Crofting: national development plan

This plan highlights the core elements necessary to ensure that crofting remains at the heart of our rural and remote rural communities.

Economic and Community Development

Crofting continues to play a significant role in establishing and sustaining populations in communities throughout the Highlands and Islands, and is able to develop best where the wider community and region is able to grow and thrive. Growing populations and increasing income levels are particularly important to our remote communities.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is the economic and community development agency for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. HIE, and its predecessor organisation, the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB), has been working with organisations and communities for over 50 years to ensure the region remains economically successful and competitive.

HIE states its current vision is to 'help build a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economy across the Highlands and Islands, attracting more people to, live, work, study, invest and visit'.

All crofting areas are served by HIE and benefit from HIE's work with businesses, social enterprises and community groups through a place-based collaborative approach to growing the region's economy, and enhancing its attractiveness and resilience. Central to that effort is HIE's overall approach to strengthening communities. This includes support for asset-based community development, where HIE is a partner in delivering the Scottish Land Fund, and its support for community anchor organisations, generally community development trusts or large community landowners, which are actively involved in whole community development and regeneration. HIE works to sustain and develop a vibrant rural economy with people and place at its heart. HIE works with local, regional and national partners to provide a strong voice for the region, making sure opportunities and needs are understood. Through direct support and influencing others, HIE seeks to build an inclusive economy through a place-based collaborative approach that reflects local circumstances.

Rural areas face a unique combination of challenges including potentially a major impact on market access for primary food products. This, together with the need to move towards a low carbon economy, will create opportunities for local food producers with strong provenance and high nature value activity. As a sustainable form of land use, crofting already delivers a wide range of public goods. With the right support, crofting has the potential to grow, adapt, diversify and further contribute to rural and island resilience and climate change targets.

Development Activities

Bulleted below is a cross section of HIE's current development work. For the reasons already stated, some of these elements are designed as short-term 'emergency responses' to pressing challenges, and will be concluding very early in the currency of this plan.

  • The Young Companies Capital Investment Scheme: this is a short-term, COVID-19 recovery programme (2020/21 financial year), for companies which are less than five years old. This could be a useful source of capital for entrants into crofting, or longer-term crofters who have started distinct new commercial ventures, within the last five years.
  • Two pilot 'Rural Food Tourism Places' are being facilitated in Northmavine/Delting (Shetland) and in the Uists. These pilots involve cohorts of crofters and food, drink and tourism businesses, which are being supported to explore innovations and new collaborations which bring economic benefits and opportunities to diversify their activities and businesses. Whilst the ability to work closely together has been affected by COVID-19, there is still a desire to pursue this work when conditions are more favourable.
  • Currently, HIE is financially supporting a programme of crofting skills for transition from COVID-19. The programme was developed and is being delivered by the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF). The programme delivers targeted skills-development modules, via safe virtual methods, for crofters and smallholders suffering from the impact of the pandemic.

The programme will run until late spring 2021. Courses currently available include:

  • Planning for Staycations – COVID-19 Best Practice Cleaning Guidance
  • How to Start a Local Community Food Hub
  • Virtual Sheepdogs – Braehillor Sheepdog Handler Training
  • Crofters Who Diversify – Instagram Marketing for your Business
  • Fantastic Food from Local Producer Food Markets
  • Crofting the Brand – Adding Value
  • Income from Small-scale Growing
  • As part of a more strategic national approach, HIE is collaborating with Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Lantra, and the SCF, to promote new entrants and seek a way to mainstream crofting skills development. It is important that skills development is more broadly integrated with practical rural skills provision, and less reliant on pulses of project funded activity. Achieving this will make it easier for crofters and other rural based groups to be more proactive in planning their continuous professional development.
  • Through the 'Innovation Voucher' scheme, HIE can provide support to crofters who are exploring new ways to enhance their business. HIE provides a range of capacity and leadership development opportunities that can be accessed by individuals with crofting interests. For example, crofters can currently access the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Training Programme, which HIE funds in the Highlands and Islands region. This popular programme also supports an ongoing network of previous Rural Leaders, and through the Highlands and Islands cohorts has already supported several crofters with their professional development, enhancing their leadership skills and practice.
  • One of the great features of the crofting system is how it can support the creation of housing in crofting areas, allowing crofters to live on or near their holdings, and, in other cases, making land available for other affordable housing in crofting communities, as was done very effectively in Plockton. Such housing creates opportunities for population growth in areas that have a shortage of affordable homes. In support of these efforts, HIE, in collaboration with the Crofting Commission will shortly publish practical advice on the options for creation of housing on croft land.
  • HIE is very active in a range of activities to enhance the region's mobile and broadband digital infrastructure, including the delivery of the Scottish Government's R100 commitment (please see the Broadband Infrastructure chapter for more detail). HIE is also proactive in supporting 'digital enablement', with skills training to facilitate the use of the improved infrastructure.

Summary (for economic and community development)

We live in dynamic times where there are opportunities for innovation, digital adoption and diversification as well as pressing challenges, such as climate change, transition out of the EU and the effects of COVID-19. There are also some stark predictions regarding population loss from sparsely populated rural areas. All public agencies have to be agile and responsive to emerging opportunities, challenges and priorities, and HIE will continue to evolve in its approach and focus to ensure that it delivers the best balance of products, schemes, investments and resulting outcomes for the Highlands and Islands. Please refer to the HIE website, and through the national portal,, for up-to-date information.

As the Crofting Commission expands its development function, HIE will work with the Crofting Commission and others to increase the synergy between crofting development and wider rural community and economic development, along with resilience work to which HIE contributes. In respect of those collaborative efforts, HIE expect to contribute to the four development priorities below.

HIE will work with the Crofting Commission and others to increase the synergy between crofting development and the wider rural community development and economic resilience.

HIE will work with relevant partners to encourage innovation and diversification which will create economic opportunities for crofters in rural and island communities.

HIE will work with relevant partners to enhance the attractiveness and resilience of rural and island communities, leading to population retention and growth within crofting communities.

HIE will continue to work with stakeholders with a view to mainstream future skills funding.



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