A croft is a fenced, enclosed area of land, usually small and arable. A crofter is one who has tenure and use of this land. A croft is usually situated in one of the former counties of Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross-shire, Inverness-shire and Argyll in the north of Scotland, and held subject to the provisions of the Crofting Acts.
A landlord may have many crofts on his estate. The rent paid by the crofter, except in fairly rare circumstances, is only for the bare land of the croft, as the house and any agricultural buildings and infrastructure are provided by the crofter himself. Since 1976 it has been legally possible for a crofter to acquire title to his croft, thus becoming an owner-occupier. He is legally required to live on the croft; otherwise he will be required to himself take a tenant.
The average size of a croft is around 5 hectares, but some are only .5 ha while a few can extend to 50ha of land, plus a share in hill grazing which is held in common with other crofters in a township. Most crofts cannot support a family or give full-time employment, and their tenants have other occupations to provide the main part of their income. Many crofters have diversified into small-scale tourism and off-croft employment ranges from postman to policeman to lorry driver, doctor, teacher, haulage contractor, tele-worker or weaver.
Crofting is a prominent feature of rural parts of the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, its rich history balanced by its promising future. It is about land use, people and the retention of a unique social, cultural and agricultural heritage moreover it plays a vital role in sustaining fragile communities. Crofting has always been important in keeping communities alive as it helps people to live and work in some of the most remote areas of the Highlands and Islands. It also helps keep rural schools and other vital public services operating in these areas.
Crofting has also helped sustain the culture of the Highlands and Islands. The Gaelic language is strongest in many of the crofting areas, and communities throughout Shetland and Orkney retain their Norse links. The worked land provides environmental benefits and a varied habitat for wildlife as traditionally, crofters use low amounts of chemical fertilizers, weed killers and insect sprays. As a result the range of plants is much wider than on more intensively managed areas. The crofting system is a key part of this environment and alongside organisations like Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds crofters work hand in hand to protect these habitats.
All this is generally overseen by two governing bodies. Click the links below for more: