Jude Dunn Land Fund

A potential opportunity for women woodland crofters

We’ve been made aware of grant support towards projects focused upon soil regeneration run by women in Scotland – which could include woodland crofting. Closing date for initial expressions of interest is 31 August 2023.

The Jude Dunn Land Fund is a bequest set up to support women living and working in Scotland who are involved in sustainable agriculture/land-based activities and soil remediation work.

Two awards of £20,000 are offered, one for applicants with existing land resources who would like to expand their current project, and the other for applicants who need to purchase essential resources, which may include land, to start a project from scratch.  

More information here, and/or email judedunnlandfund@hotmail.com

Who speaks for woodland crofters?

One of the great things about the woodland crofts movement is how it has developed an identity and momentum of its own. Having been involved from the start – at least in the sense of it being a ‘new’ model from around 2007/8 – the norm used to be for developments to either be already well known to the Woodland Crofts Partnership (WCP), or actually instigated by us.

So we were delighted to see a new Facebook group had been set up for woodland crofting, and within a matter of weeks had attracted around 160 members. We’d missed this as we’re a bit sporadic on FB (as you may have noticed) but we’ve now joined ourselves and made a couple of contributions to the discussion. Well done to Al Whitworth at The Wild Croft for organising this.

This does however raise a wider question: who currently speaks for woodland crofters? We mean this in the sense of representing their affairs, as a unique group, in dealing with external interests.

Obviously, we like to feel the WCP does, and we have lobbied and continue to lobby Scottish Government and others, responding to consultations and pressing for change, for example to crofting grants. We also have our evolving ‘champions’ who act as ambassadors for woodland crofting, and we hope to do more with them as life returns more to normal.

But we are not a membership organisation and so not directly answerable to woodland crofters. As above, we hope our activity is very closely aligned with the interests of woodland crofters, but there is no question that membership organisations represent their members in a much more directly accountable way, and this can be very important.

We have no doubt the day will come when a dedicated membership organisation for woodland crofters will be established, but it will arise organically when the time is right. So what happens in the meantime?

Well of course, there is already a representative body for crofters – the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), one of the constituent partners of the WCP. They have themselves championed woodland crofting for a long time and indeed have strong policies on it eg a target that 5,000 new woodland crofts should be created. And as we all know, there is no distinction in law between a woodland crofter and any other crofter – they are all crofters.

The SCF exist to represent their members, and obviously the more of their membership that are woodland crofters the stronger their woodland crofts ‘voice’ will be. So if you aren’t already a member, think seriously about joining them, and if you are lucky enough to be young (under 41), you qualify for discounted membership.

Many woodland crofters will however already be SCF members – but have you thought of applying to join the SCF council, from which SCF board members are drawn? Doing so will help put woodland crofts at the heart of SCF affairs, and your application would be welcomed, as the Federation is always looking for new council members and directors.

And even if you are an aspiring woodland crofter but unfortunate enough to live an area where crofting isn’t currently available – still no excuses, as SCF policy is for crofting to be extended beyond its traditional areas. So what’s stopping you?!

Thursday 6 May – Election Day

Tomorrow, as cannot surely have escaped your notice, is election day. We are certainly not going to advise you how to vote, but we are going urge you strongly to use your vote – after all, how can you complain about things in the future if you didn’t vote?!

About 3 weeks ago, we began posting ‘mini-analyses’ of main party & candidate manifestos on our Twitter feed, looking at each to see what they said about woodland and crofting issues, and therefore by extension, woodland crofts (we hoped some might specifically reference woodland crofts, but sadly, none did. Next time, maybe……).

With just a few hours to go before polling starts, we thought it might be useful to gather all those twitter threads in one place, so that people could quickly catch up on them particularly for people who didn’t see them on Twitter. Don’t worry if you aren’t a Twitter user, all the links will open in an ordinary web browser.

The are posted in the order we did them, which is roughly the order they were published in:

Scottish Green Party

Scottish National Party

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Andy Wightman -Independent (Highlands & Islands regional list only)

Scottish Conservative Party

Independence for Scotland Party (stood down their candidates, but their ideas for forestry are rather interesting & worth a look!)

Alba Party (regional list only)

Scottish Labour Party

Now make sure you vote!

CWA Conference – breakout session

As participants at the conference will be aware, we hosted a breakout session on woodland crofts this morning. However time was very limited, and inevitably we ran out of time before fully answering all the questions submitted via the chat box.

We have attempted to provide answers to the questions which were missed here.

Lockdown Loaf

Regular readers of our website (and/or our Twitter feed) may be aware that the site went down last week, causing a minor panic. It’s back up now, and we thought we’d celebrate with an off-topic blog post, for some Lockdown light relief.

Lockdown Loaf

I say off topic, but it’s not the first time we’ve tried to link home baking with woodland crofts management (check out ‘Home Milling is a Little Like Home Baking’). And of course you could argue that baking your own bread gives you a measure of resilience – a topic we’ve been thinking a lot about lately, for obvious reasons. We’ve long been convinced that woodland crofts can provide a significant degree of resilience, something whose importance is currently being underlined in a big way, but which was also already being highlighted by the challenges of climate change.

More of the serious stuff in a later post though – this one is just about baking bread.

First challenge may be ingredients, as it was some weeks after the start of lockdown that we finally got our hands on yeast and flour. Now we have stocks, there’s no stopping us! The following recipe is adapted from various ones we’ve come across and we memorise it by the number of time ‘2’ crops up:

200 grammes of medium oatmeal
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of easy blend yeast
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
(you get the picture….)
475 grammes of wholemeal flour
450 ml of warm water

We’re big fans of the ‘KISS’ philosophy, and we’ve refined the method to be as simple as possible, on the basis that the simpler and easier it is, the more likely it is to happen. So we knead the dough in the mixing boil, rather than on a separate floured board. We also use easy blend yeast, which works just as well as activating dried yeast – and is simpler.

Serious baking books also emphasise the importance of ‘knocking back’ and a second proving. Doubtless this adds to the quality of the loaf, but for us the step change in quality comes from making the bread at home in the first place, so missing subsequent incremental improvements doesn’t really bother us, and we cut out this step.

So –

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl (we add the yeast last as it can be temperamental if it comes into contact with salt).

Add the oil and the water and knead for 10 minutes. The dough will be quite sticky at first but you can always add a sprinkle of flour towards the end of kneading.

Put into a greased 2lb loaf tin and leave to rise until it has roughly doubled in size, covered in oiled cling film.

Bake at 200 degrees for half an hour.

That’s it!! Have a go yourself, and #PostYourLoaf

We use a fair amount of oatmeal because (i) we like it, and (ii) we buy it in 25 kg bags so there’s always plenty about. But you can vary the mix as you please, always remembering this may affect how much water you need, so be prepared to adjust.

We also pre-heat the oven to a higher temperature and bake at that level for the first 5 minutes before turning it down to 200 degrees.  It’s a tip we learned from @HughFW and seems to help.

Finally, you can sprinkle the top with seeds if you like, but we never manage to get them to stick so we just sprinkle some flour on (which stops the crust from getting too hard).

Normal service (deep & meaningful, occasional blog posts, that is) will resume in due course. In the meantime, stay safe and #StayHomeSaveLives

Happy Birthday, Kilfinan Community Forest!

The Kilfinan Community Forest Company is well known for the many developments they have progressed in their community woodland – including of course, woodland crofts, of which they previously created 3 and are on the cusp of creating a further 7. However, their interests span a whole range of activities including composting, allotments, sawmilling, renewable energy, affordable housing and much more. Astonishingly, all this has been achieved in their first 10 years, as they recently celebrated their 10th birthday. We are delighted to reproduce here as a guest blog post their press release marking that milestone. Meal do naidheachd, KCFC!

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Ten years ago today (Tuesday 31st March) our small remote community waited to hear if they had managed to raise enough money to buy a sitka spruce forest just behind the village of Tighnabruaich, from the Forestry Commission.  With the village experiencing a decline in population and services it was time to kickstart something new.

“We wanted woodland walks, jobs and products, woodland crofts, work for local people and families, and to regenerate the oakwoods” said Michaela Blair, founding member.

With just hours to go the target was reached.  The community had raised a massive £65,000 which was matchfunded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.  “We were absolutely delighted when the news came through” says David Blair, Director.  “Our steering group were fantastic and straightaway submitted a funding proposal to the Climate Challenge Fund, to install a road, the polytunnels and mains services, with funding for a Development Officer and a part-time administrator for the first 2 years.

Since then the community forest has gone from strength to strength.  An established sawmill provides logs, timber and offcuts.  A thriving allotment group have polytunnels with raised beds and a regular Producers Market.  There is a well signposted path network linking Tighnabruaich to Kilfinan through the woodland.  Other community ventures now include mental health programmes, forest schools, a holiday woodland club, green woodworking classes and a community composting facility. The forest is family friendly with ponds, dipping platform, a small playpark with camping area and a firepit nearby.

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Three new crofts are now registered with a further seven being proposed which are attracting new families and children to the village.

“The replanting of the forest is crucial to help the native woodland biodiversity and riparian habitats.  The forest is home to otters, pine martens, red deer and raptors and their home needs protected too.  A recent consultation was widely supported by the local community” says Mary Lou Anderson, who is coordinating the crofters.

From beginning at ground zero 10 years ago, the facilities achieved in Kilfinan Community Forest are truly amazing.  From healthy walks, growing food, playing in the woods to exploring the hills, the possibilities are endless.

Thank you to all our members for supporting Kilfinan Community Forest.  We will be planning a proper celebration later on in the summer when circumstances allow.

Croft Woodlands Conference, Boat of Garten, 9 & 10 May

What a fantastic conference our sister project, the Crofts Woodlands Project, put on earlier this month.

An absolutely packed programme over the two days, and a full hall (160+ delegates) right through to the end on Friday afternoon, was testament to a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Well done Eleanor and team.

It’s already proving its worth to us, as a lot of good woodland crofts contacts were made and leads progressed. We’ll try and post more on the conference in due course.

In the meantime, all the presentations  – for both speakers & workshops – are now available here in the form of links annotated to the conference programme. If you’re busy and need some instant inspiration, start with Dr Duncan Halley on ‘Land Use, Value Creation, and Woodlands in SW Norway‘ – an example of what could be in the Highlands.

Every Project Needs Its Champion

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Although the management of trees on crofts has been possible for a long time, the idea of a full-blown ‘woodland croft’ where management of the woodland forms a major – or the major – component of managing the croft land is more recent. The passing of the Crofting Reform Act of 2007 was the event that gave real impetus to the idea, as it became possible from that point on to create a new croft from existing woodland.

At that time Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) jointly funded a woodland crofts officer to support the concept as it developed. This role ended after 3 years or so and the mantle was subsequently taken on by the third sector partnership we have today – the Woodland Crofts Partnership.

But every project needs its champion. And whilst the partners, contractors and wider stakeholders of the Partnership are all strongly committed to woodland crofts, they for the most part are not ‘doing it for themselves’. So for a long time the Partnership has talked about identifying some woodland crofts champions – people who are doing it for themselves – who are similarly committed to the model but can bring their first-hand experience to the table.

Such champions are especially important when developing a new concept, and though it is true that for crofting, woodland crofts are simply an extension of the crofting approach to include woodland management, for forestry it represents a radical change. Our existing forestry sector is dominated by a model of large-scale, often highly mechanised management of fairly uniform plantations, with timber usually exported for centralised processing. Woodland crofts involve a very different approach.

What is the Partnership looking for in champions? The role will surely evolve, but our initial thoughts were to include 3 areas: to be the subjects of case studies that could be shared; to ‘speak up for’ woodland crofts as and when appropriate; and to feed into our stakeholder group, not least to flag up issues on the ground.

In relation to the first of these, we were obviously keen to highlight different examples – both of woodland types, but also tenure arrangements. We’re delighted to say that all those we approached have agreed to become champions, representing a diversity of situations, and in due course we hope to add to them to cover more.

So who are the initial champions? The first needs no introduction to readers of this blog, having previously written guest posts for us here and here. Ros Nash and her husband Rab are owner-occupier crofters managing a conifer plantation in Caithness, aiming to restructure it and introduce native species.

The second are examples of a landlord and tenant and are a father (the landlord) and his daughter – Bernard and Merlin Planterose. Bernard’s reputation in alternative forestry circles precedes him, being (amongst many other things) a founder director of Reforesting Scotland and author of the original Crofter Forestry Handbook (which he is currently re-writing, when he’s not running his timber construction company). Merlin is a jeweller & silversmith who lives with her husband and two children on the newly-created croft in Leckmelm Wood, near Ullapool.

Finally, our first batch of champions had to include examples from the community sector and we’re very pleased that both Andy Robinson and Rhuri Munro, croft tenants of North West Mull Community Woodland Company, agreed to take on the role. Andy is ‘Woodland Crofter’ on Facebook where you can follow his progress; he’ll be the more prominent of the two of them for the foreseeable future as Rhuri is currently heavily involved in the Ulva buyout (which has its own potential woodland crofts interest…..)

That’s a necessarily brief introduction to the new champions but we hope in coming months and years you will hear much more about them – and indeed future champions, some of whom have already expressed willingness to get involved (that’s you, Mick!).

Woodland Crofting Changed My Life (part 2)

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The concept of a woodland croft provides a modern framework for two traditional ways of life. In the concluding part of a 2 part guest post, author Ros Nash offers advice to other would-be woodland crofters based on her own experiences at Cogle Wood.

Anyone who’s self-employed can feel proud that they’re doing their own thing. What’s special about woodland crofting is that it provides a modern structure or framework that brings together two traditional ways of life, crofting and forestry.

If you’re thinking my lifestyle could work out for you too, you’re probably right. Here are some things to think about before you spend your life savings on a bunch of trees:

– Firstly, location is everything. You can’t currently be a woodland crofter unless your woods are in one of the crofting counties. In other words, find a wood that’s in Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Ross & Cromarty, Sutherland, Orkney or Shetland, or alternatively one of the newly croft-able areas of Arran and Moray. This is purely for historical reasons, but that’s the law.

– It’s worth knowing that in legal terms, the Crofting Commission doesn’t distinguish between a woodland croft and any other kind. But the people who decide if you are eligible for grant funding do (we’re working on this! – ed.). Don’t get into it if you think it’ll make you rich. Your bank balance might not increase, but your quality of life, or happiness, will. We have several income streams planned for our woodland. Selling firewood is the obvious first step when you live among maturing trees, and we’ve enjoyed success with our local firewood business. But we won’t be retiring any time soon.

Consider some basic chainsaw training. If you’re part of a couple, it helps if at least one of you knows what you’re doing with a chainsaw. Without your chainsaw tickets, you’ll be limited as to what you can do to manage the forest.

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Think about how much remoteness you can handle. Our croft is a ten-minute drive from a decent-sized supermarket, and a five-minute drive from a village with a shop, post office, pub and primary school. It doesn’t feel massively remote to me. Forestry and crofting may be traditional pursuits, but technology, and specifically 4G internet, allows us to stay in touch with other people and what’s happening elsewhere, which is vital for us.

– Do some research before you decide if you want to be an owner-occupier crofter or a tenant crofter. Some local authorities are keener on woodland crofters living and working together as tenants and communities than ‘lone’ woodland croft owner-occupiers. There are pros and cons to each choice.

– Talking of cons, don’t try to outwit your local planning authority. If you don’t really want a croft but just fancy living among some trees, they won’t be fooled. You’ll need to demonstrate some commitment to your chosen path. Woodland crofting may provide a bridge between two very old ways of working the land, but woodland crofts themselves are so new that many people don’t yet get it as a concept. You’ll need to work with both the Crofting Commission and the Forestry Commission. The good news is that new woodland crofts are slowly popping up and people are catching on.

– If, like me, you’ve always been a townie, try living in the countryside for a year or two before jumping the city ship. You need to find out whether you enjoy it or whether the peace and quiet makes you feel lonely, or even isolated. It’s not for everyone. We’re lucky to have found a sense of community spirit in the rural setting we chose; of course, you can find this mentality of looking after each other in urban environments too.

– If you’re on Twitter, follow @WoodlandCrofts for regular updates from a real champion of and advocate for woodland crofters.

– If you’re still keen after all that, go into it with your eyes open and full of realistic optimism. It’s a good idea to go and visit some woodland crofters before you buy a forest. Ask them what a typical day involves. You’ll be a pioneer of sorts, and you’ll encounter successive obstacles while you’re getting set up. Keep going – it’s worth it, I promise. We still have many hurdles to jump but we’re enjoying the journey.

What else can I say except that I wish more people knew woodland crofting existed? I’ve never been more happy or excited about life. And if you’re swithering, wondering how you’d fare once you launch yourself headfirst from the hamster wheel, remember this: the wheel doesn’t stop turning just because one wee hamster jumps off. There are millions of opportunities to jump back on popping up every day, should you ever want or need to. But if you’re really ready for something new, you won’t look back. What are you waiting for?

You can follow Ros on Twitter @RosNashAuthor

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