and, depending on seasonal availability, our shop.

The Trust does not carry out commercial sport stalking or shooting at present, as we are only permitted to undertake activities which are aligned with or contribute to our charitable purposes and the cost of undertaking these activities would be higher than the income derived.

CDLT is clear on its sustainable and legal deer management responsibilities, including deer welfare considerations. Following recent heavy and condition-selective culls, the Clan Donald Estate has low red and roe deer densities, well below Forest and Land Scotland recommended densities. We were pleased with positive feedback on our effective deer management during a recent visit by NatureScot to one of our SSSI areas.

We are in the process of rebuilding sustainable deer age classes within the hefts and the overall herd. Target densities are 3-5 deer per sq km and 7 per sq km in traditional hefted areas, which we have achieved over most of the estate now. We operate to the ‘Clutton Brock Rum Block 3’ model, operating at lower deer densities for a healthier and better-balanced herd.

Local residents with deer-related issues are asked to contact CDLT via the ‘contact us’ page or pop in for a chat. Any local willing and able to help with deer management and lardering work is welcome to get in touch.

Local Deer Management Group

CDLT is the former chair of the South Skye Deer Management Group and supports the premise of deer management groups in areas where they are effective and practitioner led. The South Skye group is currently on pause due to matters not connected with CDLT. The underlying basis for an effective deer management group is that every landowner and manager in that geographic area is involved, especially core land holdings.

Landscape partnerships

As custodians of the land under our care and management, rather than single-species focused groups we support landscape-scale partnerships; essentially working with other landowners and related bodies to greater common good outcomes. Working together for the wider Skye environment is vital and CDLT looks forward to working with other local landowners and managers over the years ahead.

Wildlife Management

We carry out lawful control of generalist predators such as foxes and hooded crows, because these common, widespread species destroy the eggs and chicks of rare and vulnerable species such as the curlew and hen harrier. Generalist predators also harm livestock, which in turn harms the viability of our agricultural communities. In addition, we leave a small number of deer carcasses on the hill to provide food for important species such as golden and white-tailed eagles, particularly during wild and wintry weather.

Wild Fisheries

CDLT’s estate has a number of hill lochs, where our guests can fish for wild brown trout. Sadly, wild salmon and sea trout populations are negligible, in common with much of the West Coast. We do not currently charge for fishing, but lochs are often reserved for our accommodation guests. Please contact the Trust office to book and get some guidance on best options. Fishing is strictly fly only.

Renewables

As a responsible island landowner, CDLT is mindful of the Scottish Government’s commitment to renewable energy, a just transition, and sustainable development. We support this commitment and are exploring how our land can play its part. Low carbon renewable energy from wind, hydro and biomass may be options in Sleat. As sustainability has three equal pillars – economy, environment and communities – we are committed to ensuring that any future renewable energy development at CDLT benefits local people, local wealth-building, and our treasured environment.

Forestry and Woodland Management

Outside of the policies of Armadale Castle, CDLT’s estate has several young, commercial conifer plantations that aim to produce good-quality softwood timber in the years to come. These plantations sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and represent an important part of the estate’s natural capital stocks.

Across our estate we also have woodlands including native species such as oak, birch, rowan, hazel, Scots pine, beech and ash. These woods provide an important, biodiverse habitat, which we intend to protect and expand in suitable locations.

Natural Capital

Natural Capital is broadly understood to refer to the Earth’s stock of renewable and non-renewable natural assets that, in turn, provide the flow of ecosystem services upon which human life depends. These natural assets include geology, water, soil and forests, amongst others. Examples of the ecosystem services derived from these assets include food, biodiversity, climate regulation and recreation.

CDLT is committed to responsible management of natural capital. Because natural capital underpins everything we do, it is woven into all of our management decisions. We are currently cautious about any commercial exploitation of carbon credits, for example from sales under the woodland and peatland carbon codes, because their markets are immature and there may be unintended, onerous consequences for future generations of land managers and crofters. We are keeping this matter under review, and welcome conversations with local stakeholders and colleagues within Scottish Government.

Residential Property

CDLT has limited housing occupied by essential employees. We have two sites earmarked for construction of new housing, including staff accommodation and potentially affordable housing for local people. The availability of good quality, energy-efficient housing at realistic rents for local people is the key to ensuring a viable future for our charity and community.

Commercial Property

CDLT’s estate is centred around the ruin of Armadale Castle and its beautiful surrounding gardens. A five-star visitor attraction, our commercial enterprises include:

  • Self-catering properties: Armadale Castle Cabins, Forester’s Cottage, The Flora Apartment and The Lady Margaret Apartment.
  • Armadale Castle Ruin and Gardens, a significant arboretum of rare trees, shrubs and flowers originally laid out in the 19th century by the then Lord Macdonald.
  • The Museum of the Isles, telling the Highlands and Islands story through the eyes of the famous Clan Donald.
  • The Gatehouse Shop, offering primarily Scottish gifts and souvenirs.
  • The Stables Café, providing visitors with barista coffee, baking and light meals. Local produce is used where possible.
  • The Clan Archive and Library, with books and other documents covering all aspects of Scottish culture and history. Our library has one of the best reference collections in Scotland. Due to the nature of research queries, the Archive and Library are by appointment only.

As we take forward the sustainable development of our core assets, we plan to repurpose currently derelict buildings to create further commercial offerings. Ideas for exploration include live-work units and a community market garden with tea room. Related community engagement will begin in due course.

Recreation

“Take only photos, leave only footprints.” We welcome responsible visitors to CDLT’s estate. We have a range of walking trails from very easy routes within the gardens, to challenging hill routes across our more remote areas.

The wooded policies immediately outside the gardens contain short nature trails that are open to walkers and careful mountain bikers. Longer trails include Coille Dalavil and Point of Sleat, both offering more strenuous terrain and incredible sea views. Our estate is dog-friendly, but please clean up after your dog and keep it on a lead when near livestock, and during the bird nesting season (April – July). It is a criminal offence to worry livestock or disturb wildlife. Please park responsibly if accessing your starting point by vehicle. Work occurs on the estate day and night all year round; please do not block access tracks or junctions.

Our estate is a working environment, and we expect visitors to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code: know the Code before you go! Farming, wildlife management, and property maintenance are all legitimate estate activities that take place across our land, so we ask visitors to please take care and work respectfully with our staff team to ensure a safe environment for everyone.

In particular, wild campers must use stoves instead of lighting campfires, as our environment is at serious risk of wildfire. Do not cut down trees for firewood, as this hurts our woodland conservation. There are toilets at Armadale Pier (CalMac) and at The Stables and our Museum. Campervans must not dump waste on land or in our precious watercourses: please use designated campervan facilities.

Conservation

We seek to maintain a healthy, resilient and biodiverse environment. In the age of the climate crisis, this has never been more important. Due to our mosaic of habitats including coast, woodland and moorland, CDLT’s estate is rich in biodiversity. We have a wide variety of bird and animal species, including golden and white-tailed eagles, various wading birds, finches, deer, otters and pine martens. Our estate is also home to an incredible array of plant life, including ferns, lichens, grasses and wildflowers.

Four areas of CDLT’s estate are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which is a statutory designation regulated by an agency of the Scottish Government, NatureScot. These fragile sites require special management. Some activities, such as the lighting of campfires, is not lawful within the site boundaries. Our SSSIs are listed below; click the links to see the site maps and find out more:

Although much of our land is occupied by crofters, Common Grazing Committees and other tenants, together we are committed to sustainable management of our collective environment.

Gàidhealtachd culture

The Gàidhealtachd is the Gàidhlig speaking area of Scotland in the Highlands and Islands. Gàidhlig is an indigenous language of the UK, but it is endangered due to socio-economic challenges that have accumulated over several centuries and, sadly, still continue today. Although the Scottish Government is trying to help, CDLT believes that more can be done to protect and enhance Gàidhlig as a living language of everyday use.

Sleat is at the heart of Gàidhlig language on the Isle of Skye, with the only Gàidhlig medium higher education institution in Scotland located here: Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. The Clan Donald is traditionally the principal clan of the Gàidheal, and the Gàidhealtachd is our charity’s significant community of interest. From the Gàidhlig arts, including our music, poetry and literature, to the interpretation of our landscape and environment, our spirituality, and the structure and viability of our crofting communities: in our language lies the integrity of our whole culture. Under our new CEO, CDLT has committed to develop a Gàidhlig language plan for our estate as one of our sustainable development objectives.