Green Lancaster's annual Sustainability Leadership Residential: Isle of Eigg

The Green Lancaster team on the Isle of Eigg

Between the 14th and 18th April 2023, Green Lancaster organised a Sustainability Leadership Residential on the Island of Eigg, off the West Coast of Scotland. As part of this we explored today's great challenge of the Climate and Ecological Emergency through the prism of the islands' unique natural and cultural heritage. Green Lancaster’s two full-time staff members – Darren and Lea – led the trip, accompanied by members of the Green Lancaster student team – Eve, Joe, Emily and Katie – Edible Campus execs – Emilio, Anna and Beth – and SU FTO Union Development – Callum.

We travelled all the way from and back to Lancaster by train, coach, boat and on foot. The scenic journey took us through remote parts of the Highlands, over the world-famous Glenfinnan Viaduct and across the Sound of Arisaig to the small harbour at Galmisdale on Eigg. We set up our “basecamp” in the small village of Cleadale, nestled at the foot of Beinn Bhuidhe and overlooking the breath-taking mountains of the neighbouring Isle of Rum.

The Isle of Eigg is a unique island with a forward-thinking community, keen to steer a course for their own future. In 1997, the community bought the island off with the financial help of supporters around the world and formed the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust Fund, which manages and stewards the island’s development for current and future residents. Since 2008, the community has been working hard to reduce its dependence of fossil fuels and instead make the most of the island’s natural assets: water, sun, and wind. They founded Eigg Electric, a community owned, managed and maintained company providing electricity for all island residents from renewable sources. They have since installed four wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectric generators. These enable Eigg to not be connected to the mainland electricity supply at all. Moreover, they also grow as much food as they can on the island, make efforts to reduce waste, and encourage retrofitting and sustainable travel. For instance, tourists cannot bring cars onto the island, but instead are encouraged to travel on foot or by bike. To use their words “without action our future in uncertain”.

During the residential,the team learned about the island’s community, its geology, and its history. We were kindly given guided tours of Eigg Electric and a local croft, gaining an insight into the island’s unique challenges and opportunities. We explored its diverse natural environments from sea to summit, such as Laig Beach, the Singing Sands, coastal caves, and the mountain of Beinn Bhuidhe. We spent most of our time in nature or at times in our Green Lancaster bell tent, which doubled up as workshop space and dining room. Being outdoors, exposed to the elements come rain or shine and in contact with the rest of nature has an inherently grounding quality. It attunes our senses to the natural world, something that is of undeniable importance when working in the environmental sector.

As part of immersive workshops, we spent time reflecting on the concepts of complexity, systems-thinking, holistic sustainability leadership, as well as the qualities and skillsets needed to address the multi-dimensional crises we are facing. Emilio and Callum share some of their key reflections and takeaway points:

"While staring at an infinite sea of stars - I reconnected with previously locked childhood memories. In that moment I understood how simple things, like walking on rocky beaches, had shaped who I am today. I realised the way I should lead for change, truly a ‘multi-dimensional learning’ trip." – Emilo

"Firstly, it is so important as humans that we connect with nature in its beauty, unpredictability and magnitude. Humans have developed this idea that we are somehow external and separate to nature and ecology. Spend some time connecting with the Earth and you realise how small we really are, animal species like any other, operating in vast ecosystems with some sense of cognitive self-importance. [...] With regards to leadership, it is an adaptive and flexible leadership style that will be necessary in a post-Anthropocene way of living. The climate and ecological emergencies are wicked problems with solutions shrouded in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. […] I am proud to be a Lancaster graduate where interdisciplinarity is embraced as it is this collaboration, ability to adapt and to pivot and open thinking that will be needed." – Callum

Green Lancaster’s history with the Isle of Eigg dates back to 2011, when Green Lancaster Manager, Darren Axe led the first student volunteer week on the island. Since then, a further four trips in 2012, 2013, 2019 and 2022 have taken place. The trips have a significant impact on those participating. Following from the deep impression the trip had made on him, Rowan Jackson, a former Green Lancaster volunteer now a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh set up a field trip to the island for the MSc Environmental Sustainability programme as part of his new position to give his students the opportunity to experience Eigg in a similar way to he did in 2012.

We would like to thank the island community for their warm welcome and for taking the time to show us around.

If you are interested in learning more about the Island of Eigg, head over to their website, a wealth of fascinating information.

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