I have a good friend who has been crofting for over 30 years in Sutherland. Recently I questioned him about his relationship to landscapes, crofting practices, land ownership and statutory bodies in light of my reading the Mark Toogood chapter from the book Decolonizing Nature.
He (let’s call him D) has always had a complicated relationship with his neighbours as he has often had progressive attitudes towards crofting, though they are in many ways closer than his neighbours think. D relates a funny story about asking someone if they planted by the moon, they responded with some incredulity “of course not we plant by the tides!”.
Anyway I asked D about his relationship with SNH for example and he says he doesn’t have a problem with them or most other statutory organisations. He has worked with them to protect rare flora and increase biodiversity without any problems, though he says some of his neighbours seem to view any initiative which is presented to them with suspicion, unless it involves getting money for doing very little. He gives an example of an attempt to develop better muir burn practices in narrow strips which was designed not only to support better nature conservation but also help by saving time in the long term. D says there are still those that think dropping a match in the heather and heading to the pub is a sort of God given right of the crofter. There are less people to manage the heather burn these days and it is difficult to see where it will all end up, is natural wildfire an acceptable part of a future landscape? Maybe so but without well managed strip burning this is where it will end up whether we want it or not. Another comment of D’s regarding community buyouts was that he would prefer the benign dictatorship of the sutherland estate rather than an ineffective chaotic democracy built around community activists, not that he was against buyouts in principle just the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Lastly I was interested in a comment he made about peat cutting that I’ve heard before from another crofter that troubled me. D says they felt there was a real cultural pressure to stop cutting peats for their croft. I don’t know where this pressure is coming from but I would have thought small scale hand cutting of peat for personal fuel use was a sustainable approach. What is the alternative? LPG? Oil? Wind farms? I am perplexed.
To contextuaIise this all I should mention that D supports native tree afforestation, wind power, reducing sheep numbers and cooperative community action.