DESPITE THE fact that the outlook for Scottish crofters is not all optimism, there is a need for more crofts to be made available and an action plan put in place.

This was stressed at the Future of Crofting conference held in Inverness to look at progress made on crofting reform in the seven years since the committee of inquiry on crofting, concluded that there is still much unfinished business to attend to.

The conference was opened by minister for crofting Dr Aileen McLeod who drew attention to the five priorities she is considering for crofting that were gathered by stakeholders: simplify crofting legislation with a new act; make crofts available for new entrants; increase affordable croft housing; fund a lead body on crofting development and ensure that CAP support has a positive impact on crofting.

SCF chair Fiona Mandeville said: “The findings of the committee of inquiry, unsurprisingly, almost exactly mirror the priorities presented to the minister recently by the crofting stakeholder forum – and now affirmed by the minister herself.

“All the evidence taken is still available on-line and should be revisited. This evidence and recommendations were presented to the Scottish Government in 2008 so why do stakeholders have to present almost exactly the same demands today

“The situation is one of ‘ unfinished business’, and it is for crofters to take it forward. We intend to do just that and hope that the minister will come with us.”

SCF’s vice-chair Russell Smith, an active crofter himself, reminded the conference that the outlook is not all optimism.

Said Mr Smith: “The market for store animals is down, there is a lack of off-croft work, an increase in red-tape such as tagging, cuts to support payments and the move from LFASS to an areas of natural constraint scheme is being frustrated by industrial agriculture interest.”

However, he concluded that “if you want population in rural areas, crofting works”.

There was widespread agreement that many more new crofts need to be created. The assertion by Scottish Government that existing crofts need to be put to use before creating new crofts was rejected. An alternative view – that regulating for neglect should accompany rather than precede the creation of new crofts – won wide favour.

Professor Jim Hunter pointed out that there is a huge demand for crofts, to the extent that the price of them has escalated. He argued that the obvious thing to do in such a situation is to satisfy demand with the creation of new crofts now.

Crofting Commission vice-convener IG MacDonald told the conference that effective regulation could also help to control the market. Brian Inkster, crofting law solicitor, emphasised the importance of resolving some or all of the 126 problems identified by members of the crofting law group and gathered in ‘The Sump’ report. Action on this would enable the commission’s regulatory work.

Fiona Mandeville emphasised that the creation of new crofts is the prominent point in the SCF’s call on the Scottish Government for an action plan for crofting. She gave the assurance that SCF will continue to look for more innovative ways to make this happen.