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"Keep funding for true crofters", argues Scottish Crofting Federation director

A fiery cross has been sent out calling on crofters to defend their main source of public support.

At first sight it is not difficult to understand - the profound concern expressed this week by the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) is about the future of the Scottish Government's funding mechanisms.

In particular it is the unique croft-only agricultural support scheme which is seen to be at risk under the review of the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP).

A director of the Crofting Federation, Iain Keith, explained: "The SRDP is now under the stage two consultation. This means these are the final proposals. In it, the Scottish Government is suggesting that the Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme, known as CCAGS, is to be opened up to all small farms and holdings in Scotland. It is outrageous! The budget will be swallowed up in no time by the horse paddocks of Eastern Scotland".

He continued that it was further proposed that qualifying small farms would be between 7.5 acres (not so much a farm; more a couple of pretty large gardens put together) and 123 acres.

According to the SCF, that makes up around 37,000, or 73%, of the total number of agricultural holdings in Scotland.

The SCF fears this will exclude many crofts. The average size of a croft is around 12.5 acres. But there are some that are only a tenth of that, while there are a few which actually are more than the magical 123 acres (50 hectares).

Mr Keith concluded: "Crofters must unite and stand up against this blatant affront on our very survival."

He then went on to argue that while ministers were always eulogising the crofters' contribution to "the maintenance of sustainable agricultural systems that produce supplies of safe and healthy food, protecting natural resources and enhancing wildlife, habitats and cultural heritage", here they were trying to let small farmers get in on crofters' dosh.

"This two-faced way of conducting themselves is disgraceful and unbefitting a government that claims to have Scotland's interests at heart," he concluded.

But when one considers there are only about 17,700 crofts and about 13,000 crofters, it is difficult to see how there could be enough for an additional 37,000 small farmers, or 20,000 if crofts are included in the agricultural holdings total. Either way it doesn't seem to add up.

But Mr Keith's comments had barely been published before Richard Lochhead the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, was adopting a 'calm down dear, it's only a commercial' type response.

No. That's unfair. You could hardly compare the estimable MSP for Moray to Michael Winner, but he certainly wanted to take the heat out of the issue, and quickly.

He said: "I cannot stress enough that no crofters will be excluded under the new scheme - they will all be eligible. While we are proposing to extend the scope of the scheme, we are also proposing that the budget will increase by 35% to reflect this. In addition, support to crofters is not limited to this scheme - they can also access the other support measures under the SRDP.

 "The proposals for support for crofts and small farms are out to consultation, and I must stress that nothing is set in stone: I will carefully consider all feedback from our consultations before reaching any final decisions."

Officials explain that the Scottish Government's proposals had been developed from the feedback from the first SRDP consultation last summer.

This included a question about whether the previous CAGS should be extended to small land holders of like status. Some 60% of respondents to this question agreed. There was also a strong consensus that support should extend to the whole of Scotland on the basis that small-scale low-intensity farms play an important role in supporting rural employment and maintaining the social fabric of rural areas.

But it is still not clear how a near trebling (or doubling if crofts are included in the 37,000 figure) of potential applicants can be covered by increasing funding by a little over a third. 

Even to the mathematically challenged, something still appears to be missing in this equation.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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