Crofters need help to slow down rural depopulation

Scotland’s crofters have come out in support of proposals to introduce a rural migration pilot scheme, but have warned that addressing the reasons young people leave the countryside would be more effective at stemming rural depopulation.

Scottish Crofting Foundation chief executive Patrick Krause.
Scottish Crofting Foundation chief executive Patrick Krause.

The Scottish Crofting Federation said that it would welcome people into the country’s Highlands and Islands. But measures such as addressing the lack of regulation on the sale of crofting houses as holiday homes, improving transport and internet infrastructure deemed “a disgrace to a ‘developed’ country” and controlling the exploding wild goose populations which were destroying grazings should be given priority.

Earlier this week Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said that the Scottish Government planned to press ahead with exploring three options for a rural migration pilot scheme. But the SCF said that while it backed the call for visa scheme to encourage immigration, it added that addressing the causes of rural depopulation had to come first.

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And it said that unlike immigration policy which was reserved to Westminster, ScotGov had the powers to address these issues.

“We support the idea of the proposed visa scheme and welcome anything that encourages working people to come to live in Scotland’s rural areas,” said Patrick Krause, chief executive of the crofters’ federation.

“But we question whether enough is being done to address the things that force our young people to leave - issues that people coming in will face too.”

Krause said that housing was in short supply in remote areas and the cost was prohibitive to those who lived there.

“Only those who have substantial capital behind them can compete on the market, so inevitably young folk are excluded. Houses are being bought as holiday or retirement homes; is this the vision for the ‘Highland and Islands, ‘the playground of Scotland’?”

Claiming that crofting was the backbone of most remote rural communities, he contended that this unique regulated system was being destroyed by an open market, compounded by a lack of the regulations being properly exercised.

“Crofts are being bought by individuals, and even remotely-based companies wishing to exploit them as holiday venues.

“Young people who want to stay and croft cannot do so, so leave,” he said.

But he also added that island crofting was being forced into extinction by wild geese, populations which he said were exploding under the government policy to not control them.

“We need help for small businesses, as these are what drive local economies. Yet the enterprise network was dismantled, start-up grants withdrawn and the infrastructure businesses depend on – transport and internet – are a disgrace to a ‘developed’ country. Employment opportunities are restricted for those trying to stay, let alone for incoming folk.

“Yes, welcome to families and skilled people who want to come and contribute to our rural communities, but government has to make a much more significant effort to address the long-standing problems first to make it practicable.”

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