5,000 Woodland Crofts

Around the time of the last Scottish Parliamentary elections, the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF – one of our partners in the Woodland Crofts Partnership) issued a call for the next Scottish Government – whoever it might be – to publish an Action Plan for crofting to meet various objectives. Amongst these was to establish 5,000 new woodland crofts by 2020.

At the time, eyebrows were quietly raised (and some not so quietly) in certain quarters but this remains SCF policy and one supported by its partners. Often people respond to such ambitions with knee-jerk responses, so it is worth examining critically whether such a policy is ambitious, realistic, or perhaps even a bit conservative.

Granted, meeting this timescale will be challenging but what about the scale – what would 5,000 woodland crofts actually mean on the ground? There are two useful ways to look at this: how much woodland would likely be required; and how the situation here would then compare with that in other countries, if we had 5,000 more woodland occupiers.

Assuming each new woodland croft was 10 ha in area on average (slightly larger in fact than those created in recent times), obviously 50,000 ha of woodland would be needed. To discover what percentage of the woodland area of the crofting counties this represents is harder than it might appear, as official statistics are fairly crude and not broken down beyond country level (in contrast the statistics available on Swedish forestry are incredibly detailed).

I eventually found a paper (on indicators for High Nature Value Farming & Forestry in Scotland) which yielded the required figures. Using them, one discovers that the proportion of existing woodland of all kinds required to create 5,000 woodland crofts as outlined above is slightly less than 9% of the total. In reality it could well be less, as many have pointed out that creating new woodland crofts by establishing new woodland on new crofts would be a useful way to contribute to government afforestation targets.

So much for being a radical proposition, then. What about the impact it might have in terms of opening up access to woodland to manage?

As there is currently a minimal rented woodland sector in this country, woodland occupation tends to be through ownership so I use this a proxy for occupation (hopefully in the future this simplification will no longer be valid!) No official statistics on woodland ownership are available – again in contrast to the Swedish stats mentioned earlier – but last year the Forest Policy Group (FPG) published a scoping study on the issue.

If you drill down into its results you come up with a national figure of around 2,700 for resident woodland owners – so 5,000 new woodland crofts would represent a near trebling of the number of resident woodland occupiers, and consequently a profound shift towards a woodland culture. I say towards, because despite this advance we would still be far from achieving the level of access to woodlands to manage enjoyed by most other countries.

Figures for this for a selection of countries are included in the FPG report mentioned above (which is well worth reading in full), but consider this: one in seven Finns owns a forest holding, and half of these live on it – isn’t that what we would call a woodland croft?

So the bottom line is that 5,000 new woodland crofts would require a minimal proportion of our existing woodland, dramatically improve access to woodland to manage, support the development of a woodland culture, and deliver a range of local benefits.

What’s not to like about that?

7 thoughts on “5,000 Woodland Crofts

  1. Ian Dow

    While I welcome the push for small scale, local woodland economies and communities, I’m not sure that afforestation targets are at all relevant. Do the Scottish government have an actual policy with afforestation targets and associated funding streams? If so, someone has been drinking on the job!

    1. admin Post author

      The Scottish Government does indeed have an afforestation target – this was originally framed as a long-term target to reach 25% woodland cover but caused a certain amount of consternation amongst the agricultural community, which in part led to the establishment of the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group (WEAG). Their report is well worth reading and includes a lot of good stuff. However one outcome was to reframe the planting target as 10,000 ha per year for the next 10 years, with a future review thereafter.

      It’s worth noting that despite the unease about the long-term target of 25% forest cover, even this if achieved would still be low by European standards: the EU average is 37%. Even Spain, not a country we tend to think of as well-wooded, has 36% forest cover.

  2. Ian Dow

    I don’t believe we should be afforesting anything. Land that did not evolve as woodland after the last ice receded has no place as woodland now. I’m surprised that there is any support or funding for this.

    1. admin Post author

      It is generally accepted that most of the country was colonised by woodland after the last ice age and therefore historically woodland cover was far higher than it is today. So perhaps we should be talking about reafforestation rather than afforestation.

  3. Andy Barbour

    Scotland was largely impenetrable forest after the last ice age, until the Peichtish navy was constructed using the great caledonia forest.

    I am very keen to permaculturally design an area of land which would include fruit trees at the recommended distances to maximise edge by farming the canopy.

    Any tips on how to get started by obtaining a piece of land ASAP, to relocate to?

    1. admin Post author

      Keep an eye on the main land agents’ websites: John Clegg, Bidwells, Bell Ingram, CKD Galbraith etc.

      We also tweet info whenever we spot an interesting opportunity.

      1. Andy Barbour

        Nice! I am in Haghill, Dennistoun which is east end Glasgow. The other side of the Hag hill is the most beautiful south facing slope you could ever see, just derelict ground covered in grass. The front edge of the main piece I have surveyed is 500 metres long, there is already a nice ridge in perfect position partly along the bottom end, would just require a BIG Sepp Holzer Pit to sustain a hundred fruit type trees/grafts, then permaculture the areas in between trees to make maximum use of edge on the 7 levels of the forest garden, including superfoods packed with omegas and antioxidants.
        Probably room for another 5 such ridges all the way up the hill. Big grants going for city food farming, I applied for one but need to be a community based organisation.

        Would be an excellent resource to promote the ethics and principles of permaculture, as well as being HQ for Dennistoun guerrilla gardening! Loads of spare ground, first one would be the toughest then the rest would flourish using seeds and cuttings from the first….. I have permaculture dreams of the east end having acres of edible forest garden and thousands of fit healthy kids…..could get the change of career I am seeking as well! Make the hanging gardens of Haghill the 8th wonder of the world! Arf


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