A small group of Orkney crofters shared their views about the future direction of crofting with a Scottish Government team led by Michael O’Neill. At a public meeting held in the Kirkwall & St Ola Town Hall on Tuesday 26th September the crofters heard about the consultation programme on the Scottish Government’s plans for the future of crofting.
Michael O’Neill stated the purpose of the meetings being held in the crofting communities of Scotland was to focus on Crofting Law but other views on wider aspects of crofting would be of interest and would also be recorded.
There are currently around 20,500 crofts across the crofting counties of Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Orkney and Shetland, Ross & Cromarty and Sutherland (15,000 tenanted crofts and 5,500 owned). Crofters make up around 10% of the Highlands and Islands population, with over 33,000 people live in crofting households. There are considerable variations in the sizes of crofts ranging from as little as 0.5 hectares to 50 hectares.
Cyril Annal for the Orkney Crofters pointed out the important differences between crofting in the Northern Isles, Caithness and the Western Isles. In Orkney the majority of crofts are owner occupied with the Orcadians seeing it very much as a business. To be financially sustainable the Orkney crofts are not small but tend to see more than one croft combined.
The Orkney crofters pointed about existing problems with crofting in the islands:
- Changes in the crofter grants with 3 quotes being required.
- Conservation grants where land is left undrained to encourage bird populations.
- Common grazing- not being used in Orkney to any great extent one reason being because of conflict with other land users such as RSPB who limit when animals can graze as it affects birds and wild flowers.
- De-crofting – Crofting Commission do not have maps of crofts, confusion over boundaries and it takes years.
- Small crofts not being financially viable
Recommendations from the Orkney crofters
What came out strongly from the meeting was that the one size fits all policy being applied to crofting throughout Scotland is not working. How crofters see their way of life or business is too different for the application of inflexible policies. For crofters in the Western Isles it is a way of life deep set within their culture whereas Orcadians consider it as a business. There are also huge differences in croft sizes so what may work for a small croft is totally wrong for a larger one.
Legislation v Application
The Orkney crofters felt that radical changes had happened in crofting but that the legislation and its application had not moved with those changes. Questions were raised over the Scottish Government appointments to the Crofters Commission and how those candidates were selected.
The legislative priorities set out by the Scottish Government are:
- Absenteeism/Misuse & Neglect
- Assignation & Succession
- Common Grazing
- Crofting Commission Regulatory Functions & Processes
- Crofting Registration
- Owner Occupier Crofts
- Standard Securities
It was pointed out by the Orkney crofters that some of these were not an issue in Orkney e.g. absenteeism, so although this is an issue in some of the crofting counties it is not the case in all of them. This was yet more evidence that crofting is so diverse across the country that this will have to be taken into account when looking at the future of crofting.
Michael O’Neill thanked the crofters for attending for what was an extremely informative meeting.
The consultation on the priorities for future crofting law was launched on 28 August by Rural Affairs Secretary in the Scottish Government Fergus Ewing and closes on 20th November.
Fergus Ewing said:
“Crofting delivers valuable local benefits and a successful crofting sector helps our rural communities to thrive. It is therefore vital the law that governs it is fit for purpose.
“Initial discussions have shown while there is plenty of agreement that the current law needs to change, there are many views on what should replace it.
“I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the future of crofting – whether they be crofters, landowners, those living in a crofting communities or in other parts of Scotland – to take part in this consultation and help us improve future legislation.”
Click here to download the Crofting Consultation document
A list of supporting documents are available here
You can respond online here
You can save and return to your responses while the consultation is still open.
If you are unable to respond online you can complete the Respondent Information
Form (see ‘Handling your Response’ ) at the end of Crofting Consultation and send it with your written response
The Scottish Government
Crofting Bill Team
Reporter: Fiona Grahame