english | gàidhlig  
The launch of Crofting Connections
Posted: 05/05/2010

Pam Rodway, project co-ordinator, reports

Crofting Connections is a three-year project to establish links between schools and their crofting heritage in the crofting counties of Argyll, Highland, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

Crofting Connections was launched at the SCF gathering in Grantown in September 2009. Our four ‘ambassador’ head teachers from the pilot project Planting to Plate, joined by Margaret Bennett, patron of Crofting Connections, and Steve Carter from Lionacleit High School in Benbecula, addressed the gathering of crofters. Each described the huge benefit to the schools of placing crofting at the centre of the study of science, social studies, food education, health and well-being, cultural and natural heritage, community languages and dialects and expressive arts.

Ready to Plant Potatoes - Kilchoan Primary SchoolLochs making raised bed
Crofting Connections is welcomed by many schools as an appropriate way of delivering the new Curriculum for Excellence, for pupils at each of the four levels from primary to junior high school.

The curriculum needs to include space for learning beyond subject boundaries, so that learners can make connections between different areas of learning.

Through interdisciplinary activities of this kind, young people can develop their organisational skills, creativity, teamwork and the ability to apply their learning in new and challenging contexts.

A Curriculum for Excellence: Progress and Proposals

The programme of work is designed to deepen the links between schools and their crofting heritage. Our young people will learn in the context of their own natural, social and cultural environment.

Crofting was founded on collective working and kinship, originating from turbulent historical events and challenging environmental conditions, to create a rich natural and cultural heritage unique to each community. Much of the UK’s high nature value farmland is found in crofting areas.

The crofter has always worked closely with the natural environment, mostly using low-input, low density agricultural and fishing practices, to provide food, shelter, energy and clothing for the family and the local community.

The agricultural and fishing ‘improvements’ of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought both benefits and challenges to the traditional crofting way of life.

These are now being re-examined in the 21st century, where traditional crofting communities are helping to solve issues such as:

  • an ageing population – by retaining and attracting young people to remote rural areas, with the creation of new crofts, provision of new entrants scheme and training for crofters through the SCF;
  • living with and mitigating climate change – as we face the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all aspects of our lives with the help of local Powerdown projects;
  • intensive farming and fishing – looking at less intensive, welfare-friendly and climate-friendly farming and fishing practices to lessen the impact of food production on methane emissions, environmental degradation and dwindling wild fish stocks;
  • changing taste –  people are looking for a return to the distinctive local flavours from traditional food, such as Shetland and North Ronaldsay mutton, beremeal bannocks, heritage tatties, hand-made cheese and honey from heather and machair, as reflected in the launch of the SCF Crofting Produce Mark;
  • re-localising solutions – with the establishment of local community groups and development trusts seeking more local and ecological solutions to the provision of food, housing and energy.

Planting potatoes on the croft - Lochs SchoolThe Lochs School polytunnel

Schools in each area will be supported by a local group with expertise in education, crofting, community building, cultural heritage and the natural environment.

The collective outcome of the project over three years will be a varied and complex picture of crofting past, present and future throughout the Highlands and Islands from the point of view of the younger generation in over fifty communities. It will be presented through harvest feasts and written work, video and audio recordings, film and drama, painting and photography, powerpoint presentations and a project website, in a celebration of the talent and enthusiasm of these young people.

The legacy of the project will be an informed younger generation which will contribute to shaping a vibrant and resilient future for these crofting communities appropriate to the needs of the 21st century.

“Our vision is of growing, prosperous, inclusive and sustainable crofting communities which enjoy the capacity and the power to develop their own strategic plans and to pursue these with vigour subject to legitimate national interests. Crofters will be flexible and adaptable to change, building on their heritage to seize new opportunities, but essentially forward looking.”

Committee of Inquiry on Crofting, final report, 2008