At KCFC we have successful created three new woodland crofts and a second wave of crofts is currently being developed. There is potential for further land being made available for additional crofts as the felling of the timber crop continues. In this series of blogs we will look at why KCFC choose to develop woodland crofts.
The Scottish Government has committed to create new crofts across the crofting counties in Scotland, recognising the potential for crofting to help create sustainable rural communities. At KCFC we are successfully combing crofting, woodlands and community ownership in a new model that allows the integration of these systems.
Crofting is a form of land tenure exclusive to the ‘crofting counties’ of Scotland in the Highlands and west coast of Scotland. A croft is simply a small parcel of land which is leased to a tenant. It is highly regulated which does mean that both landowners and tenants are protected and have clarity about their rights and responsibilities. This unique form of tenancy was fought for by impoverished tenants of Highland estates in the 19th century and has played an important part in helping small rural communities survive.
Most woodland is Scotland is regulated by Scottish Forestry (formerly the Forestry Commission). When trees are felled, and how and when land is replanted, has to be agreed in advance in the form of a Forest Development Plan. KCFC has a plan that covers all the Acharossan forest. This includes the land that is being crofted. So far the crofts have been created on land where the existing woodland has already been felled. By taking on a tenancy the crofters are agreeing to replant trees where they have been felled.
Giving the communities the right to purchase land and buildings has been an important part of the Scottish Government’s land reform strategy and has allowed communities across Scotland to purchase and manage land as well as shops, housing and whole estates. Access to land is an issue across Scotland due to historic land ownership patterns – Scotland has one of the most unequal patterns of landownership in the world. The Scottish Land Commission’s report in 2019 looks at the pattern of land ownership in Scotland and highlights some of the problems this causes. However as the report notes community ownership on its own does not necessarily solves these problems, it depends on how the land is managed.
Crofting works well in conjunction with community ownership. It allows individuals and families access to land and gives them security, whilst ownership is retained by the community. The way crofting is regulated, and the tenancy agreements that KCFC has created, means that tenants can’t make a profit from selling the land or tenancy. This means the land remains owned by the community and whilst the crofters can make a living by working on the land they can’t simple make a profit by speculating on an increase in the land value.
Community owned woodland crofts provide one model for creating sustainable rural community. In the next blog we will look at some of the yields that crofting produces for KCFC and the wider community.
For more information see The making of the Crofting Community by James Hunter for a history of crofting and The Poor Had No Lawyers by Andy Wightman for a study of the history of landownership in Scotland.