Crofting is a system of land holding unique to Scotland which came into being in the context of absentee landlords and the clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. A croft is a small land holding, of which the crofter is the tenant, and the estate landowner is the landlord. The tenancy is secure and heritable, and subject to regulation by the Crofting Commission. Tenants also have a standing right to buy their crofts, whereby they become both the tenant and the landlord, otherwise known as owner-occupied. The North Harris Trust has a policy which outlines the process by which crofts can be bought and this can be found here.
The traditional crofting way of life is one of small scale mixed agriculture involving both animals and cultivation. It is often the case that individual crofts are too small and poor to support a family and so income must be supplemented by other activities. Crofting has also traditionally been a social system characterised by common working, principally through shared rights by a number of crofts in larger areas of common grazing land, mainly used for livestock.
Crofting is facing mounting challenges across the Highlands and Islands, with fewer young people staying in the area who might otherwise be interested in taking on the work of the family croft, and difficulties in accessing tenancies as many are being sold on the open market for prices beyond the reach of local people. This has the effect that in many areas, only a minority of crofts are actively worked. Although crofting is still the predominant land use in North Harris, the number of livestock has dropped dramatically in recent years and only a minority of crofts are now stocked with sheep or cattle.
On North Harris there are 132 crofts and 22 common grazings covering around half of the estate. There are 40 crofts on the island of Scalpay, and a single common grazings. Outside Tarbert, most inhabitants live on, or are the tenant of, a croft.
Please click the image below for a map of the estate showing Deer Forest, Common Grazings and In-bye Croft areas.