An investment plan for Skye and Raasay devised by Highland Council must take account of crofting’s contribution to the social and economic well-being of the islands.
Those were the comments of Roddy Murray, former Western Isles councillor and now the grazings clerk for Tarskavaig in Sleat, who this week voiced his concern that there was no mention of crofting at all in the ‘Skye and Raasay Future’ plan published in August with the full backing of all four local councillors.
He told the Free Press: “There are 61 projects listed in the plan but not a single mention of crofting. Crofting is the basis for so many of the settlements on Skye outwith Portree, Broadford and Kyleakin and this should have been acknowledged.
“There is quite a significant impact from crofting on the economic and social well-being of Skye and Raasay. You only have to look at the 1,300 high quality calves sold for high prices last week in Portree to see that.”
In terms of infrastructure improvements to support crofting, Mr Murray said the auction mart in Portree must be redeveloped to improve parking and animal welfare, and an abattoir facility must be provided so that livestock does not have to be driven to Dingwall.
He added: “We are being told by the Scottish Crofting Federation that there is a huge demand for new crofts.
“To meet that demand we either have to encourage landowners to make this happen or there has to be acquisition of an estate.
“If we want to keep our young people in our communities we need to address the availability of crofts.”
The Scottish Government are guilty of an “abject failure” when it comes to creating new crofts on publicly-owned land, Mr Murray added.
Stung by the criticism, the council said they hoped to “discuss the plan further with organisations like the Crofting Commission” and would be keen to hear from any other interested parties.
A spokeswoman said: “Skye and Raasay Future has been prepared with and by wider representatives of the community across the area.
“It reflects people’s vision and priorities for the future, following feedback gathered through workshops and online consultations held throughout the year.
“In workshop discussions, the important role that crofting plays in the identity and culture of Skye and Raasay communities has been clearly referenced.
“In particular, we draw attention to the references which can be found in the full report and ‘storymap’ at www.highland.gov.uk/skyeraasay.”
Skye councillor John Finlayson said all stakeholders should be involved in “shaping, evaluating and changing” the plan’s priorities and he acknowledged the importance of crofting “in all its guises” across Skye and Raasay.
He added: “Crofting is still a central part of life on Skye and while it is part of our history and culture it will also I hope continue to be a key part of our future and it is an important element of SARF.
“As those who took part in the engagement to create the initial plan agreed, it is important that representatives from the crofting community are fully engaged in the continued development and implementation of the plan and I am confident this will happen.”