Potential of common grazings highlighted

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The Scottish Crofting Federation’s conference for 2013 “Common Grazings: Utilising Potential”, held in Stornoway, brought the potential of common grazings into sharp focus.

The conference, opened by the Scottish Government’s Deputy Director for Agriculture and Rural Development, David Barnes, explored how the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP), and development initiatives such as community renewable energy projects could help to revive the use of common grazings and realise their huge potential for crofting communities.

Chair of the SCF, Derek Flyn said “Common grazings make up a large proportion of land under crofting tenure, extending to nearly 600,000 hectares. Today they still play an important part in the livelihoods of many crofters and provide a significant amount of public benefit, environmentally as well as aesthetically. But, for a number of contributing factors, common grazings are being under-used and even abandoned in many areas. The conference has been looking at how this vast resource can be utilised, providing income for the crofters who manage them, generating development revenue for crofting communities and delivering public goods.”

SCF’s Vice-chair, Fiona Mandeville added “Common grazings are usually found in areas designated High Nature Value and also have a significant proportion of Scotland’s peat of over 2m in depth. Managing the grazings is therefore very important in environmental terms. Grazing this land in a controlled way protects it, increases biodiversity and keeps it accessible. Crofters need to be paid to provide these public goods, they can’t be expected to provide this service for nothing.”

Mr Flyn continued “There is of course the potential for renewable energy generation, the ‘golden goose’. Whilst undoubtedly this can be of benefit to crofting communities there is currently dominance by large developers, with a relatively tiny amount of benefit coming into crofting communities. We need to see community-owned energy projects and the conference provided a very positive view of how community projects are being helped and what a huge benefit to communities it can be.”

Norman Leask, SCF’s ‘man in Brussels’ concluded “But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that grazings enable very high quality animals to be produced for the Scottish livestock industry and for the high-end market. The CAP reform which is taking place at the moment has the capability of reversing the “retreat from the hills”, the loss of grazing stock. The golden goose of renewables is alluring, but it is only a part of the picture. The CAP has to ensure that livestock is kept on the hills through provision of meaningful payment so that crofters can remain in these remote, fragile areas providing the livestock and the public goods needed for all of our well-being.