Day 2: The next day saw a fresh set of workshops and talks. We kicked off with a talk by Ronnie Eunson, a crofter from Shetland specialising in breeding Shetland Cattle. This was a very engaging talk following Ronnie’s journey from keeping Texel’s and Shetland x Herefordshire cattle to only Shetland cattle and sheep – species ideally suited to the Shetland climate. The journey and research Ronnie underwent to get where he is today were incredible to hear about, and it was really great to meet him and hear more.
We then started our next lot of workshops. I signed up for one run by Becky Shaw, from Scottish Natural Heritage. Here, briefly interrupted by a dash outside to see the solar eclipse, we discussed how food production systems conflict with environmental systems. In our group of roughly 20 we had a good range of folk, including the crofting Elder Ena Macdonald, who is based on North Uist and has been crofting for over 70 years, she was also involved in the work done of the Western Isles as part of the Machair LIFE+ project
Becky surprised me when she asked me to talk a bit about crofting and how the RSPB feel about it and works with crofters – whilst I have been with the RSPB part-time for the last two years, it’s only been as a volunteer! However, I was able to describe the work being done up in Durness between crofters and the RSPB, for corncrakes and great-yellow bumble bees, and the idea of High-Nature Value farming, which was good! We then discussed ways that crofting land use and environmental land use work together, examples such as using seaweed as fertiliser (as is done in Durness and on the Uists) and crofters not using pesticides and weed killers such as Round-Up on their crofts came to light. We also discussed the idea that, by being less intensive, crofters almost act as stewards of their ground, and there is an inter-dependence between the crofter and the ground they look after.
We broke from this session, had a cup of tea, and headed straight into another – this time with a member of Scottish Government. This workshop was more focused on policy and funding, but I can’t tell you much more as my notes have gone AWOL.
In the afternoon of the second day the SCF had organised croft visits for us, so off we went into the Assynt countryside. My group ended up in Clachtoll on Split Rock Croft where we were greeted by crofter Graham Acreman, who showed us around; first visiting the pigs – his litter of Large Whites who will be fattened, sent to Dingwall for slaughter, and sold to the local hotel in Kylesku; then going to see the Highland cattle, who were lovely; then we had a look round the croft itself, discussing the fact that as well as the croft Graham and his wife run a B&B, we discussed using the Common Grazings, and how few crofters make use of this asset, the problems crofters face, such as the weather; and finally finished our visit by going to see Mrs Bramble, an enormous Tamworth sow!
For tea on day two we were treated to a full on feast from the Highland Hog Roast company – absolutely lovely folks, a fantastic service, and above all amazing roast pig!! I also found out later that they themselves are crofters and this is how they have diversified – a reminder to think outside the box!