SCOTLAND'S crofters are furious that a long awaited plan to help keep the traditional system of farming alive has been dropped by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has expressed "bitter disappointment" that the long awaited crofting reform bill has not been included in the recently published Programme for Government (PFG).

The SNP had made a pledge to "reform the law and develop crofting to create more active crofts” in its April election manifesto.

Crofting is a small-scale form of food production unique to the Highlands and Islands, but increasingly land has become difficult to buy and campaigners say existing regulation is not protecting the small holdings.

There are 20,777 crofts entered on the Crofting Commission's register of crofts.

Some 14,968 are tenanted and the remainder are owned.

Most of these registered crofts - more than 9,900 - are in the Highlands.

SCF says action is needed urgently because young crofters are being excluded due to the rising cost of land pricing them out resulting in a continuing Highlands depopulation.

Donald MacKinnon, chairman of the SCF said: “Given that the Government stopped the progress of the crofting law reform bill in the last term of government and the SNP pledged that they will ‘reform the law and develop crofting to create more active crofts’, it is galling that the bill, or indeed any crofting-specific actions, are not included in the programme. It shows a disregard for he crofting system at a time that this type of land tenure is needed most.

HeraldScotland:

“They say in the PFG 'in supporting our rural and island economies, we will ensure young people have more opportunities’. Crofting could give young people huge opportunities and there are many wanting to croft but cannot get in due to the lack of effective regulation. The crofting system has been allowed to degenerate to an extent that it is now in crisis.

"The crisis is around depopulation, and lack of opportunities for young people to stay here. And we think crofting is the answer to a lot of the problems. But the current situation means that if you don't have a croft, a young person doesn't have a way to get into it. The crisis means you cannot afford it. And then there are crofts that are underused which should be regulated. "The problem is that the opportunities aren't there. And the only opportunities that are there are the sale of croft tenancies for a lot of money. "The PFG also says, ‘To ensure a sustainable future for agriculture we must have new people coming through’. Are these empty words?”

The Scottish Government said that although law reform was not in the PFG, they remain committed to it.

Mr MacKinnon added: "We welcome the commitment to reform agriculture, though having only one crofter on the 21-strong oversight board says something about this government’s jaundiced view of crofting."

He added: "Overall the PFG is weak on a new vision for rural Scotland and leaves crofting wanting. Whilst promoting measures to address climate change and environmental degradation, and claims to want to help young people and remote communities, the lack of direct action to tackle the crofting crisis is lamentable.”

In order to buy a croft, whether or not it is a tenancy or owner-occupied, the purchaser has to come up with 100% of the funds. There are no mortgages available to buy the land.

One of the most difficult issues is the decrofting of land. That is when agricultural land held by the crofter is re-zoned, allowing it to be used for purposes other than crofting, most commonly to build a house on which pushes up the overall value of the land.

And for some it has gone way beyond what they can afford.

Concern has also been raised over the issue of unused crofts in Scotland and what more can be done to help attract new entrants.

The Crofting Commission's latest Croft Under-use and Availability Survey, in which over 400 crofters responded show that 87% of respondents identified unused crofts as an issue in their area.

Contributing factors for under-use include crofters living away from their croft and crofters retaining them as a valuable financial asset.

Another factor highlighted was that some resident crofters had no desire to work their crofts.

Concerns were also raised by 90% of the respondents that a lack of availability of crofts to new entrants was an issue in their area.

When asked to identify the perceived factors needed to encourage crofters to make crofts available to new entrants, respondents, again, identified four key areas of focus.

Crofting legislative reform was originally suspended in October 2019 as a consequence of Brexit preparations.

Legislative changes proposed including ensuring that any decrofting applications are for a reasonable purpose.

It also aimed to providing the Crofting Commission with additional powers to determine who has a right to occupy a croft and the ability to confer owner-occupier status to crofters.

The Law Society of Scotland said in October that widespread reform of the complex law of crofting was required both to simplify and change exisiting law.

Rural Affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “The Programme for Government is largely a one year delivery programme, though it will also signal longer term activity. Whilst there is no crofting bill in this year’s programme, we remain committed to modernising crofting law in this Parliamentary term.

“We will include a reference to crofting reform in the relevant year’s Programme for Government when it will feature in that year’s legislative timetable.”