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Owner’s Success Regaining Land Led to Start of Major Festival

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Festival creator featured in online land celebration as it marks 18th year.

THE founder of a major Scottish music festival has revealed how 1,150 acres of land was transformed annually from family farm to music destination – in advance of attending the event as a fan for the first time this year. 

Joe Gibbs founded Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival in 2004 after he fought to buy back 1,150 acres of land that was initially set to be part of his inheritance.

His family sold the Belladrum estate in 1977 and Joe slowly began the process of regaining full ownership of the land in 1987, buying it back bit by bit across 10 years and eight land transactions.

Belladrum festival welcomes around 21,000 people on average every year and has become one of Scotland’s leading festivals with performances from well-known stars including Lewis Capaldi, Tom Jones and Ed Sheeran.

In 2017, Joe sold Belladrum Festival to Kilimanjaro Group, a firm which has had involvement in the running of the festival for the past 11 years.

In a recent interview on the Scottish Land Commission’s MyLand.Scot Lay of the Land podcast, Joe Gibbs discusses how the estate and land was used to provide something the community could benefit from – as he is set to attend as a fan for the first time since passing over the festival ownership rights. 

Joe said:

“My family owned the land from 1857 to 1977 and I was set to inherit it all in my early 20s – due to external factors this did not happen.

“I’d always had a great affection for Belladrum estate so I was determined to buy it back and use it as a vehicle for positive environmental and community change.

“As a keen music fan, I wanted to bring a huge event to the region that had families and fun at its core.

“I knew the grounds and land could make for an incredible set-up and after major restoration we were able to create a landscape primed for festival-goers.

“Since passing on the ownership of the festival itself, it will be fitting to finally experience Belladrum festival in its full glory as a fan for the first time.”

Joe and the Belladrum Estate continue to offer sustainable and positive impacts on its surrounding areas and is now part of the West Loch Ness Farm Cluster, a group of seven farms aiming to take on biodiversity issues across the area.

He adds:

“There is incredible opportunity for landowners around the country to use their grounds in creative ways that in turn can benefit a whole list of people.

“It doesn’t have to be a music festival but by looking into the possibilities of land, it can help landowners across the country realise the potential for communities and the environment.

“I genuinely believe that when local communities get involved in land ownership in any way, it can be a wonderful thing.”

Joe Gibbs featured on the Scottish Land Commission’s MyLand.Scot ‘The Lay of the Land’ podcast talking about his experiences setting up Belladrum festival and the vital role the land played in doing so.

Launched in 2021, MyLand.Scot is an initiative designed to increase the Scottish public’s participation in land reform through a series of case studies, information pages and podcast, The Lay of the Land.

Hamish Trench, Chief Executive of the Scottish Land Commission, said:

“As a result of Joe’s efforts to establish the festival, he has used land creatively to create an abundance of opportunities for local people, businesses and communities. 

“With land at its foundation, the festival has kickstarted the careers of many local artists and partnered with community groups and charities to push forward positive impact on real change.

“The yearly event has highlighted the endless possibilities for land in Scotland.”

The Scottish Land Commission works to create a Scotland where everybody can benefit from the ownership and use of the nation’s land and buildings.

For more information on MyLand.Scot, visit: https://myland.scot

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