The National Development Plan for Crofting ("the Plan") highlights the core elements necessary to ensure that crofting remains at the heart of our rural and remote rural communities, as well as delivering policy priorities for climate change mitigation and biodiversity.
The Plan draws on the work undertaken by the Crofting Stakeholder Forum and its six priority papers on the following topics:
- Crofting Development
- New Entrants
- Common Grazings
- Financial Incentives
- Simplify Crofting Legislation
The Plan also takes into account the crofter responses to the following:
- Stability and Simplicity Consultation
- Crofting Legislation and Future Priorities for Crofting Consultation
- Economic Condition of Crofting Report Survey Results
In addition, the Plan considers how climate change and the loss of biodiversity will affect crofting, and how crofting activities can be undertaken in a way that further contributes to the enhancement of the environment, iconic landscapes and biodiversity.
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 (chapter 1). Achieving this priority will help to maintain and strengthen the sustainability of our rural crofting communities.
There are approximately 550,000 hectares of common grazing land, and active grazings committees are the best way to ensure that this land is used effectively. Although low density high nature livestock grazing is still the principal activity undertaken by crofters on many common grazings, recent changes to crofting legislation have also encouraged woodland creation (chapter 6) and wider diversification, including renewable energy schemes. The need for peatland restoration and preservation is another important consideration given the large amount of peatlands found on some common grazings, particularly in the Western Isles and parts of Sutherland and Caithness (chapter 6). We will explore the extent to which these can be progressed in crofting areas.
Raising livestock remains an integral aspect of crofting, and one that brings with it many benefits. Our vision for common grazings is to underpin high nature value livestock production, peatland and habitat restoration, and to work with crofters, grazings committees and other stakeholders to promote collaborative efforts and deliver these priorities.
It is important that we take forward the vision and objectives for sustainable land use, which are set out in Scotland's Land Use Strategy. This vision requires a number of organisations to work in partnership, such as the Crofting Commission, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, NatureScot, Forestry Scotland, Scottish Crofting Federation, National Farmers' Union of Scotland, Woodland Trust Scotland, and Scottish Land and Estates.
Partnership working extends beyond the amelioration of the physical condition of common grazings. By taking action to ensure that future support mechanisms complement one another, we can optimise crofting development opportunities for crofters and crofting communities. This is why the Scottish Government has provided additional funding to the Crofting Commission. It is also essential that the wide range of information, support and advice available to crofters is easily sourced and accessed. Help can be found in the courses provided by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (chapter 3), and also in the support provided by the Farm Advisory Service (chapter 11). In addition, the signposting portal (to be provided by the Crofting Commission) (chapter 10), digital skills development (chapter 4), and local food networks (chapter 5), to name but a few, contribute to the package of support made available. There is also the great support provided to crofters through membership organisations.
It is also important to maintain appropriate levels of government investment in croft businesses. Each year through a range of support schemes, the Scottish Government invests over £40m in croft businesses. The Scottish Government will continue to provide the necessary support to encourage investment in infrastructure and equipment by crofters. It will also ensure that existing grant and other support mechanisms remain relevant and encourage innovation.
The Scottish Government has set out its approach for future rural policy until 2024, based upon four principles: stability, simplicity, sustainability and security. During the period 2021-2024, simplifications and improvements will be made to existing schemes, such as the Crofting Agricultural Grant Scheme (chapter 15). However, we also need to devise and trial new approaches to support crofters and farmers (chapter 14).
The Scottish Government is committed to working with crofters to ensure that future support will be invested in active croft businesses and the management of constituted common grazings.
It is important that ambition is maintained and momentum is increased to deploy key elements, such as sustainable food production, forestry, peatland restoration, renewable energy production, broadband, and investment to re-people if we are to be successful in sustaining the viability of our rural and remote rural communities.
The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 sets targets to reduce Scotland's emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2045. Crofting activities can help address climate change through actions such as the appropriate management of arable land, grassland and woodland; renewable energy development and peatland restoration and management; and woodland regeneration and creation. Furthermore, through low intensity, high nature value agricultural practice, crofting can help support biodiversity.
It has long been recognised that biodiversity loss and the impact of climate change are closely connected, two aspects of an urgent environmental crisis that will affect everyone, including crofters and crofting. However, as highlighted in Scotland's Land Use Strategy, our land has the ability to make a significant contribution in providing the solutions to these challenges. With 10% of Scotland's land in crofting tenure, including many areas rich in biodiversity and with great potential for carbon sequestration, it is vital that crofting plays its part in the response and in helping to achieve net zero emissions.
The Scottish Government's 2018 'Economic Condition of Crofting' report, identified that raising livestock and growing crops remain the most popular of crofting activities.
The Scottish Government contends that these great crofting traditions need not sit apart from the likes of woodland creation. They could in fact converge, with traditional crofting activities benefiting from an increase in tree planting (chapter 6).
There is also an increasing need to restore our peat bogs and keep them healthy. Crofting areas include large areas of peatlands or peaty soils, which act as important stores of carbon and support biodiversity (chapter 6). The Scottish Government will continue to support the restoration of degraded peatland, and explore the need to provide additional support for the maintenance of healthy peatland.
In addition, the Scottish Government continues to recognise the importance of providing sufficient housing for crofters, and their families, in or near to the crofts they work, allowing crofters to achieve the full potential of their crofts, whilst generating economic activity and sustaining rural communities. The Scottish Government is committed to supporting people to remain on, and bring people back to, the land, re-peopling our rural and remote rural communities, and sustaining our fragile Highland and Island communities.
Since 2007, the Scottish Government has approved over £22.1 million in Croft House Grants for croft housing, helping to build and improve over 1,030 homes for crofters and their families (chapter 9).
In late 2019, the work on crofting legislation had to be suspended. However, there remains a commitment to ensure that future crofting law reform will focus on removing barriers to crofting development, whilst preserving a crofter's security of tenure and right to work the land (chapter 13).
Please see page 99 to view a summary of all the Actions.
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