We’ve just heard the tremendous news that the creation of 3 new woodland crofts in Argyll has now been formally approved. These community-owned crofts join the 9 already established in Mull and confirm Argyll as a hotbed of woodland crofts activity. The following has been adapted from a press release issued by the Kilfinan Community Forest Company.
Ten years of planning comes to fruition as Kilfinan Community Forest announces the registration of its first three new woodland crofts.
Crofting has been on the Tighnabruaich social enterprise’s agenda since the foundation of the working group to bring the forest into community ownership in 2007. Now the project’s supporters aim to show that, as well as being an important part of the country’s history, crofting can provide a solution to many of the problems facing rural Scotland in the 21st century.
Set on the picturesque Kyles of Bute, Tighnabruaich and the surrounding areas face all of the issues that affect Highland Scotland: an ageing population, a preponderance of holiday homes, a shortage of year-round work, rural isolation and falling school rolls. For Kilfinan Community Forest (KCFC) the solution to many of these problems lies in attracting families to the area to stimulate economic activity and support local services.
KCFC Operations Manager Rob Borruso explained – ‘Our main resource is the forest itself. We realised that although conifer plantation forestry dominates much of Argyll it doesn’t provide many jobs for local people. We decided that the woodland croft model where people can manage pieces of our land for the benefit of their families, the community and the environment was the best way for us to make sure our main resource – the land itself – was used to support the community’
Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation echoed this point when he visited the Kilfinan Community Forest Open Day recently –
‘It’s interesting that Scotland has a large forestry reserve but almost none of it is locally managed by the people. We’ve gone down a centralised route where we have the management of almost all our forests under one public body or large scale private ownership. In other countries the model is completely different and forests are managed by the people on a smaller scale so it’s great to see woodland crofts being created and managed by the people who live in or next to them.
The main thing crofting offers to rural communities is people. At the heart of it, crofting is about people and communities, so the more crofts you can create here the more people you can encourage to stay here permanently, not just tourists or holiday home owners (although there’s nothing wrong with that) but people who will live here full time, raise families and support local services.
Something that’s very important about crofting that I always say is that crofting survives despite everything. At this very uncertain time with Brexit looming and Scotland being dragged out of the European Union it’s really important that we have resilient ways of living, and crofting is very much an embodiment of that.’
This idea has already been borne out with the local primary school roll rising as a result of the new crofting families being drawn to the area. For Tighnabruaich Primary, a school that once boasted almost one hundred pupils in the late 1990′s, the arrival of new families has led to a welcome reversal of falling pupil numbers, pushing the total up to 32.
The crofters’ attention will now turn to regenerating their allotted land: transforming it from clear felled conifer stumps with bracken, rushes and brash piles into native broadleaf woodland producing firewood, forest products and food. Woodland crofts help Scotland to meet other national priorities such as reducing food miles, lowering emissions and improving food security. Unsurprisingly, the idea has grown in popularity, leading to increased demand for woodland crofts.
Jamie McIntyre, Co-ordinator for the Woodland Crofts Partnership confirmed that there are many people ready to take on this challenge –
‘Hopefully this news will inspire other woodland owners – community, public and private – to develop woodland crofts, for which there is huge unmet demand. We maintain a register of those who have expressed interest in obtaining woodland crofts which includes over 160 names. So while Kilfinan Community Forest has shown the way, we will need many more crofts to be created over the coming years.’