It's not often that a big jewel in the West Country's coastal crown comes up for grabs, but now the much-vaunted sale of South Devon's Bantham has at last been made official, there is intense interest over who will buy the £11.5 million seaside estate.
Bantham residents and West Country beach-lovers fear the iconic property could end up in the hands of a developer or even a Russian oligarch – many are hoping it will bought for the nation by the National Trust which says it will make a decision on purchasing the property this week.
Ever since it was first reported last autumn that the South Devon coastal village and its beach would be put up for sale, there have been flurries of interest across the planet – from the headquarters of the trust to specialist property bureaux in Moscow.
The levels of speculation intensified this weekend after estate agents Strutt and Parker officially put the 1,300- acre coastal estate on the market.
Several national newspapers immediately heralded the event with excited headlines explaining how the property – which includes an entire village complete with pub, village shop, beach and an iconic boathouse – could be bought for less than the price of half-a-dozen London flats.
With rumours circulating in the South Hams that a number of Russian billionaires were interested in buying the estate as a "trophy-property" for their portfolio, all eyes immediately turned to the National Trust – a charity which is by far the biggest owner of coastal property in the West.
The trust's general manager for the South Devon area, David Ford, said: "The sale of Bantham Beach and village is extremely significant, it is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas in South Devon. This is also, of course, a very unsettling time for residents of the village.
"We are now actively discussing what role the trust may play in helping to protect the area from significant development risk.
"The sale of Bantham beach and village at £11.5 million would be a substantial draw on any money we currently have set aside for caring for what we own," said Mr Ford. "Any possible purchase would require us to launch a significant fundraising appeal.
"As a charity, the National Trust is dependent on the support of our visitors, donors and of course our four million members. We, sadly, cannot save everything at risk and would need huge public support and donations to have any chance of an appeal to save Bantham being a success."
The charity has saved coastal property along the beautiful South Hams shoreline from falling into private hands before – its first acquisition in the area occurred as far back as 1928 when the Trust bought 26 hectares of land on the mouth of the Salcombe Estuary.
It now owns, or manages and cares for, more than 40 miles and 3,000 hectares of the South Devon coast.
Mr Ford added: "When an opportunity arises to acquire and protect a stretch of coastline that may be at risk from unsympathetic or damaging development."