Active crofting land use continues to provide a range of habitats for wildlife including the corncrake and corn bunting.
More than 750,000 hectares of land in Scotland is in crofting tenure, with 33,000 people living in crofting households in the ‘crofting counties’ of the north and west.
Agricultural production is generally limited by both climate and land type, and most crofters earn much of their livelihood off the croft. Most crofting activity revolves around livestock production in low-intensity systems.
Land use changes
The rich mosaic of habitats created by traditional small scale cropping, hay production and grazing provided food and habitats for many species, particularly birds and bumblebees.
A typical croft traditionally:
- had a small area of cultivated ground, usually close to the house – for growing potatoes and either small/black oat, rye or bere
- supported a limited number of livestock – including both sheep and cattle, which were kept on the common grazings in summer months
How crofting land is used has gradually changed over time:
- in many areas, silage has replaced hay as the main grass crop and arable cropping has declined
- as the economics of livestock production have changed, many crofters have stopped keeping animals – they’re now usually kept as larger flocks and herds
Overgrazing and, in some cases, undergrazing is now a problem for some habitats that benefit from mixed, low-intensity stocking.
High nature value
Despite these changes, much crofting land use is still seen as being of high nature value.
For example, corncrake and corn bunting are two bird species that were traditionally found across Scotland and which are still associated with crofting.
Also, the internationally renowned machair of Uist and Barra is maintained by the traditional rotation of cropped and fallow land, and cattle’s presence in winter. The swards provide pollen and nectar for insects like the great yellow bumblebee and breeding sites for wading birds.