Project offers free suppport on croft woodlands

John Finnie MSP planting a Scots pine tree at Ian Mhor, near Dingwall with Willie Beattie from the Woodland Trust Scotland and crofter Jo Hunt.
Norette Ferns

A new initiative offers crofters free advice and support for creating and managing woodland.

The Croft Woodlands Project aims to help create 500 hectares of new woodland on croft land by 2020 by overcoming the barriers identified in the 2014 review of crofter forestry, including difficulties with funding and cash flow.

Three Croft Woodland Advisors will offer specialist support and advice for woodland creation and management in crofting communities. Support is currently available in the Highlands, Orkney and Shetland. A dedicated project officer for the Western Isles will be employed at the end of 2015, and Argyll and Lochaber will be covered in early 2016.

The project is a partnership led by the Woodland Trust Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, Point and Sandwick Trust, and the Scottish Crofting Federation. The project is also supported by local partners including Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape.

The Croft Woodlands Project was launched by John Finnie MSP, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Crofting, at Ian Mhor Croft near Dingwall.

Mr Finnie said:

"Crofting forms the backbone of many remote and fragile communities. Increasingly crofters are finding that they have to diversify, and creating and managing small areas of woodland can be an excellent way to do that.

"I’m pleased that the Woodland Trust Scotland is working with a range of organisations to offer crofters free support overcome the major hurdles faced by those who want to plant trees and manage woodland effectively."

Lead project officer Willie Beattie said:

"Our package of free advice and support is designed to overcome the main barriers that are holding crofters back from planting trees, primarily expertise in woodland management and finding funding.

"Not every croft will be suitable for woodland but we know from the Crofting Census that more than one in ten crofters have already planted trees on their holdings, and there’s an unfulfilled demand from others who want to do the same."

Jo (Jonathan) Hunt and Lorna Walker farm a 40-acre certified organic croft near Dingwall, which supplies local people and businesses with a range of fresh produce. They have also planted 25 acres of woodland with funding from the Scotland Rural Development Programme, including native woodland and commercial conifers and broadleaves.

Mr Hunt said:

"Planting new woodland has definitely helped us diversify. In the long term it will boost local widlife and create some extra income through selling woodland products including quality Douglas fir logs.

"Additional advice and support for crofters is welcome because it can be a challenge to get started, but with perseverance lots of benefits can be achieved."

Angus McCormack, chair of Point and Sandwick Trust said:

"Point and Sandwick Trust is delighted to be involved in this ground-breaking project which will involve support for crofters throughout the Western Isles. The project officer covering the area will be based in our office in Knock, Point. This project exemplifies the significant community benefit of community wind farms."

For more information about planting trees or managing woodland on crofted land email or call 0343 770 5847.