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January 26, 2011

Embo frustrated

The current debate as to whether government should sell off public woodlands seems to have excluded any serious consideration of other options.  In France and Scandinavia, small scale ‘community forests’ are the norm where local people enjoy a symbiotic relationship with their woodlands.  The highland community of Embo had set its sights on having just that kind of relationship.  But they cite a lack of political will from the top and insufficient public funding as the main barriers to realising their ambitious plans

Extract of letter from chairperson of Embo Trust to Alex Salmond, First Minister

…The Embo Woodland Croft Project is dead due to high valuations and little funding assistance, and with it, in my opinion, Forestry Commission Scotland’s whole Woodland Croft policy, despite the very best efforts of the Officers involved.  The entire National Forest Land Scheme itself cannot be regarded as much of a success due to prescriptive bureaucratic burdens, unattainable valuations and funding barriers.

I never ever thought in my entire life that an SNP government in power in Holyrood would turn out to be so impotent and unhelpful on land issues – bitterly disappointing!

Scotland simply cannot be regarded as a country for young people.  It is, alas, a country from which to escape, it is a country again of emigration.  Already some are treading the old road to exile in Australia, where at least land is available.  Land is not available in their country of birth.  There is nothing to keep them here…

Why Woodland Crofts?

• If the project were to goes ahead it would allow young people in the community, who currently have minimal chance of being housed, to have the opportunity of truly affordable housing & access to land. This would guarantee an improvement to the demographic structure of the community immediately and for the foreseeable future, to the lasting benefit of the local community.

• The croft structure means that activity on each holding will be supported by the non-competitive Crofting Counties Agricultural Grants Scheme to a level of 50% of required funding, which will inject further money into the local economy. Funding for woodland management and other land-related activity would also be available from other measures in the Scottish Rural Development Programme.

• Croft housing would be built using local timber, primarily from Fourpenny plantation, and local skills. Our perspective is that there are four elements to the cost of any house: the cost of materials; the cost of labour; the value of the land the house stands on; and the profit sought by the builder. Our pioneering plans for croft housing seek to ameliorate the first two of these, and nullify the last two, and would serve as a model for sustainable timber housing transferable to other rural communities.

• There would also be immediate activity by croft tenants in the provision of renewable biomass fuel for their own needs and those of the local community, managed in a sustainable manner under the structures of the existing forest management plan. The micromanagement of the woodland would permit planned and ongoing regeneration of tree (both conifer and deciduous) and shrub growth and contribute to national carbon sequestration targets.

• It would also provide an opportunity for people to widen their skill-base and diversify into other areas of economic activity, especially those relating to timber and woodlands. We envisage in the first instance, immediate developments in forest and woodworking skills, arboriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture and tourism.

• Increased local food production is an obvious line of development which can arise naturally from the proposed crofting arrangement, contributing to carbon reduction targets by reducing food miles, and providing a low intensity agricultural operation which would enhance biodiversity in the plantation.

• Where crofts are worked actively in the area, there is an obvious sense of energy, ambition and creativity which arises from the cross-generational synergy of people and land. It is our ambition to create this in the Fourpenny Plantation.

• This was a traditional crofting township before the war – this proposal seeks simply to re-instate what was there previously, albeit in the form of a woodland crofts township, and would contribute substantially to government ambitions in the creation of croftland. All of these ambitions have found recent voice in the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Scotland’s Hills and Islands, the report of the Shucksmith Enquiry into Crofting, and the proceedings of the Land, Environment and Sustainability Committee of the Highland Council, and are supported by both the Scottish Crofting Foundation and the Community Woodlands Association.

Councillor James McGillivray
Chairman, The Embo Trust (Urras Euraboil)