from Scotlands History
A croft is a small piece of arable land (land that can be used for growing crops). In the 18th century Highlands, it was held by an individual tenant, and it combined a few acres of arable land (the croft) plus access to pasture land for communal grazing of livestock (outfield land).
The crofting system prevailed mainly in the Highlands and Islands. Before the clan system was proscribed after the1745 Jacobite Rebellion, tilling rights as well as grazing rights were all held communally.
In the 19th century, the Napier Commission helped crofters to obtain security of tenure, fixed rents, the right to compensation for improvements, and the right to inherit or assign crofts in the Crofters Act of 1886. The Crofters Act also set up the Crofters Commission to safeguard these rights.
Crofting is a form of land tenure and small-scale food production unique to the Scottish Highlands, the Islands of Scotland, and formerly on the Isle of Man. Within crofting townships, individual crofts are established on the better land, and a large area of poor quality hill ground is shared by all the crofters of the township for grazing.
Crofting is a social system in which small-scale food production plays a defining role. Crofting is characterised by its common working communities, or “townships”. Individual crofts are typically established on 2 – 5 ha of “in-bye” for better quality forage, arable and vegetable production. Each township manages poorer quality hill ground as common grazing for cattle and sheep.
Land use in the crofting counties is constrained by climate, soils and topography. Agriculturally, virtually all of the land in the Highlands and Islands is classified as Severely Disadvantaged in terms of Less Favoured Area Directive, yet these areas receive the lowest LFA payments. Most crofters find it impractical to make a living from crofting agriculture alone; thus, most crofters pursue a number of activities to earn their livelihood.
Despite its challenges, crofting is important to the Highlands and Islands. At March 2002 there were 17,721 crofts, and 12,000 to 13,000 crofters (some crofters have the tenancy of more than one croft or there is croft absenteeism where tenancies are held but crofts are not farmed).
About 30,000 family members lived in crofting households, or around 10% of the population of the Highlands and Islands. Crofting households represented around 30% those in the rural areas of the Highlands, and up to 65% of households in Shetland, the Western Isles and Skye.
There were 770,000 hectares under crofting tenure, roughly 25% of the agricultural land area in the Crofting Counties. Crofters had around 20% of all beef cattle (120,000 head) and 45% of breeding ewes (1.5 million sheep).