This sounds like the sort of question we shouldn’t have to ask – after all, shouldn’t we, the Woodland Crofts Partnership (WCP), know that already? Or if not us, certainly the Crofting Commission?
The answer on both counts is, unfortunately not. And yet it would be extremely valuable information to have, to support and develop woodland crofting.
It is probably useful to consider at the outset why there is a lack of such specific information, and a helpful starting point is to first ask: ‘what is a woodland croft?’
There answer – in strictly legal terms, anyway – is there is no such separate thing: they are just crofts like any other. But clearly crofts with significant woodland cover on them, where its management is a main activity for the crofter, are indeed ‘a thing’. So we in the WCP have adopted a working definition which helps guide us in promoting and encouraging woodland crofts:
“A woodland croft is a registered croft with sufficient tree cover overall to be considered a woodland under UK forestry policy”
We chose this as it is simple and objective, but clearly there are nuances and grey areas which are not picked up by a simple definition like this. Nevertheless, it is useful to be able to identify such ‘woodland crofts’, not least as a model of forestry very different from that which currently predominates in Scotland. Having information on the number of woodland crofts, their extent, the activities of their crofters and so on will be critical to the future expansion of the model – and in providing support to those crofters.
The definition begins to hint at why collating the necessary information may not be straightforward. A woodland croft might have been newly created following the 2007 Act, from existing woodland, and we can fairly easily trawl (or have the Crofting Commission trawl!) through croft creation applications.
But a woodland croft might be older – perhaps created through planting following the crofter forestry provisions of the 1990s – or much older still, for example if it has always been woodland covered (as for example are some of the crofts in the Sunart Oakwoods). In these cases relevant information on existing registers is fairly limited, especially in relation to woodland aspects.
We have looked at this issue with the Crofting Commission, and identified measures which could be taken to improve information on woodland crofts going forward – but it will inevitably be a slow process, and be at its most difficult when trying to identify ‘historic’ woodland crofts.
So we at the WCP have decided to compile an inventory of woodland crofts, based on gleaning information from all sources. This is not intended to duplicate ‘official’ records, but rather provide both a useful cross-reference to them, and a way to more quickly get a handle how many woodland crofts there are, and where.
So we return to our original question: Are you a woodland crofter? Do you know someone else who might be? Or do you perhaps know of a woodland croft – but it has no current occupier? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org (or use the Contact form on our website)
Any information you can provide us with will be gratefully received (and treated in confidence). At this stage the aim is to identify woodland crofts, and crofters, so a couple of lines of simple description is all that is needed for now. However, once we have built a list of contacts we may get in touch again to request some basic quantitative information.