IT’S COMPETITION TIME

Your chance to win a £25 Amazon voucher and have your suggested name entered into a pedigree cattle herd book.

Commissioner Billy Neilson is looking for help from children 13 years and under to name some of his calves.  Younger children may need someone to help them to send us their entry.

All the calves born in 2020 will have names that begin with the letter ‘Z’.   Billy’s grandchildren have already named one calf Zoe and as all Billy’s cattle have the herd name of Cruachan, named after the mountain behind his croft, that calf will have the pedigree name of Cruachan Zoe.

Billy also looks after a herd of pedigree Luing cattle who have the herd name of Bonawe. Again all the calves born this year in that herd will have names that begin with the letter Z and registered with the prefix Bonawe.

The herd name for each calf is shown in the photos and you can send an entry for one or both calves. (there is a £25 voucher for each calf)

The calf from the Cruachan herd is a daughter of Waive, now those of you who have read a Blog Billy wrote a couple of years ago will remember Waive as a heifer who took great delight in causing mayhem in the “Big House” gardens  https://croftingcommission.wordpress.com/2018/05/09/a-not-so-typical-day-on-the-croft-for-commissioner-billy-neilson/  so Billy is hoping her calf doesn’t follow in her mother’s hoofs!

Both calves are heifers and will be kept for stock so you’ll be able to follow their progress over the next couple of years as they grow up.

For the chance to win, enter the herd name followed by your suggestion in the “comments” on facebook or twitter, or you can private message us through facebook or twitter.   Entries can also be sent to info@crofting.gov.scot with the word “Competition” as the subject.

The competition will run until midnight on 11 May. Thereafter all the suggested names will be emailed to the Commissioners who will pick a winner, which will be announced on 15 May.

The competition is not open to Crofting Commission employee’s children.

Please remember to entry the herd name before your suggested name.

CruachanBonawe

 

Peat for Heat

An update for Natasha who posed a question following Commissioner, Andy Holt’s short video on raising the peats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJXdC4Rh5oc

Dear Natasha,

You asked about the cutting and recovery of peat for fuel. There are local variations in the process, depending on which part of the Highlands and Islands it takes place. I live on a small island off the west coast of Shetland, Papa Stour and the peat was worked out many years ago. We used to visit a lady on the isle who remembered going to cut peats as a child. The families travelled by open boat, rowing and sailing, to the Island of Papa Little, about 5 miles across St Magnus Bay. This must have been sometime around 1920-30. We go by boat, our own or the council-run ferry, and drive a mile or so to our peat bank just outside the village of Sandness. Most Crofts in Shetland have a bank which goes with the Croft, but it is possible to get one by contacting someone called the peat constable who administers the system on behalf of whichever estate your preferred bank might be situated.

The process. First the bank, which in our case is around 30 yards long, is flayed. That is, we cut the top turf about one spade depth and two spade widths wide. We remove this in sods about one foot cubed and lay it in a line along the bottom of the bank to prevent erosion. Then we begin cutting using a special peat cutting tool, a cross between a narrow spade and a knife. In Shetland this implement is called a Tushkar. The first row of peats are tossed as far away as possible from the edge of the bank to leave room for the subsequent rows, which are built up into a wall along the top of the bank. When the cutting is finished we leave it to dry for a while. Could be days like this year with the fine dry weather. Could be weeks like last year’s very wet summer. Then comes the bit in the film, the raising. Each peat is built into little wigwam-shaped structures of 4-6 on end to allow further drying. This last process may need to be repeated once more in a poor summer. Finally when it’s dry, we bring a trailer, load the peats into it, bring it home and put it in our peat shed. In our case we build it into a stack in the shed which has slatted sides which allows for more drying. I hope this is helpful.

Best Wishes, Andy

 

Life on the croft goes on – as normal as possible. Mairi Mackenzie

Despite being in lockdown, life on the Croft goes on as normal as possible. Practicing social distancing from neighbours, I’m grateful for the quick chat over the garden fence as I go about my work. Isolation can be difficult for farmers and crofters at the best of times, RSABI are gearing up to meet the extra demand on their services and are very grateful to Scottish Government for the extra resources they have been given.

Dosing ewes1Lambing is just around the corner, lambing pens are set up, medicines and food supplies are well stocked up, ewes injected & dosed so I’m ready to go, hoping we are blessed with good weather to help us through.Pens ready for lambing.thieves1

Like many others I seem more aware of the beauty of nature all around us, spring bouncing into action, a vast array of colour, and the beautiful harmony of the bird song. I’ve set myself a challenge to try to identify the different bird song and become more aware of the birds we have on the Croft.

Feeding time1As a Board Commissioners have been discussing the future of Crofting and ironically COVID19 may well have changed crofting as we know it today.  Maybe now is the time for households to really think about where their food comes from. Those of us working the land producing beautiful tasty scotch lamb & beef reared in a heather clad, roam free environment, encouraging wonderful biodiversity need to encourage our home nation to consume our product. Maybe we have to start processing our product, producing tasty meals for the consumer to realise what’s on their doorstep.

Never has there been such demand for laying pullets, home grown vegetables and now hen encounter with stray black dog1there’s no pasta, potatoes…

There may be real contempt in the Crofting Counties for neglected and unworked croft land and many will think ‘Use it or lose it’.

There will no doubt be an increased desire among many to have the opportunity to eat vegetables from their own vegetable patch, and I do hope folk don’t have short memories and fall back into the quick supermarket shop ideology.

There are wonderful examples of Market Gardens on crofts, and we could learn so much from the system they have put in place serving the rural community with veg boxes. Maybe we are looking at coming full circle and going back to the mobile shop serving our rural population to go some way in mitigating climate change.

Island Life – Andy Holt, Commissioner

It is said that “where there’s life, there’s hope.” And in order to “keep on keeping on” crofting on a small island in a remote island group, hope is the first and most vital asset that the crofter must cling to. This is true for all farmers of course, big and small and particularly so as we travel the tortuous road towards whatever form of Brexit awaits uAndy Holt1s down the road sometime in the future. Crofting and farming are always vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. Despite which every year without fail, in go the tups in late autumn and we sow, plant and cultivate in early spring in hope of a harvest. Every year crofters and farmers “cast their bread upon the waters” hoping for a return on their investment of time, labour and money.

Why do we do it? Well I don’t know your reasons but I expect, like me you may at least occasionally ask yourself the same question. Particularly when times are tough and the future is so uncertain. I have found one thing that helps me when the pressure is on is to remember why I am involved in crofting and the stewardship of the land.

Papa Stour 068

I have come across a number of crofting ‘heroes’ during the four and a half decades we have lived here on Papa Stour, mainly old school and now mostly in various kirkyards scattered across these islands. Some time before my wife and I moved to Shetland in the early seventies I discovered the works of Frank Fraser Darling. Initially his book “Island Years” and later “island Farm” and the handy primer, “Crofting Agriculture.” All still worth a read today. The first two were republished jointly in 2011 by Little Toller Books. “Crofting Agriculture” is out of print but easily obtained second hand. Darling was a pioneering ecologist, broadcaster, academic and crofting practitioner whose work on care for our raw material, the soil, is still highly relevant today. His Reith Lectures for the BBC are still available online and well worth a listen.

Apart from the practical side of his work though, what shines through for me is his love for the remote places of the Highlands and Islands and the sheer guts and determination of him and Bobbie, his first wife to triumph over adversity. Frank Darling was a pioneering ‘evangelist’ for the idea of responsible stewardship and the possibilities for the transformation of poor, sour and neglected soil in remote upland and island areas into productive units.Papa Stour 058

When I am at my most optimistic about the achievability of such a goal. When, like today the cold North East wind has abated and there’s finally warmth in the early spring sun. When the ewes look great, full of new life and fit for lambing. Then it’s easy to have faith for the future and be optimistic. But when the Brexit process and the political shenanigans accompanying it feel like they are never coming to an end. When it’s tough going for meagre financial reward and winter never seems to be bowing out. That’s precisely the time when I need to call to mind the old folk who worked the land before me and the heroes of good husbandry and love for the land like Frank Fraser Darling.

 

A view from “outside” the “inside”……. James Scott, Commissioner.

As a non-crofter and not even coming from a crofting county, I often find myself feeling like the outsider in the organisation.Crofting Commission portraits

That’s not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing as I can ask the “daft laddie” questions from a position of authority. There’s a huge amount of history involved in crofting, not all of it helpful, and having someone who can question and challenge the “always been”, to really understand how our system has got to where it is, is of vital importance to understanding where it needs to be now and for the future.

It’s clear that much of the current public support for crofting relates to the social aspects such as access to housing and supporting population retention. These issues take up a lot of time for those bodies representing crofting too – especially how to make crofting both attractive and available to future generations.

There’s much that can be done to make crofts available to young people, at least for them to use, especially by those who may no longer wish or be able to use their croft and communicating these possibilities is something I see as key issue for both the Commission and the representative bodies to take forward.

It’s also vital that the “average crofter” takes a more proactive stance in describing the benefits that crofting brings to Scotland. Statements like “quality food, locally produced from high nature-value enterprises” probably do not trip off the tongues of many, but it’s the sort of language that is commonly used by those making decisions about the future of crofting.

mairi cattle

I do notice one aspect of crofting that seems to be dying in many areas which was previously a major strength of crofting – collective effort. Increasingly, every croft is run as an individual enterprise with little sense of common purpose. Grazings committees, where they exist, are often poorly supported by the shareholders. Everyone has to find, buy or hire their own equipment and help. This lack of collectivism in my view is hugely damaging to crofting.  Disagreements in communities and failure to take the benefits that are to be had from working together, and collectively communicating what is being done, could be more damaging to crofting than changes to legislative or financial support mechanisms.

Perhaps it’s time for crofters to take a greater role in shaping the future of a crofting system that’s fit for another couple of hundred years?

 

I was on my father’s heel from a very early age. Mairi Mackenzie, Commissioner.

Crofting Commission portraits

I was brought up on a large hill farm in Wester Ross. The eldest of a family of 6, I was on my father’s heel from a very early age. Mairi Dad

I have fond memories of life on the farm. The shearing shed in the early seventies with 8 men, shepherds and crofters, hand shearing, shouting ‘buist’ (marking fluid) as they finished each sheep.

As children it was our job to run and buist the sheep on the appropriate spot according to whichever flock it came from. Inevitably we were often covered from head to toe in different colours of buist. The woolbags were hung vertically from the rafters, and we as children packed the wool with our feet. The fleeces tossed in over our heads for us to ‘pack’ the bag as tight as we could. Our skin was soft from the lanolin, but our hair was black with grit.

Lambing time was a busy time with none of the mod cons we have now. Mairi lambsNo quad & trailer, the ewes were transported in the back of the Land Rover. No heat lamp or powdered milk, just cows milk and the odd drop of whisky to kick start a weak lamb lying in cardboard boxes in front of the open fire. No marking sprays, just different coloured knitting yarn on the lamb’s tails to cross reference them to their mother. All of this was no mean feat as there were over 2000 ewes on the farm.

Those experiences and many others have set me up to run my own croft which I inherited from my father. I learnt my shepherding skills from my father and feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to croft, a life I love. Yes, it can be hard work but it has its rewards. I have a flock of North Country Cheviot ewes and a small herd of pedigree Luing Cattle in a beautiful setting on Lochbroom.

Mairi calfMairi dressing sheep

Although I am a great advocate for traditional crofting, I do believe there needs to be diversification on the croft in order for there to be a viable business. I have run a successful Bed & Breakfast business from the croft for 28 years. Over the past few years we have refurbished the old croft buildings, the byre and the barn and we are in the process of refurbishing the original ‘But and Ben’ croft house.

We have invested time and money into our crofts to maintain them for future generations. I would love to see the neglected crofts across the crofting counties brought back into use, and to see the townships flourish once again. It is very encouraging to see the enthusiasm from both the younger and new generation of crofters and hopeful the new Crofting Legislation will help protect and advance crofting for future generations.

 

 

 

A crofter without a croft.

When I am introducing myself in public while dealing with Crofting Commission matters I often describe myself as a crofter without a croft which may seem an odd statement to Crofting Commission portraitssome, however, to people from the crofting counties there’s an instant recognition to the statement.

Crofting is often about the working of the land but it is undoubtedly as much about culture, history, a connection to the land and to the locality. It’s an identification mark if you like much like the lug mark on the crofter’s sheep.

At the Commission we understand that crofting actually goes well beyond the rearing and husbandry of livestock, the cutting of crops and the harvesting of potatoes. It’s about community, it’s about inclusion and it’s about people. It’s about people doing different things, with a common objective, often in the remotest of communities working individually and collectively to support themselves and the communities in which they live while they also protect many hard-earned gains over the lifespan of crofting as we know it.

Crofting is undoubtedly also about stewardship of the Environment – I have just returned from a few days in the Uists, my fourth visit in a year for various reasons and it warmed my soul to be walking through the machairs at Balranald and even more so in Bernary on my way to enjoy the deserted white sandy beaches that continue for miles on the west coast of the islands.Commissioners in Uist1

What really struck me this week is that these machairs are thriving productive areas for crofters on the Islands, particularly on the Uists and there’s an array of winter fodder crops coming close to harvesting that will support livestock over the long, often wet, winter months that lie ahead – that while enjoying the summer sunshine on the beach seems a long way in the future.

But the real story about the crofters crops that’s not often understood and recognised is that they are providing something that farming in Scotland no longer provides in the modern era.

At this time of year, before the crops are cut there is an amazing bio diversity work taking place that for the creatures, birds and small mammals that inhabit the machairs all benefit from. The sight of more oystercatchers, lapwings, golden plover and mirade other wading birds feeding in one small field that had been cropped for hay a few days earlier than I may see across the whole of the rich farmland of Easter Ross as we enjoyed an evening stroll was a quite awe inspiring.

That five acres of land managed for crofting can do this, while still feeding and sustaining the fine cattle that continue to thrive on the Uists in large numbers strengthens my already firm belief in the crofting system for all its difficulties and failings.

Long Live crofting and crofting land management methods….

David Campbell, Commissioner