Crofting in the Outer Hebrides is on the ascendancy

10 February 2020
Parish of Lochs, Lewis
Despite the challenge of farming some of the worst soils in the UK, agricultural inputs costing double of those sourced on the mainland and the tempestuous weather, crofting on the Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris is in the ascendancy.

A report on the state of crofting on the isles of Lewis and Harris has been released by SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) .

Iain Macmillan, manager of the SRUC's office in Stornaway runs 80 breeding ewes on his own croft. He said of the new report: “I’ve seen a positivity about crofting here that I’ve not seen in my lifetime. Crofters are working to build sheds, rear animals and buy their inputs together, as well as diversifying into additional new business ideas. 

“The mix of people of all ages and backgrounds, plus the need to work together to overcome the adversities here is having interesting consequences, like redundant crofts coming back into production.”

In the latest History Scotland we take a look at the chequered agricultural career of notororious Clearances land agent Patrick Sellar.

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'Colossal' costs

Farming the “rubbish” land on the islands is a constant wrangle for crofters and the main thrust of the advice given by Iain and his colleague, Duncan Macintyre, as they explain: “The costs of farming here are colossal, a big bale of silage costing £20 on the mainland is currently trading for £50 per bale here; and a pallet of feed will cost around £45 more,” he adds. “There are two wholesalers here trying to create a fairer market, but it simply costs more to produce or get products here.”

But, as is often the case with adversity, people investigate other ways, says Iain:  “We’re advising crofters who want to buy and store feed together, or house fattening cattle together, to use the Crofting Agricultural Grant Scheme funding to work together, as villagers, to build communal sheds.”

Additional grant aid, such as the Croft House Improvement Grant, can also help local communities make remote areas more attractive to live and work, Iain concludes.