There are 706 crofts and some 478 crofters in Mackay Country. About 40% of resident households have a croft but absentee rates are as high as 33%.46 Returns from agriculture have been falling in recent years. It is likely that CAP reform will put further pressure on crofting agriculture as small-scale production will struggle to survive under new market conditions despite production of good quality, hardy animals through low intensity methods. Crofting remains a mainstay of Mackay Country communities in terms of social cohesion, communal working and cultural contribution, including maintaining the Gaelic language.
A croft is a small unit of land situated in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and held subject to the provisions of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993.
A crofter is normally the tenant of a croft, and pays rent to the landlord of the croft. Rent is paid for the land only, as any house, agricultural building, fence etc is provided by, and owned by the crofter.
An owner-occupier is a tenant of a croft who has exercised the right to purchase the croft from the landlord, and continues to live on the croft.
Crofting tenure gives wide-ranging rights to crofting tenants, such as –
security of tenure,
compensation for permanent improvements,to pass on their tenancies to members of their families or,to pass the tenancy to other third parties (with the approval of the Crofters Commission),
to purchase either, their house site or, if they wish, their croft as a whole, at a fixed price.
Many mistake crofting for small-scale farming. This is clearly far too narrow a view and understates the immense influence crofting has on the everyday lives of people in communities in crofting areas. While agriculture has its place generally crofters either obtain the bulk of their income from other full-time or part-time employment or are retired. The average size of a croft is around 5 hectares, but some are only .5 ha while a few can extend to 50ha of land, plus a share in hill grazing which is held in common with other crofters in a township.
Crofts are traditionally strips of land running from the croft house.
Land use in crofting is constrained by climate, soils and topography. Agriculturally, virtually all of the land in the Highlands and Islands is classified as Severely Disadvantaged in terms of Less Favoured Area Directive. The existence of crofting has helped retain viable rural communities by providing low cost land and housing as a basis for other economic activity. Crofting is about land use, people and the retention of a unique social, cultural and agricultural heritage. Crofting communities are increasingly looking to reorganise croft land, create new crofts and, in many cases, utilise the land available to the good of the wider community also. Any future scheme will continue to meet the needs and concerns of modern crofting and play a vital role in ensuring crofting continues to play an active role in the fabric of rural Highland life.
Crofting has always been important in keeping communities alive as it helps people to live and work in some of the most remote areas of the Highlands and Islands. It also helps keep rural schools and other vital public services operating in these areas. Croft land also provides environmental benefits and a varied habitat for wildlife. Traditionally, crofters use low amounts of chemical fertilizers, weed killers and insect sprays. As a result the range of plants is much wider than on more intensively managed areas. Many tourists come to the Highlands & Islands attracted by its natural beauty and the richness of its wildlife. The crofting system is a key part of this environment.
Organisations like Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds work with crofters to protect these habitats. Crofting plays a vital role in sustaining fragile rural communities, a unique culture and a richly varied natural environment. It is a way of life that demonstrates a unique cultural richness and an overall appreciation of the environment.
“These fields have been planted with special crops to encourage birds like twite, linits and goldfinch. I hope it will encourage birds to breed here and will encrease the amount of birds in this area.I hope we carrie on the crofting way of life.”