1. Who we are and what we do
1.1 Rooted in our community, the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) is the only member-led organisation dedicated to promoting crofting and is the largest association of small-scale food producers in the UK.
Our mission is to safeguard and promote the rights, livelihoods and culture of crofters and their communities
1.2 The Scottish Government has pledged its commitment to crofting because it believes that crofting makes a significant contribution “to the development of a thriving rural Scotland”
The SCF shares the Government’s goal of “thriving crofting communities” as an integral part of a thriving rural Scotland, while not necessarily agreeing with the means by which Government seek to achieve their goal. The SCF is contributing to this Societal Goal by implementing our mission statement “to safeguard and promote the rights, livelihoods and culture of crofters and their communities”. Our Strategy Framework is a document which sets out and structures how we will achieve that Mission Statement.
1.3 SCF is actively engaged with agencies and government officials at local, national and international levels to affect policy on rural development issues relevant to crofting and small-scale food production. At grass-roots level, through its membership structure of constituted and affiliated Branches and Areas, it can respond authoritively to the many issues affecting crofting and crofting communities.
1.4 SCF is a charitable company and an independent non-governmental organisation. It:
• Works to develop, promote and support crofting livelihoods as a unique social system unified through small-scale food production;
• Represents and safeguards the interests of crofters, their communities, their cultural heritage, their moral and legislative rights;
• Promotes the agricultural, social and environmental benefits of crofting as intrinsic to the development and maintenance of local rural economies;
• Raises awareness of crofting through information provision and education;
• Promotes diversity and economic viability within crofting;
• Encourages, through training, crofting enterprise, skills and expertise;
• Is led by its membership in developing position on policy matters and works always using participative methodology;
• Seeks the development of crofting as an important and valuable way of life.
2. What crofting is and why it is valuable
2.1 Crofting is a unique social system that stems from the Highland clearances, in which small-scale food production and care of the environment plays a unifying role. Although crofting refers to the principle of living on and working a small agricultural holding, crofters usually also have other occupations contributing to their livelihoods and the rural economy (historically crofts were deliberately kept below self-sufficiency by landlords in order to oblige tenants into tied labour). In short crofting is a way-of-life that is intrinsically linked to the land.
2.2 Crofting also plays an important part in shaping the landscape, enhancing the natural environment, the cultural heritage and social economy of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It sustains marginal and fragile rural populations and encourages the unique bond between people and the land.
2.3 The varied landscape created by individual crofts and the extensive practices in crofting have supported a wide variety of wildlife habitats and assisted in the retention of endangered native wildlife species.
2.4 There are over 17,700 crofts in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and over 12,000 crofting households representing about 30,000 family members. Crofting households represent around 30% of households on the mainland Highlands and up to 65% of households in Shetland, the Western Isles and Skye.
2.5 Crofts form a unique tenure system that goes back over 200 years. Approximately 2000 are owner occupied but the majority remain tenanted. Approximately 25% of the land mass of the Highlands and Islands is under crofting tenure – which comprises over 15% of the land mass of UK.
2.6 Land use in the crofting counties is constrained by climate, soils and topography. Agriculturally, virtually all of the land in the Highlands and Islands is classified as Severely Disadvantaged in terms of Less Favoured Area Directive.
2.7 The existence of crofting today is the result of a hard won fight by previous generations of crofters. It has survived a turbulent past to seize the opportunities of today, to build a secure and confident future.
2.8 Crofting embodies the principles of sustainability, diversification, co-operation, entrepreneurialism and community, where the people share a common vision for the common good. It has a vital role in the agricultural, social, environmental and economic aspects of Scottish rural development and is central to sustaining communities in remote and peripheral areas.
3. SCF vision for crofting
Crofting legislation needs to be seen in context with the wider picture of food production and rural development in Scotland. It is a system, based on the retention of the indigenous population, of small-scale food production and land management, which is efficient, good for the environment and holds rural communities together. This type of land-based culture is advocated by many internationally as the sustainable way to produce the world’s food. The SCF believes that crofting essentially needs the following:
1. Protected heritable tenure;
3. New entrants;
4. Protection of the arable in-bye;
5. Defined boundaries.
Our evaluation of the draft crofting reform bill used these criteria as the benchmark against which the efficacy of the bill was measured. To elaborate on each point:
3.1. Protected Tenure. The draft bill does not affect the protection of tenure afforded by existing crofting legislation but it does seek to limit heritability. The rationale of not assigning to absentees is acknowledged but needs to be dealt with in such a way as to not alter this fundamental right. We made suggestions regarding this in the response.
3.2. Viability. We define this as ‘the well-being of family, community and public assets without financial detriment to the individual’. If crofting is not viable crofters will not croft. The draft bill does not increase viability and seeks to address the current marginal situation with increased regulation. This will not work. If crofting is to be a regulated system for the benefit of the common good, which we assume is the desire of the Scottish Government, then regulation (which on the whole limits an individual’s freedom) needs to be balanced by public investment that non-regulated producers / land managers do not get.
3.3. New entrants. It is accepted by all that new entrants are the future of crofting and that we need more people coming into crofting. Whilst the aims in the draft bill of making more crofts available could help this, available crofts will only be taken up long term if crofting is viable. We believe that the provision of incentives and payments making crofting viable is what will attract and keep new entrants.
3.4. Protection of arable in-bye. Good quality land is a scarce and valuable resource in much of the crofting areas and the failure of the Scottish Government to protect this resource is lamentable. The Crofters Commission is impotent whilst the local authority planning departments grant inappropriate planning consent on croft land and the Scottish Land Court (SLC) directs the Commission to allow serial and multiple de-croftings of in-bye. Building developments on in-bye and the associated speculation in croft land is seen by many to be symptomatic of a failing regulatory system. Making the Crofting Commission a statutory consultee in planning decisions affecting croft land is essential but the effectiveness of this will be compromised unless local authority planning departments and the SLC are directed by ministers to operate a presumption against building on arable quality in-bye.
3.5. Defined boundaries. It is accepted that defining croft boundaries will be a good thing. It is important that it is done in a sensitive way as this has the potential to cause conflict and bad feeling if done inappropriately. Using participatory community mapping exercises may bring a positive benefit to this. Expecting crofters to pay for failure of successive governments and the Crofters Commission to have a register based on defined boundaries is completely unacceptable. The SCF believes that if these five conditions are met then crofting will prosper.