A scheme which has planted over one million trees on Scottish crofts has been extended beyond its initial five year phase – and now aims to plant two million more.

Nearly 300 crofters have created woodland with help from the Croft Woodland Project, which is a partnership between Woodland Trust Scotland, Scottish Crofting Federation, Point and Sandwick Trust, Scottish Forestry, Coigach and Assynt Living Landscapes, Argyll Small Woods Coop, Orkney Woodland Project, Shetland Amenity Trust and the Communities Housing Trust.

Crofter Bill Ritchie, who chaired the scheme’s advisory group in the first five year phase, said: "Crofters benefit from increased shelter for animals and in some cases their homes; increased biodiversity on the croft, and some mitigation for the carbon dioxide emissions from crofting activity. It has been a win-win situation for everyone involved."

Donald John MacSween, who is chairing the advisory group for the second phase running to 2025, said: "The project has been a huge success in every crofting area, and it is great that it has now been extended for another five years. The success has been due to knowledgeable staff, ease of access to the scheme, and good partnership working across the Highlands and Islands. The foundations are sound and I am so pleased that it will continue for another five years, and hopefully for many more after that."

Crofting has had little tradition of woodland management. In fact, until the 1991 Crofter Forestry Act, woodland ownership and management rights were reserved for landowners, not their crofting tenants.

“When we started out, planting on crofts had reached a low point,” said Woodland Trust Scotland's Eleanor Garty, who is about to hand over management of the team to current Argyll and Lochaber advisor Iona Hyde.

“After the Crofter Forestry Act there was a flurry of woodland creation, but by 2015 it was clear that extra support was needed to help crofters overcome the financial and technical challenges of establishing trees in what are often very harsh conditions.”

READ MORE: FLS acquires former research farm site​

Croft woodland project officer Iona Hyde commented: “Thanks to the project there is now a tradition of woodland creation and management beginning to take shape across the crofting counties. Knowledge and skills are growing with it. Society is increasingly realising we need more woodland to fight back against climate change and biodiversity loss. Crofters are a million trees ahead of the game and we hope to see twice that again in our second phase.”

Scottish Forestry’s Highlands and Islands Conservator, John Risby, said: “Crofting provides significant opportunities for more tree planting across the Highlands and Islands. To reach the Scottish Government target for woodland expansion we need everyone to participate, small woods are just as important as large ones, and ensure they can access the grant funding available across Scotland. Recognising some of the challenges, we have a specific woodland creation option for the Northern and Western Isles and have recently made this available throughout the crofting counties. We are delighted that Woodland Trust will lead the partners in a further five years of the croft woodlands project.“

The Croft Woodland Project provides:

• free advice to crofters, smallholders and common grazings committees;

• help to overcome financial barriers;

• training and educational resources;

• awareness raising among funders and policymakers.

In the first five years of the project, from 2015–2020, the project:

• supported the planting of over a million native trees in the crofting counties;

• helped bring over 1000ha of woodland into sustainable management;

• held the first ever Croft Woodlands Conference;

• published the Highlands and Islands Woodlands Handbook;

• set up a dedicated loan fund for croft woodland projects.

Plans for the project's phase two to 2025 include:

• planting two million more native trees;

• collaborating with nurseries to secure supplies of local provenance trees, especially suited to the region;

• piloting MyForest Creation, a user-friendly tool for developing new woodland proposals, with the Sylva Foundation and Scottish Forestry;

• working with the insurance industry to secure affordable woodland cover for small woodlands;

• championing croft woodlands in relation to post-Brexit rural funding;

• exploring the potential for carbon income from croft woodlands.

This story first appeared in The Scottish Farmer.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £69 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link: https://www.forestryjournal.co.uk/subscribe/

Thanks – and stay safe.