Crofting course with a difference

Viv Montgomery at fank
Norette Ferns

Report by Gwen Jensen, Facilitator

Funded by the Prince’s Countryside Fund, and in conjunction with Foundation for Common Land, Scottish Crofting Federation ran yet another successful crofting course recently. This one, however, was different to many other courses they have run - in fact it was the first of its kind in Scotland.

Based on Croft of Knock, Newtonmore, this course was aimed at companies and organisations who deal with crofters and land owners on a daily basis but have actually very limited knowledge and experience of what crofting really entails. Representatives from Scottish Natural Heritage, SSE, Highland Council among others, came from far and wide to experience a taste of crofting in the Highlands.

The morning kicked off with a welcome hot drink, (midge repellant) and an introduction to crofting from host crofter Viv Montgomery. Viv explained how the croft had been in her family for generations and that she had been assigned the croft and how she planned to move the croft forward.

She said:

"It's all about the next generation . . . protecting the traditional way of life and making it sustainable for the future is hugely important."

Crofting terms such as Gimmer, Hog, Soumings and In-bye land were all explained and Viv pointed out how terms like these are so often misunderstood by policy makers and how it brings so much confusion when dealing with people in positions of authority but have little working knowledge of crofting. Viv also explained about common grazings and the essential part they play in crofting in her area.

The group walked through the croft, surrounded by the beautiful Monadhhliath mountains, to the sheep fank where they spent the rest of the morning carrying out basic sheep handling: turning ewes over to check feet and udders, checking teeth, checking eartags along with avoiding the midges!

The afternoon session, based in the village hall, was led by Ali McKnight from Agroecosystems Ltd. Ali carried out a mini-workshop on agri-environmental schemes and how they work in practice.

Ali explained:

"Crofting, by its nature, is valuable for biodiversity as well as landscape and cultural diversity. This has been recognised by the definition 'High Nature Value Farming.'"

Ali went through the history of agri-enviromental schemes that have been available and are part of the crofting scene and how they have presented challenges as well as opportunities due to mixed land uses, designated sites and changes in regulation. Ali used a local case study to demonstrate how communication and understanding others' viewpoints is vital and how the lack of it causes confusion and angst between parties.

Finlay Matheson, a partner crofter from Strathcarron, Wester Ross, gave an insight to his croft and the challenges he faces as a crofter where land is poor and the weather is worse!

All in all, the day was thoroughly informative and hugely beneficial to everyone who attended. It was an excellent opportunity to get different organisations around the table and discuss the challenges each one faces and to come to some sort of understanding of each others goals.

A massive well done and thank you to Viv Montgomery and Ali Mcknight for their enormous effort - it was a huge success!

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