Woodland crofts are only available in the crofting counties. There are two main opportunities – individual woodland crofts, and community-based woodland crofts.
How do I get a woodland croft?
If you have the means to do so, the most practical route to obtaining an individual woodland croft is to a purchase a woodland and then apply to the Crofters Commission to create a croft from it. This is because, as yet, pre-existing woodland crofts are not readily available.
If you are unable to do this, your best opportunity is to get involved in a community-based woodland crofts project. This could be by applying for the tenancy of a woodland croft in an existing community project, or helping to stimulate a new project in an area where none yet exists.
How can a community establish woodland crofts?
In principle, the mechanism is the same as for an individual: to acquire a woodland and then apply to the Crofters Commission to create a number of crofts from it.
There are, however, options available to appropriately constituted community groups (but not individuals) to help enable them to acquire assets in general, including woodland.
These include purchase under the community right to buy provisions of Land Reform legislation, and acquisition or leasing under the Forestry Commission Scotland’s National Forest Land Scheme (NFLS).
How can a community raise funds for a woodland crofts project?
Financing a woodland crofts project is likely to involve a combination of measures. Grants for acquisition and development are available from private trusts and some public funders, such as Highlands & Islands Enterprise.
Sale of timber ready for harvest and contributions from beneficiaries - in the form of croft entry fees and/or the sale of affordable housing plots - may also be important, though the timing may require bridging loan finance in the short term.
Community fundraising, whether through 'traditional' fundraising activities or using alternative community investment models, will be essential both to raise money and demonstrate local support for the project.
How can my community maximise the public benefits of woodland crofts?
Communities usually propose woodland crofts to meet a specific need in their community, and will apply for approvals, and funding, for purchase on that basis.
In order to deliver those objectives, and the wider benefits of woodland crofts recognised by government, various safeguards may be necessary to protect the public interest.
How does the community select tenants for the crofts?
The community should allocate crofts through a fair and transparent selection process. It is appropriate for the community to draw up selection criteria which prioritise certain categories of applicant, to reflect local needs and circumstances. These, however, should be reasonable and not weighted to such a degree that other criteria become irrelevant.
For more information on the selection of tenants see the guidance note Woodland Crofts Allocation (PDF 55k).
Will the tenants have the right to buy their woodland croft?
Most existing croft tenants do have the right under crofting law to buy their crofts at 15 times the annual rent – usually a very small sum.
In the situation where a community landowner has purchased woodland at market value to create woodland crofts, often supported by public funding, it would be less appropriate for the tenant then to be able to acquire the croft under such terms – this would represent a significant private gain.
It is therefore expected that in most situations community landowners will withhold the right to buy from new tenancies. This ability to withhold certain rights, including right to buy, is contained within the provisions of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993, as amended by the Crofting Reform etc. Act 2007.
What other conditions might a community landlord apply to my tenancy?
All croft tenancies are let subject to statutory conditions defined in crofting law (Schedule 2 of the Act).
These conditions can be varied, however, either by modifying them or introducing new conditions. Depending on the nature of these changes, prior approval for them may be required from the Scottish Land Court. Some changes – such as withholding the right to buy as described above – are already included in the Act and can simply be notified to the Crofters Commission.
The ability to introduce new conditions can be used by community landlords to safeguard the public interest. One area where this is important will be to ensure continued management of the woodland.
It is likely that woodland crofts will be let by community landlords with a Minute of Agreement, as part of the tenancy conditions, to agree use of the land as woodland as a 'purposeful use (a croft must either be cultivated or put to another 'purposeful use').
The effect of this is that should a tenant break this agreement they will be in breach of the conditions of their tenancy, and the community landlord can take action against them. This provides stronger protection for the woodland than that offered by forestry regulation alone.