Woodland Crofting Changed My Life (part 2)

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The concept of a woodland croft provides a modern framework for two traditional ways of life. In the concluding part of a 2 part guest post, author Ros Nash offers advice to other would-be woodland crofters based on her own experiences at Cogle Wood.

Anyone who’s self-employed can feel proud that they’re doing their own thing. What’s special about woodland crofting is that it provides a modern structure or framework that brings together two traditional ways of life, crofting and forestry.

If you’re thinking my lifestyle could work out for you too, you’re probably right. Here are some things to think about before you spend your life savings on a bunch of trees:

- Firstly, location is everything. You can’t currently be a woodland crofter unless your woods are in one of the crofting counties. In other words, find a wood that’s in Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Ross & Cromarty, Sutherland, Orkney or Shetland, or alternatively one of the newly croft-able areas of Arran and Moray. This is purely for historical reasons, but that’s the law.

- It’s worth knowing that in legal terms, the Crofting Commission doesn’t distinguish between a woodland croft and any other kind. But the people who decide if you are eligible for grant funding do (we’re working on this! – ed.). Don’t get into it if you think it’ll make you rich. Your bank balance might not increase, but your quality of life, or happiness, will. We have several income streams planned for our woodland. Selling firewood is the obvious first step when you live among maturing trees, and we’ve enjoyed success with our local firewood business. But we won’t be retiring any time soon.

- Consider some basic chainsaw training. If you’re part of a couple, it helps if at least one of you knows what you’re doing with a chainsaw. Without your chainsaw tickets, you’ll be limited as to what you can do to manage the forest.

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- Think about how much remoteness you can handle. Our croft is a ten-minute drive from a decent-sized supermarket, and a five-minute drive from a village with a shop, post office, pub and primary school. It doesn’t feel massively remote to me. Forestry and crofting may be traditional pursuits, but technology, and specifically 4G internet, allows us to stay in touch with other people and what’s happening elsewhere, which is vital for us.

- Do some research before you decide if you want to be an owner-occupier crofter or a tenant crofter. Some local authorities are keener on woodland crofters living and working together as tenants and communities than ‘lone’ woodland croft owner-occupiers. There are pros and cons to each choice.

- Talking of cons, don’t try to outwit your local planning authority. If you don’t really want a croft but just fancy living among some trees, they won’t be fooled. You’ll need to demonstrate some commitment to your chosen path. Woodland crofting may provide a bridge between two very old ways of working the land, but woodland crofts themselves are so new that many people don’t yet get it as a concept. You’ll need to work with both the Crofting Commission and the Forestry Commission. The good news is that new woodland crofts are slowly popping up and people are catching on.

- If, like me, you’ve always been a townie, try living in the countryside for a year or two before jumping the city ship. You need to find out whether you enjoy it or whether the peace and quiet makes you feel lonely, or even isolated. It’s not for everyone. We’re lucky to have found a sense of community spirit in the rural setting we chose; of course, you can find this mentality of looking after each other in urban environments too.

- If you’re on Twitter, follow @WoodlandCrofts for regular updates from a real champion of and advocate for woodland crofters.

- If you’re still keen after all that, go into it with your eyes open and full of realistic optimism. It’s a good idea to go and visit some woodland crofters before you buy a forest. Ask them what a typical day involves. You’ll be a pioneer of sorts, and you’ll encounter successive obstacles while you’re getting set up. Keep going – it’s worth it, I promise. We still have many hurdles to jump but we’re enjoying the journey.

What else can I say except that I wish more people knew woodland crofting existed? I’ve never been more happy or excited about life. And if you’re swithering, wondering how you’d fare once you launch yourself headfirst from the hamster wheel, remember this: the wheel doesn’t stop turning just because one wee hamster jumps off. There are millions of opportunities to jump back on popping up every day, should you ever want or need to. But if you’re really ready for something new, you won’t look back. What are you waiting for?

You can follow Ros on Twitter @RosNashAuthor

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