Although the management of trees on crofts has been possible for a long time, the idea of a full-blown ‘woodland croft’ where management of the woodland forms a major – or the major – component of managing the croft land is more recent. The passing of the Crofting Reform Act of 2007 was the event that gave real impetus to the idea, as it became possible from that point on to create a new croft from existing woodland.
At that time Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) jointly funded a woodland crofts officer to support the concept as it developed. This role ended after 3 years or so and the mantle was subsequently taken on by the third sector partnership we have today – the Woodland Crofts Partnership.
But every project needs its champion. And whilst the partners, contractors and wider stakeholders of the Partnership are all strongly committed to woodland crofts, they for the most part are not ‘doing it for themselves’. So for a long time the Partnership has talked about identifying some woodland crofts champions – people who are doing it for themselves – who are similarly committed to the model but can bring their first-hand experience to the table.
Such champions are especially important when developing a new concept, and though it is true that for crofting, woodland crofts are simply an extension of the crofting approach to include woodland management, for forestry it represents a radical change. Our existing forestry sector is dominated by a model of large-scale, often highly mechanised management of fairly uniform plantations, with timber usually exported for centralised processing. Woodland crofts involve a very different approach.
What is the Partnership looking for in champions? The role will surely evolve, but our initial thoughts were to include 3 areas: to be the subjects of case studies that could be shared; to ‘speak up for’ woodland crofts as and when appropriate; and to feed into our stakeholder group, not least to flag up issues on the ground.
In relation to the first of these, we were obviously keen to highlight different examples – both of woodland types, but also tenure arrangements. We’re delighted to say that all those we approached have agreed to become champions, representing a diversity of situations, and in due course we hope to add to them to cover more.
So who are the initial champions? The first needs no introduction to readers of this blog, having previously written guest posts for us here and here. Ros Nash and her husband Rab are owner-occupier crofters managing a conifer plantation in Caithness, aiming to restructure it and introduce native species.
The second are examples of a landlord and tenant and are a father (the landlord) and his daughter – Bernard and Merlin Planterose. Bernard’s reputation in alternative forestry circles precedes him, being (amongst many other things) a founder director of Reforesting Scotland and author of the original Crofter Forestry Handbook (which he is currently re-writing, when he’s not running his timber construction company). Merlin is a jeweller & silversmith who lives with her husband and two children on the newly-created croft in Leckmelm Wood, near Ullapool.
Finally, our first batch of champions had to include examples from the community sector and we’re very pleased that both Andy Robinson and Rhuri Munro, croft tenants of North West Mull Community Woodland Company, agreed to take on the role. Andy is ‘Woodland Crofter’ on Facebook where you can follow his progress; he’ll be the more prominent of the two of them for the foreseeable future as Rhuri is currently heavily involved in the Ulva buyout (which has its own potential woodland crofts interest…..)
That’s a necessarily brief introduction to the new champions but we hope in coming months and years you will hear much more about them – and indeed future champions, some of whom have already expressed willingness to get involved (that’s you, Mick!).