A croft is a small agricultural unit, most of which are situated in the crofting counties in the north of Scotland being the former counties of Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Ross & Cromarty, Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland, and held subject to the provisions of the Crofting Acts. Crofting is a social system in which small-scale food production plays a defining role. Crofting is characterised by its common working communities, or “townships”. Individual crofts are typically established on 2 – 5 ha of in-bye for better quality forage, arable and vegetable production. Each township manages poorer quality hill ground as common grazing for cattle and sheep.
A crofter is the person who occupies and works a small landholding known as a croft. A crofter is normally the tenant of the croft, paying rent to the landlord of the croft. But many others have purchased their crofts and are owner-occupiers of their crofts.
Many crofts are on estates. A landlord may have many crofts on his estate. The rent paid by the tenant crofter, except in fairly rare circumstances, is only for the bare land of the croft, for the house and agricultural buildings, roads and fences are provided by the crofter himself. Since 1976 it has become more common for a crofter to acquire title to his croft, thus becoming an owner-occupier. Should he fail to reside on or near the croft, he can himself be required to take a tenant.
Crofting is a social system in which small-scale food production plays a defining role. Crofting is characterised by its common working communities, or “townships”. Individual crofts are typically established on 2 – 5 ha of in-bye for better quality forage, arable and vegetable production. Each township manages poorer quality hill ground as common grazing for cattle and sheep.
Land use in the crofting counties is constrained by climate, soils and topography. Agriculturally, virtually all of the land in the Highlands and Islands is classified as Severely Disadvantaged in terms of Less Favoured Area Directive, yet these areas receive the lowest LFA payment. Most crofters find it impractical to make a living from crofting agriculture alone; thus, most crofters pursue a number of activities to earn their livelihood.
Despite its challenges, crofting is important to the Highlands and Islands. At March 2002 there were 17,721 crofts, and 12,000 to 13,000 crofters (some crofters have the tenancy of more than one croft or there is croft absenteeism where tenancies are held but crofts are not farmed). About 30,000 family members lived in crofting households, or around 10% of the population of the Highlands and Islands. Crofting households represented around 30% those in the rural areas of the Highlands, and up to 65% of households in Shetland, the Western Isles and Skye. There were 770,000 hectares under crofting tenure, roughly 25% of the agricultural land area in the Crofting Counties. Crofters had around 20% of all beef cattle (120,000 head) and 45% of breeding ewes (1.5 million sheep)
The Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1886 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which created legal definitions of crofting parish and crofter, granted security of tenure to crofters and produced the first Crofters Commission, a land court which ruled on disputes between landlords and crofters. The same court ruled on whether parishes were or were not crofting parishes. In many respects the Act was modelled on the Irish Land Acts of 1870 and 1881.
The Act specified eight counties of Scotland as counties where parishes might be recognised as crofting parishes: Argyll, Caithness, Cromarty, Inverness, Orkney, Ross, Shetland, and Sutherland. Within these counties a crofting parish was a parish where there were year-by-year tenants of land (tenants without leases) who were paying less than £30 a year in rent and who had possessed effective common grazing rights during the 80 years since 24 June 1806.
- Crofting Canna
The crofts on Canna are actually on the adjoining island of Sanday.
- Crofting Eigg
There are two crofting townships on Eigg, Cuagach and Cleadale. In total threre are 21 Crofts on Eigg, and 17 crofters, with some crofters having more than one croft under their management.
- Crofting Muck
There is one croft on Muck, which is worked by the family team of Sandra Mathers, and her son, Sandy. Like many crofters over the generations, Sandy also fishes.
- Crofting Rum
In July 2008 the Isle of Rum Community Trust in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage created three crofts on the Isle of Rum with scope for further crofts to be created in the future. In 2011 Croft Number One was successfully let in May and common grazing land has been identified. Crofts 2 & 3 - the most westerly crofts - are on semi-improved sloping ground which is currently over grown with rushes. The higher parts are reasonably dry but lower down by the burn they are very wet. They will both require a significant amount of work to improve them to anything beyond rough grazing. Access to Crofts 2 & 3 is down a rough 4WD track that crosses a ford but grant funding may be available from the Crofting Communities Agricultural Grants Scheme to upgrade the track.