Am Bratach No. 237
July 2011

Crofting body calls for 10,000 new crofts
by Mandy Haggith

An organisation representing thousands of crofters has challenged the Scottish Government to join in an ambitious vision to expand crofting in Scotland. In a Crofting Policy Resolution, the Scottish Crofting Federation have called for the creation of 10,000 new crofts across Scotland by 2020.

Federation chief executive Patrick Krause said: “We want to see the majority of Scotland’s cultivatable land under crofting tenure. It’s a long-term vision about the most sustainable and ecological way for Scotland to produce food. We believe that there is huge potential in Scotland for thousands of new agro-ecological units that can support land-based livelihoods.”

The federation has not had an official response to its resolution from the SNP Government. Rob Gibson MSP, who is convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s committee on rural affairs, climate change and environment, which covers crofting matters, said: “I think the ideal is to be praised. However, there is so much under-use of existing croft land, and that has to be the first priority. There is new legislation in place now, which has yet to bed in, which should make sure that existing crofts are used to the full”.

However, the federation is not likely to be satisfied if all the government does is enforce existing regulations on land use, rather than encouraging a growth in crofting, particularly as some crofters feel that it is unfair to harass them for under-use of land without also addressing land use by absentee private landowners.

Mr Krause said: “Studies show that areas in crofting tenure have retained a higher population density than other rural areas in Scotland and that some of the most inspiring examples of community development in the UK are happening in the crofting counties”.

The Scottish Crofting Federation believes that there are many people who aspire to live and work in rural Scotland, and who want to take care of their own part of it. This is backed up by the enthusiastic response in urban Scotland to a new “Campaign for a Thousand Huts”, led by Reforesting Scotland, which aims to find ways to enable more people to have a chance to live, work, learn or play in rural places, particularly in woodland. Perhaps an extension of crofting would be one way to achieve this.

The crofting federation claims that an extension of crofting would be a cost-effective way for the government to manage the country’s public lands. The national forest estate alone is 660,000 hectares and the crofters’ resolution states that half of the new crofts should be woodland crofts. Patrick Krause said: “We definitely want to see more woodland crofts, because they will bring all sorts of benefits, from firewood for heating to timber for construction and all the ecological benefits of woods”.

The establishment of new crofts became possible since the Crofting Reform Act 2007. New crofts have been created on Eigg and Jura but otherwise the new opportunity seems to have been little used. The federation wants to know why and the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on crofting is writing to the Crofters Commission asking for a report on how the 2007 Act has been used for creation of new crofts.

Patrick Krause believes that all of Scotland’s landowners should be encouraged to think about the possibility of creating new crofts. “I think there should be a bit of every form of landownership”, he said. “Community ownership is a great vehicle and there’s no reason why government-owned land couldn’t be used. And I believe that there are some private landowners who are genuinely interested in creating new crofts.

“There’s potential for more substantial rents to be paid than is often the case on existing crofts, particularly if they are on good agricultural land, as long as those rents will be controlled and fair and heritable. We believe landlords of new crofts should be remunerated to a reasonable degree.”

The federation believes that a boost to croft availability could help to take the heat out of the market, which has seen croft tenancies selling for prices far out of reach of people in crofting communities who would like to become crofters. “We have discussed supply and demand and the high prices caused by too few crofts compared to how many people want them. Creating more crofts should bring the price down.”

Mr Krause said: “We aren’t saying that this all needs to happen immediately, but if we can get this government to put together a long-term action plan for crofting then that will be a legacy that will carry on into the future. The question is, can we get the politicians to stop thinking just about the short-term and look at the longer term?”

According to Rob Gibson the broader question of how land reform is progressing and how Scotland’s land is used and by whom, will be addressed by his committee through a “land review”.

# The Crofters Commission, the body that regulates crofting on behalf of the Scottish Government, states on its website that there are at present 17,923 crofts occupied by an estimated 10,000-12,000 crofting households with a total population of around 33,000.

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