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.
26. Crofting Commission
26.1.1. The Crofting Commission (Commission) is a Non Departmental Public Body that operates on a day-to-day basis independently of the Government, but for which the Scottish Ministers are ultimately responsible.
26.1.2. The Commission is funded by the Scottish Government. In April 2022 the Commission received an increase in its budget, having been awarded £3.965 million for 2022-23.
26.1.3. The Commission consists of six Commissioners elected by crofters and three Commissioners appointed by the Scottish Government, with one of the Commissioners appointed as Convener. The Commission is supported by about 70 staff, led by a Chief Executive (who is appointed by the Scottish Ministers in consultation with the Convener of the Commission). The Commission is further supported by 20 volunteer 'assessors' across the crofting counties, who have assisted and advised the Commission since their recruitment in 2018. The next recruitment exercise is scheduled for 2023.
26.1.4. The Commission's principal functions are regulating crofting, re-organising crofting, promoting the interests of crofting and keeping under review matters relating to crofting. The Act also places a duty on the Commission to investigate reports of breaches of duty by both tenant crofters and owner-occupier crofters. The Commission can advise Ministers on matters relating to crofting and it can also collaborate with other bodies for the economic development and social improvement of the crofting counties.
26.1.5. The Commission therefore contributes to the economic strength and sustainability of remote and rural communities in several ways. First and foremost, the Commission seeks to protect the crofting system for future generations so that the crofting areas will continue to benefit from the economic, social, cultural and environmental activity that comes from having a sustained population base rooted in each area. Alongside this, the Commission seeks to take regulatory decisions that support economic activity, allowing appropriate developments within the context of the crofting system, and supporting innovation and diversification as well as traditional agricultural crofting. In addition, the Commission uses its enforcement powers to help sustain an active population across the crofting counties and to promote productive use of crofting land; it helps grazings committees and shareholders to organise their use of common land; and it encourages a culture of innovative, thriving crofting activity.
26.2 Regulation of Crofting
26.2.1. The Commission processes around 2,000 regulatory applications and notifications each year, the most common being decroftings, assignations and sublets. The Commission's decisions have to be made in accordance with crofting legislation and can be challenged in the Scottish Land Court.
26.2.2. Over the reporting period the majority of applications received were for assignation, decrofting (part croft), decrofting (house site and garden ground), and bequest (notifications).
26.2.3. The vast majority of valid applications are approved (sometimes after modifications), with historically fewer than 3% being refused in a typical year. The most common refusals are applications to decroft an entire croft, and applications for consent to be absent: in 2019-2022, the Commission refused about half of the applications for whole-croft decrofting. Other types of refusal are less common, but may occur, particularly where there are objections to the application from the local crofting community. Applicants can maximise their chances of approval by following the decision making 'parameters' (principles) that are set out on the Commission's website.
26.2.4. Between 2019 and 2022, examples of regulatory decisions with a very direct impact on the economic condition of the crofting areas included:
- Decrofting which supported the provision of housing in rural communities included:
- 40 affordable homes and 5 market value homes in Port Charlotte, Islay;
- 36 dwelling Houses in Tingwall, Shetland;
- 8 dwelling Houses in Kingussie; and
- 8 dwelling Houses in Port Charlotte, Islay.
- Decrofting which supported commercial and employment opportunities included:
- Additional bonded warehouses for Harris distillery;
- An industrial storage unit in Tingwall, Shetland;
- Offices, storage yard and parking area for a local employer in Tomich, Kilmorack; and
- Industrial Units in Snizort in Skye.
- Decrofting which supported diversification into tourism related developments included:
- Tourism/site management and protection of Rogie Falls;
- Inn, caravan and campsite site, glamping pod site at Farr, Sutherland;
- Campsite and glamping pods at Lochcarron, Ross-shire;
- Site for a restaurant at Kilninian, Isle of Mull;
- Site of a farm shop/Café and parking area at Cunningsburgh, Shetland; and
- Holiday chalets and campervan pitches at Portnahaven, Islay.
- Decroftingfor environmental purposes and the generation of energy included:
- Wind Turbines at Dunnet, Caithness;
- Site of Micro Hydro Schemes at Ardnamurchan & Sunart and Durness, Sutherland;
- Water storage tank and pumping station at Lerwick, Shetland; and
- Weather Station and Tidal Energy Testing Facility at Eday, Orkney.
- New Crofts
The Commission approved applications to create 17 new crofts from non-croft land, including 16 from within the former crofting counties from Argyll to Shetland, as well as the first croft created in Moray (being one of the areas outwith the traditional crofting counties, designated by Scottish Ministers for the purpose of the creation of new crofts). Nine of these crofts will primarily be engaged in the planting of trees and use of the land as woodland crofts. Each of these applications has had to demonstrate that there would be social and economic benefits expected as a consequence of constituting the non-croft land as new crofts.
- Croft terminations and subsequent letting of the vacant crofts
The Commission has terminated 10 croft tenancies due to the tenants being in breach of the statutory duty to be resident on, or within 32 kilometres, of their croft. This has to date resulted in four of these crofts being let to tenants who are in a position to comply with the statutory duties relating to residence and land use, three of these new tenants being new entrants to crofting. The tenants have set out plans to undertake a number of investment activities in maintaining their crofts including fencing works, repairing ditches, improving drainage and spraying rushes. They also have plans to engage in cropping activities and plans to engage in livestock stock management activities on the crofts.
26.3 Enforcing Residency and Land Use
26.3.1. The Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 made substantial changes to the powers of the Commission to enforce the requirements for crofters to reside on or near their croft and to cultivate it or put it to another purposeful use. Among these changes were that each crofter is now required to complete an 'Annual Notice' confirming whether they are complying with these duties. This information is collected by the Commission in an annual exercise commonly known as the crofting census. The first such 'census' was conducted in 2014-15.
26.3.2. Since 2018, the Commission has been expanding its systematic approach to addressing breaches of duties that are highlighted by members of crofting communities, through census returns, or through our day to day interactions with crofters through casework. The Commission corresponds with hundreds of crofters, explaining the statutory requirements and giving them options and timescales for resolving their breach.
26.3.3. From the four censuses from 2017 to 2020, the RALU team has written to 616 tenant crofters who had admitted a breach of duty. To date this work has led to the permanent or temporary resolution of 341 breaches, as follows:
- 85 crofters are now resident on the croft;
- 59 have obtained Commission consent to assign the croft tenancy;
- 4 have obtained Commission consent to let the croft tenancy;
- 3 have renounced their croft tenancies;
- 3 have transferred ownership of their crofts.
- 53 have obtained consent to be absent from their croft; and
- 134 have obtained Commission consent to sublet their croft.
26.3.4. The Commission is expanding this work to include following up on those crofters who are not using their crofts despite being in residence; selected owners of vacant crofts who do not make use of the land; and some of the crofters who have not returned their census form. In addition, the Commission is often involved in cases of intestate succession, ensuring that crofts pass securely into the hands of a crofter who can fulfil the duties.
26.3.5. In all these ways the Commission delivers its responsibility to encourage crofters to reside on or near their crofts and to cultivate the land or put it to another purposeful use, so that population and community strength are upheld and the land is utilised.
26.4 Facilities for online regulatory applications
26.4.1. From 2022, the Commission has been rolling out a system for crofters, or their agents or solicitors, to make regulatory applications online rather than on paper forms. The system has been warmly welcomed by those who have already used it, though not all application types are available for all users as yet. The system guides the applicant through the stages of making and submitting an application, helping to eliminate the mistakes that are sometimes made in paper forms, and ensuring that a complete and correct application finds its way to Commission staff quickly and directly.
26.5 Supporting Common Grazings
26.5.1. Common Grazings are an important feature of crofting's agricultural system in terms of rearing livestock but can also be used for forestry and other purposes, including renewable energy. The need for co-operation in the management of a communal resource has traditionally been of importance both for the productive and economic use of the land, and for the development of the crofting community's identity and cultural heritage. There are a reported 1,050 common grazings covering an area of over 530,000 hectares of land in the crofting counites.
26.5.2. Common grazings are managed by grazings committees appointed by the shareholders. For many years there had been a steady decline in the number of common grazings with a committee in office, which by 2019 was as low as 418. Since 2019, the Commission has encouraged the continuation of existing committees and the formation of new ones, and the number of committees has increased to over 500.
26.5.3. The Commission also supports common grazings committees who wish to modernise their regulations or update and correct their list of shareholders and provides bespoke support to committees facing specific issues.
26.6 Development of Crofting
26.6.1. In 2021 the Commission established a Development Team, to expand its work of "promoting the interests of crofting" and to fulfil the Commission's responsibilities within the Scottish Government's National Development Plan for Crofting (NDP) (2021), including:
- Encouraging diversification of the use of common grazings;
- Encouraging a culture of succession and turnover of crofts;
- Ensuring that entry to crofting is more accessible; and
- Providing better information to crofters.
26.6.2. Based on these, the Development Team has adopted as its top aim the imperative of increasing the active use of croft land, in accordance with the following quote from the NDP:
"One of our top priorities is to establish an increase in the active use of croft land. We need to establish greater occupancy of crofts, attract new entrants, and encourage new common grazings committees into office".
26.6.3. In support of that aim, the Development Team has undertaken a range of outreach and stakeholder engagement activities including:
The team has gathered a significant amount of information about current and emerging opportunities, some of it linked to the climate change mitigation measures. This information has been added, along with the relevant organisations' contact details, to the Crofting Commission website, to create a central portal where crofters can find information or be signposted to further information from other sources. Being clearer about the positive options available to crofters and grazings committees is part of the Commission's strategy for encouraging compliance with the duties.
The team has engaged with the 20 assessors to plan for an expanded role for assessors in support of the Commission's development responsibilities.
The team has held meetings for crofting landlords to highlight their role in the management of croft land.
Crofter education and training
Along with colleagues from the grazings team and the Farm Advisory Service, the team has held several training events for grazing committees, both virtually and in various locations across the crofting counties.
Outreach at agricultural shows
The Commission welcomed the return of agricultural shows following the pandemic, and had a presence at several. The staff covered a number of topical issues including living succession, the benefits of grazings committees, apportionments and digital applications to the many visitors.
26.7 New Entrants to Crofting
26.7.1. Like any other sector of society, crofting needs new entrants. These may be within traditional crofting families, taking on the family croft or a neighbouring croft, or may be from another background. The ideas that new entrants bring, complement the established skills and experience of longstanding crofters.
26.7.2. The Commission encourages a culture of succession, whereby crofts that are not being actively used are passed on to others, who may be new entrants to crofting. Alternatively, they may be an existing crofter adding to their holding. In a typical year there are around 500 new entrants to crofting. In the period 2020/21 – 2021/22, there were 1,006 new entrants to crofting, just under half of whom were female, and a quarter were under 41 years of age.
26.7.3. The Commission has highlighted the benefits of arranging for living succession to crofts, through contact with crofters at the shows, the Assessor network and an informative video on the Commission website. The survey results have suggested that this engagement is working, as there has been an increase in each reporting year of the number of crofters who have a succession plan in place.
26.7.4. In recent years, the high price of crofts has become a significant barrier for those aspiring to enter crofting, particularly in certain crofting areas. The Commission does not control the price of crofts, but by ensuring that those who take on crofts understand the statutory duties and responsibilities required of them, the Commission seeks to ensure that entrants, from whatever background, become active crofters.
26.8 The Register of Crofts and the Crofting Register
26.8.1. Since 1961, the Commission has been responsible for maintaining an up-to-date Register of Crofts, recording the status of the croft, its extent, and the identity of the crofter and the owner.
26.8.2. Since August 2017, much of this information has been made publicly available online, including copies of decrofting directions since 2019, and more recently some apportionment orders. This resource has been widely used by crofters, agents and solicitors, making it easier for them to check the status of the land before any purchase involving croft land. Having this information available directly to the public has improved the Commission's service to its customers.
26.8.3. The Crofting Register, held by Registers of Scotland, complements the Commission's Register of Crofts.
26.9 Crofting Elections
26.9.1. The quinquennial Crofting Commission elections were held on 17 March 2022, by a postal ballot, and the votes were counted on Friday 18 March. The constituencies were the same as in the previous two elections, in 2012 and 2017, but for the first time there were at least two candidates in every constituency. There were four candidates in East Highlands, two in the Western Isles, and three in each of the other constituencies: Shetland; Orkney and Caithness; West Highlands; and South West Highlands.
26.9.2. As a result of local authority elections scheduled to take place in May 2022, the local authorities across the crofting counties were unable to provide their services and assistance to administer the election. The Crofting Commission Chief Executive was the Registration Officer with responsibility for determining the electoral roll, while the function of Returning Officer was contracted out to MiVoice, a private company with experience administering public sector elections. The Scottish Government made available a budget of £50,000 to run the elections.
26.9.3. Significant engagement was undertaken to improve voter turnout, encourage appropriately qualified candidates to stand, and increase the diversity of candidates. The voter turnout averaged around 30% of the electorate, with the Shetland, Orkney & Caithness and South-West Highlands constituencies providing the highest voter turnouts.
26.9.4. Following the election, the Commission had two brand new elected commissioners, three more who had also been elected in 2017, and one from the 2012-2017 Board who was standing for the third time, providing some welcome continuity to the Commission.
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