THE proportion of women crofters has more than doubled in less than a decade, according to a new report.

Figures from a new Scottish Government survey of the sector show women accounted for 30% of crofters in 2022, compared to just 13% in 2014.

Meanwhile younger crofters are turning to new activities such as forestry and woodland creation, glamping and camping and peatland restoration.

The report, which looks at the economic condition of crofting between 2019-2022, noted that in general crofters tend to be male, living in a two-person household and aged over 55.

In 2014, men accounted for 87% of crofters, but that had fallen to 68% by 2022.

The proportion of female crofters has been increasing over that time, rising from 13% in 2014 to 26% in 2018.

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Being brought up in a crofting family remains the most common reason for becoming involved.

Yvonne White, who is in her sixties, helped out with a croft owned by her mother’s family on the Isle of Skye for most of her life.

After working away from the island, she came back around ten years ago to croft full-time.

She said: “My mother's family had been crofters on the Isle of Skye for hundreds of years. I was interested and no-one else of my generation was interested, so I ended up with the croft.

"My brothers weren’t interested, they couldn’t tell the front from the back end of a cow.

“I've never experienced any sexism within the crofting community in North Skye - when you're at the market, your animals are judged on the standard of them, not whether you're male or female.”

White, who looks after Highland cattle and sheep, said she believes the reason more women are involved in crofting than farming is due to cultural factors.

"The attitude towards women in crofting is cultural because - certainly in my family - my grandfather had to go away to work," she said. 

“So a lot of the time the women were running the place for a good part of the year.

“I think there's something embedded in the crofting culture, because women have always been part of it and played an equal role.

“Another thing is crofters pass crofts to women – this croft was going to who would make a good job of it and who was interested. It wasn’t based on gender.”

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White said crofting encompasses a wide range of activities and there was increasing diversification.

“Some people do hens, other people are doing a bit of tourism - it’s good that new people have come in and opened it up,” she added.

“I think it's something you either like or don’t.

“A lot of it is the same as with farming - it is working with the land, it is working with the environment and trying to improve it for people who are coming behind you.”

The report also noted overall crofting remains “economically challenging”, with a third of those surveyed making no income from activities in the last twelve months.

Most crofters agreed that it is not economically viable without supplementing income from other activities, with the average income from crofting at £4538.

But when combining both crofting and non-crofting activities, the average income rose to £29,810, higher than the median Scottish household income of £27,716.

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Raising livestock, growing crops and forestry and woodland creation remained the top three most common activities for crofters.

There is also a growing trend towards diversifying into other areas such as bed and breakfast and holiday let accommodation, glamping and camping and renewable energy production.

Donald MacKinnon, chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), suggested with only one person able to be the registered tenant of a croft, it may now be more common for women to put their names down.

“It is a good thing to see this happening – it has certainly always been a feature of crofting that women have been the tenants of the croft in the past,” he said.

“In my own family, I inherited the croft from my granny and my mother is the tenant of the other croft in our family.

“It is nothing unusual for crofting, but it is good to see the ratio getting closer to balance.”

However he said the report had failed to examine the issue of how accessible crofting is for new entrants.

“Something we have been saying for a long time now is how the price of crofts is actually excluding people from that market,” he said.

“We may be seeing some new entrants to crofting, but people in crofting communities and people with normal incomes from across Scotland and the UK are still excluded from entering that system.

“We would like to see access widened to more people in the country.”

Writing in the introduction to the report, Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural affairs and Islands, said: “The Scottish Government is committed to securing the future of crofting and continuing to support crofters to live productive and sustainable lives on our land, and retain vibrant rural communities across our Highlands and Islands.

“With 21,394 crofts and 16,527 crofters recorded in the Crofting Commission's Register of Crofts, it is clear that crofting contributes to population retention in our rural and island areas.”