Economic condition of crofting: 2019 to 2022

This is a report to the Scottish Parliament as outlined in the terms of section 51 of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, reflecting the economic condition of crofting and the measures taken by the Scottish Ministers, the Crofting Commission and others to support crofting during 2019 to 2022.

25. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE)

25.1 Work with communities

25.1.1. The legislation that set up the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) (and its predecessor organisation, the Highlands and Islands Development Board) recognised the importance for the development of communities when seeking broader economic development objectives - stronger communities delivering the confidence for business start-ups and business growth. This is particularly applicable in crofting communities. It is therefore in this context that HIE's support for crofting communities contributes positively to the economic condition of crofting. HIE recognises the importance of crofting communities in attracting people to live and work in these areas, creating opportunities for housing development, while also creating local employment opportunities. HIE works with whole inclusive crofting communities, including those with and without direct access to crofting.

25.1.2. Through each of HIE's eight area teams[28], the agency works directly with a broad range of local communities to support community-led development. HIE's role is as an enabler, providing advice, connections to other relevant supporters, investors and enablers, and its own investment. HIE recognises that each community is different but also resourceful, and many face similar issues such as demographic change, housing, service provision and employment opportunities.

25.1.3. HIE, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, is funding the employment of over 40 local project delivery officers who help deliver prioritised projects which make a real and practical difference. Crofting is widely practiced in the vast majority of the supported communities. These projects are invariably led by the communities themselves, and typically contribute to the economy through generating income as well as providing services and jobs.

25.2 Local Energy

25.2.1. Over the reporting period, HIE has supported routes to energy resilience for some of the remotest off-grid islands in the region. HIE is also collaborating with Community Energy Scotland as joint partners in the Horizon2020 funded project, Responsible Research and Innovation Policy Experimentations for Energy Transition (RIPEET). In the Highlands and Islands context this involves working with a range of relevant stakeholders from across the Outer Hebrides (OH) to develop a vision of energy transition and enable early project progress towards that vision. The most urgent energy need in the OH, identified by a team of stakeholders from across the OH, is to: "Explore solutions to reduce household energy costs by better utilising locally generated energy". On 15 September 2022, HIE launched an open call for a pilot project to address this need. A decision on the pilot project is expected by the end of December 2022.

25.3 Crofting stakeholder collaboration

25.3.1. HIE works in partnership with several other bodies which support individual crofters and crofting activity, to ensure that crofting communities continue to thrive, and become more resilient and able to meet opportunities and challenges. Much of the work is done through the Crofting Stakeholder Forum, involving public partners including the Crofting Commission, the Scottish Government, local authorities, Registers of Scotland and NatureScot, and sector related partners including the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), Scottish Agriculture College, NFUS, and Scottish Land and Estates. Over the period, the focus has been the Scottish Government's National Development Plan for Crofting, and work on crofting law reform.

25.3.2. HIE and the Crofting Commission have also recently started discussions around potential areas for deeper collaboration.

25.4 Community land ownership

25.4.1. HIE has a long track record of investment in community asset acquisition and is a core source of advice and support for crofting communities contemplating land ownership. HIE also continues to work in partnership with the BIG Lottery Fund across Scotland to deliver the SG funded Scottish Land Fund, which creates significant opportunities for crofting communities and others to grow through owning and managing their own assets.

25.5 Crofting resilience in transition

25.5.1. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear in 2020, the SCF approached HIE for support to bring forward a nine-month programme of training to enhance crofting resilience in the transition to the 'new normal'.

25.5.2. The project was focused on supporting crofters to enhance skills to recover from COVID-19 challenges and to take advantage of new opportunities to diversify, for example, through enhanced local food supply chains or taking advantage of tourism opportunities as well as becoming more aware of opportunities to get involved in climate change mitigation and greening of the rural economy. The aim of the project was to deliver interim training and support packages based on evidence collected through the SCF's previous training evaluation, together with supporting policy and demand-led evidence of needs that arose as a direct result of COVID-19.

25.5.3. In order to avoid the risk of spreading the virus, the training was delivered virtually by the SCF, which has significant experience in virtual training amongst its network of instructors. This enabled an easy transition to the virtual method of delivery.

25.5.4. The training focused on sustaining, diversifying and growing crofting activities. This in turn supported the promotion and adoption of diversified activities for a more rapid economic recovery and growth of innovative practice at a very localised level, leading to longer term more sustainable practice and resilience. Themes were drawn from local food production, micro enterprises, marketing produce online and croft tourism staycations. The rationale being to support and grow key areas within diversified crofting business models and to increase skills, knowledge and capacity to reach new markets as a direct response to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic recovery efforts.

25.5.5. The programme of courses for practical crofting skills was developed to meet the needs of crofters (through consultation), drawing on popular historically delivered topics, but with an emphasis on the kinds of skills that would assist crofters to recover from the impact of the pandemic and take advantage of available opportunities going forward.

25.5.6. Following a successful development phase in July 2020, events began in August 2020 with a Planning for Staycations course run by the Chief Executive of the Association of Scotland's Self−Caterers. The eleven participants that signed up for the virtual event also had access to the 'Landlord's Little Helper' course as part of the fee. The course supported the safe opening of self−catering/B&B units within COVID-19 cleaning guidance.

25.5.7. Other examples of courses include:

  • How to start a food hub - looked at developing localised food networks
  • Fantastic Food from Local Producer Markers - demonstrated how to organise and set up local producer markets
  • Crofting the Brand - looked at the benefit of producer marks in terms of getting products to market
  • Beekeeping for Beginners

25.5.8. Given the COVID-19 recovery nature of the programme, HIE was able to support the work at an intervention rate of 94%, the remainder being funded by tuition fees kept at a modest level to encourage participation.

25.6 Woodland croft creation

25.6.1. HIE has supported partnership working between the Glengarry Community Woodlands with the Communities Housing Trust (CHT) and the Woodlands Croft Partnership to realise the purchase of a 47 hectare forest from Forestry and Land Scotland. A successful application was made to the Scottish Land Fund and the acquisition of the woodlands was completed in September 2022. The acquired land will enable a total of four woodland crofts to be created, allocated and developed.

25.7 Demographic challenges in crofting communities

25.7.1. HIE has been working with partners to look at methods to enhance the prospects for balancing and reinvigorating the demographics of a crofting community on Skye. This has involved nurturing a local crofting community's considerations, supported by targeted consultancy and legal assistance to clarify and compare collective governance options as well as to explore opportunities including creation of crofts and housing and other infrastructure to support employment and collaborative activities. Ownership of the common grazings is in the process of being clarified and regularised on a sound footing, as the basis for enabling the community's aspirations for reinvigoration.

25.8 Rural Food Tourism Places

25.8.1. Following the success of the Scottish Enterprise (SE) 18-month pilot agritourism monitor farm project between March 2014 and August 2015, and the follow up workshops in March 2018, the Scottish Government, SE and HIE sought to use this concept with additional agri-food-tourism businesses in different geographical areas of Scotland.

25.8.2. In the Highlands and Islands context, HIE chose to pilot the above general approach, through a slightly broader place-based approach, involving tourism, food and drink, and croft and farm businesses, with a common interest in knowledge exchange and innovation that realises collaborations that can enhance the food tourism economy of that place.

25.8.3. A consortia of crofting, farming, food and drink and tourism business stakeholders demonstrated a desire to collaborate through this type of facilitated approach, and identified the Uists and Northmavine/Delting area on the Shetland mainland as the two pilot areas.

25.8.4. The aim is to highlight opportunities for crofting and farming businesses to collaborate with the food & drink and tourism business sectors to enable diversification to improve the resilience, collaboration and commercial impact of agri-food-tourism businesses, by developing the skills and knowledge of owners, managers and key staff through discussion, experience, example and evidence. It provides practical support to crofters and farmers that are considering diversification into agri-food-tourism, those who are seeking to consolidate their business, and those who wish to grow existing agri-food-tourism businesses.

25.8.5. Aided by a facilitator (procured and funded through HIE), the stakeholders have set the agenda to explore collaborations that lead to improved profitability, productivity and sustainability of the stakeholders over the three years of the project[29]. The concept allows stakeholders to share experiences, explore collaborations, find out how others have tackled problems and adopt best practice.

25.8.6. Initiatives arising out of this work include an online marketing portal for food and drink from the Hebrides, croft experience tours, development of local food and craft markets, and the development of a crofting area tour supported by an App highlighting the crofting culture and stories of the area being visited.

25.9 Supply chain for nature-based solutions

25.9.1. HIE is a partner in Scotland's National Strategy for Economic Transformation programme, which seeks to enable private investment in natural capital markets. That work has six interdependent workstreams covering:

  • Investment Finance;
  • Pipeline projects (of scale);
  • Rules and governance (the codes that enable markets to evolve);
  • Supply chain (people and organisations doing the work, groundworks, scientific, monitoring, project management, etc.);
  • Data (for baselining and verification of schemes); and
  • Community benefits.

25.9.2. It is recognised that the most developed markets for natural capital are currently around woodland creation and peatland restoration, both of which have carbon codes that support the creation and trading in carbon credits.

25.9.3. There are opportunities in peatland restoration for crofters to contribute to national climate change targets. Many crofters are familiar with the landscape and have associated, practical transferable skills, some may even have their own machines, or are already working for contractors involved in peatland restoration work. There are also opportunities for crofters, who either have or could develop scientific skills, in monitoring and scheme verification, in order to take advantage of opportunities in their locality.



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