It gives me great pleasure to introduce the National Development Plan for Crofting. Crofting has a special place in the cultural heritage of Scotland and lies at the heart of many rural and island communities. Without crofting much of rural Scotland would not be the place that we have all come to know and love.
We know the unique role that crofting plays in the sustainability of many rural and island communities, and I want to thank crofters and their families for all that they do, and for their commitment to the crofting way of life. We now need to realise the potential for croft land to address the climate change and biodiversity challenges and to support thriving rural communities.
We know that the future holds many challenges for all of rural Scotland, and crofting is no exception, but it can also offer solutions to some of those challenges. This National Development Plan seeks to set out how crofting can help address many of the issues facing rural and island life in Scotland.
I recognise government's responsibility to support crofting to adapt and thrive. Land is a key asset, and we need to optimise its use to produce food more sustainably, to cut emissions and enhance our environment. Accordingly, we need full occupancy and use of crofts and effective management of all common grazings. These are two issues that always get raised when I speak with crofters, and, if resolved, would contribute significantly to securing a more prosperous future for crofting.
The Crofting Commission is critical to the wellbeing of crofting. We need to keep people on the land and continue to invest in them to live productive and sustainable lives within strong and resilient communities. That is why the Plan focuses on what the Crofting Commission, with the support of others, will be expected to achieve in regard to occupancy and the use of common grazings.
It is clear to me that people working the land is key to driving crofting forward. In the past two years alone we have seen over 830 new entrants into crofting, with 44% of these new entrants being women, and 32% being aged 40 or under. We have made a lot of progress but there is more still to do.
In July 2020, I announced additional funding for the Crofting Commission to enable it to expand its development activities, and to establish four permanent Crofting Commission jobs in the Western Isles. Furthermore, in February 2021, I announced an increase in the Crofting Commission's core budget. This represents a commitment by the Scottish Government to the future of crofting and to the delivery of this Plan.
Crofting has survived through the ages by keeping the best of its traditions while also adapting to new circumstances. We need that to continue and to encourage modern approaches to crofting, with diversification into agri-tourism, woodland regeneration and creation, local food networks, and the restoration of our degraded peatlands. Enabling innovative methods of working the land, and utilising our landscape and natural environment, will make crofting more productive, as well as ensuring that it plays its part towards our response to the climate emergency. We also need more grazing committees in office and for them to work together for the common good in these areas.
The last year has been incredibly difficult for us all. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on every one of us, and on every aspect of our lives. Nevertheless, throughout this crisis crofters and farmers have continued to feed our nation with world class produce, supporting both local and national food networks. Their vital role in rural and island communities is recognised and valued.
The crofting community is a community that supports its members through the sharing of knowledge, information and good ideas. A community of people who can demonstrate a shared adaptability with which to embrace change, and face confidently, the future challenges and opportunities that diversification and growth in crofting will bring. Crofting is fundamentally linked to our values, of who we are as a nation and who we want to be in the future, and that involves keeping people on the land and supporting them to live productive and sustainable lives. This National Development Plan sets out the ways in which crofting can achieve this, and can secure a vibrant and resilient future for a unique way of Scottish life.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the members of the Stakeholder Forum for their tireless work and commitment to crofting, and without whom this Plan would not have been possible.