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Crofting is a form of land tenure[1] and small-scale food production unique to the Scottish Highlands and the Islands of Scotland. Within crofting townships, individual crofts are established on the better land, and a large area of poor quality hill ground is shared by all the crofters of the township for grazing.



Crofting is a social system in which small-scale food production plays an important and unifying role. Crofting is characterised by its common working and thereby strong communities, or “townships”. Individual crofts are typically established on 2 – 5 ha of “in-bye” for better quality forage, arable and vegetable production. Each township manages poorer quality hill ground as common grazing for cattle and sheep.


A form of land tenure and small-scale food production unique to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, it evolved from a turbulent period in the areas’ history, the Highland Clearances, largely as a means of sustaining populations. It is found predominantly in the Western and Northern isles and in the coastal fringes of the western and northern Scottish mainland.

The Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act of 1886 provided for security of tenure, a key issue as most crofters remain tenants. The Act encouraged tenants to improve the land ground under their control, as it ensured that the control could be transferred within families and on to future generations.

Challenges of crofting

Land use in the crofting counties is constrained by climate, soils and topography. Agriculturally, virtually all of the land in the Highlands and Islands is classified as Severely Disadvantaged in terms of Less Favoured Area Directive, yet these areas receive the lowest LFA payments. Most crofters find it impractical to make a living from crofting agriculture alone; thus, most crofters pursue a number of activities to earn their livelihood.

Importance to the region

Despite its challenges, crofting is important to the Highlands and Islands. At March 2002 there were 17,721 crofts, and 12,000 to 13,000 crofters (some crofters have the tenancy of more than one croft). About 30,000 family members lived in crofting households, or around 10% of the population of the Highlands and Islands. Crofting households represented around 30% those in the rural areas of the Highlands, and up to 65% of households in Shetland, the Western Isles and Skye. There were 770,000 hectares under crofting tenure, roughly 25% of the agricultural land area in the Crofting Counties. Crofters had around 20% of all beef cattle (120,000 head) and 45% of breeding ewes (1.5 million sheep).


  1. ^ Chambers's encyclopaedia: a dictionary of universal knowledge for the people. Volume 3 (revised ed.). page 575: W. and R. Chambers. 1901. Retrieved August 2009.  

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