January 30, 2024
The law as it pertains to Scotland’s system of crofting is by all accounts Byzantine in its complexity and the number of lawyers who practise it with any expertise is vanishingly small. Which perhaps explains why the creation of a new breed of croft – the woodland croft – has taken so long to gain official approval as a productive use of Scotland’s national forest estate. Not surprisingly, it is on community owned woodland that most progress has been made. Fantastic news that six new woodland crofts have just been approved in Tiroran Community Forest on Mull. Hats off to SWMID and Woodland Crofts.
Two and half years after submitting an application to the Crofting Commission, South West Mull and Iona Development (SWMID) is delighted to announce the approval of six new woodland crofts in Tiroran Community Forest on the Isle of Mull.
SWMID’s core purpose is to develop community-led projects that support economic, social and environmental regeneration in the south-west corner of Mull and the island of Iona. One of our biggest challenges is to retain young people. Within our local area, during the period 2011-2020, there was an overall 3.4% decline in population. Amongst adults aged 20-29, the decline was 25%. While, at the same time, the number of people aged 65+ increased by 25%. A lack of affordable housing and secure, year-round employment prospects for working age people, and a high percentage of families in relative and absolute poverty (almost twice the national average), make it difficult for young people to stay and build lives here. (Source: Databook Summary, November 2022, Mull and Iona Community Trust)
Even before the purchase of Tiroran Community Forest in November 2015, on behalf of the community, woodland crofts were identified as a key aspiration of local people. A woodland croft is not an easy option but, for those with the resourcefulness and ambition to make one work, it offers the opportunity for developing small-scale forestry related businesses as well as the potential for a secure home. For the wider community, the woodland crofts are part of a complex picture that we are building with the intention of reversing the loss of working age people to the area. The production of local food and value-added timber products, and improved biodiversity in the forest are significant additional benefits.
We have a long list of interested people with outline plans for growing food to sell, developing tree nurseries, keeping chickens, beekeeping, permaculture, creating community spaces, woodturning, a sawmill and willow growing for basketry. All on the site that was once home to a thriving community of up to a 100 people at Achonnaill.
Cameron Anson, Chair of SWMID, is thrilled by the news of the successful application, after such a long wait:– “The reintroduction of people to an area of our island previously cleared is, of course of historical significance. But it is also significant for the future of our communities, aligns with Scottish Government aspirations and, we hope, will provide a positive example for others to follow…… This is the culmination of years of hard work from our staff team and volunteers, and I cannot thank them enough for their persistence in the face of numerous challenges.
We fully understand the need for rigorous systems to be in place to avoid unproductive use of land, and fully support their application by governing bodies. But this has been a long, difficult and frustrating process, and we welcome the drive for reform at the Crofting Commission with open arms. We would be more than happy to share our experience with the Commission and fellow communities so that others may have a smoother ride.
For now, I am just delighted to see that our organisation will deliver on a major community aspiration, and I would like to extend my most heartfelt thanks for the support received from the WCP, our fellow development trusts, the community council, and most of all, from the volunteer members of our Woodland Croft working group and our communities”.
Jamie McIntyre, co-ordinator of the Woodland Crofts Partnership, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to see the hard work of SWMID staff and directors pay off with the approval of these new woodland crofts in Tiroran Forest. Mull is proving to be something of a hotbed for them, with 15 now created on the island, and potentially more in the pipeline. However, they are all desperately needed as demand for woodland crofts continues to grow, in recognition of the many benefits they bring to both crofters and their communities”.
The Woodland Crofts Partnership (WCP) is a partnership of 4 third-sector organisations, seeking to promote and develop woodland crofts. It comprises the Scottish Crofting Federation, the Community Woodlands Association, the Communities Housing Trust and Woodland Trust Scotland. We define a woodland croft as a registered croft with sufficient tree cover overall to be considered a woodland. Note however that this is a descriptive term and there is no distinction in law between a woodland croft and any other kind of croft. Further information on woodland crofts can be found from various sources, in particular our website www.woodlandcrofts.org
SWMID contact: Celia Compton firstname.lastname@example.org www.swmid.co.uk