The new vice-chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has promised to put the needs of crofters right onto the agenda of decision-makers at every level.
Donald Mackinnon of Arnol was appointed vice-chair of the SCF at a board meeting in Inverness on Friday 18thJanuary.
He’s already been a director for two years, combining the role with his day-job as a development worker for Carloway Community Association and, of course, with the running of his own croft.
Donald described the SCF as ‘a very political organisation’ and said that it was: ‘the only organisation solely dedicated to campaigning for crofters and fighting for the future of crofting.’
He said: “I want to see theSCFreinvigorated locally and to get ideas from local crofters, which can be fed to whatever level of government we need to approach to make a difference.”
Lobbying in Edinburgh and in London are within the SCF’s remit, and the process starts with a public meeting in Stornoway Town Hall on Thursday 7th February. On the agenda will be urgent issues facing crofting right now, with Brexit at the very top.
Donald said: “It is a critical time of change for crofting, with a number of threats. The theme of the meeting is ‘future challenges for crofting’ and Brexit, with the issues of access to markets that come with it, will be top of the agenda. The fact that so much of our lamb is
exported makes this a very significant issue.”
Alongside that, February’s meeting will look at the way in which crofters in the Western Isles interact with wildlife and what impact that has on the way of life and economics of crofting. Geese are a principle concern in the southern isles and, in Lewis and Harris, there are increasing concerns about deer.
“We also have a relatively new problem with sea eagles, especially in Harris and Lochs,” said Donald. “In some areas now we are seeing the number of lambs weaned off rough grazing decline dramatically.
"There can be a number of reasons for that, but predation by sea eagles is clearly evidenced and we need to look at the existing compensation scheme and engage with Scottish Natural Heritage on management.”
Lobbying SNH, Scottish Government and other public bodies is the role of SCF and Donald is keen to make sure all crofters know that the organisation is working for them.
He said: “I want to show crofters what the SCF can do for them. Whatever it is that causes a concern, we can represent that to whoever makes a difference – but that only works if we hear from them what the concerns are.”
On Monday 18th February the Scottish Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire, is due to visit Lewis to study the situation for crofters as part of an inquiry into the future of Scottish agricultural policy after Brexit. (The timing is subject to disruption of the Parliamentary schedule.)
The visit will be hosted by SCF vice-chair Donald Mackinnon and will begin with a private breakfast meeting for committee members and invited crofters at the Crown Hotel in Stornoway.
The committee will then be taken to meet crofters on the Westside – Donald Macsween at North Dell, Kenny and Lesley Matheson at Brue Highlanders and Sandy Granville of Hebridean Mutton in Tolsta Chaolais. All three crofters export food products to the UK mainland.
The emphasis of the fact-finding tour will, according to Donald, be to “demonstrate the diversity of crofting in the islands and to show how hard it is to continue food production on the land.”
A public meeting at Stornoway Town Hall will be open to all crofters on that evening, beginning at 6pm and offering the chance for crofters to speak about their own experiences and put questions to the committee.
In advance of the visit, a statement from the committee said: “The Isle of Lewis has a strong crofting tradition stretching since the 1800s. The practice of crofting is unique to Scotland and crofters face many challenges arising from the remote locations they work in and land reform issues. The Committee is interested to hear suggestions for how it might feed these concerns into its ongoing and future inquiries. The meeting will begin at 6pm and everyone is welcome to attend – registrations should be made through an Eventbrite link on the Committee’s website." Committee’s website: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/scottish-affairs-committee/