So, what has crofting ever done for biodiversity?

The pressures of intensive farming have huge implications on biodiversity. In contrast, Scotland’s biodiversity strategy recognises the value of crofting and here we look at these benefits.

Croft in Shetland, Northern Isles Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

A croft in Shetland. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The term ‘biodiversity’ has become a buzz word over the last few years. It sounds complicated, but ‘biodiversity’ simply means ‘the diversity of living things’.  The term includes the less ‘high profile’ groups of species such as insects, fungi, bacteria, lichens and mosses.  Measuring biodiversity is important because, in simple terms, having a lot of biodiversity implies a healthy environment.

Biodiversity benefits everyone. ©beckyduncanphotographyltd/SNH

Biodiversity benefits everyone. ©beckyduncanphotographyltd/SNH

Scotland has a biodiversity strategy, a policy document published by Scottish Government and based upon European and global strategies.  To ensure that our biodiversity strategy is achieved, the Scottish Government has published Scotland’s Biodiversity – a Route Map to 2020. This document sets out targets, essentially milestones – hence the name – to be reached by 2020.  That is the year when the next round of global biodiversity targets is due to be met.

So, back to the question, what has biodiversity got to do with crofting?  Lots of different species rely upon crofting for ‘a living’, and a lot of crofters rely upon lots of species to help their living.  Consider the Scottish tourism industry.  Scottish Natural Heritage’s economic impact study Assessing the economic impacts of nature based tourism in Scotland estimated that nature-based tourism is worth £1.4billion to Scotland’s economy (that’s approximately 40% of all tourism spending).  Placing a value, be it monetary or intrinsic, upon biodiversity is recognition that Scotland has natural capital.  It should be no surprise that one of the milestones is to increase investment in natural capital.

Lapwing-D0344.jpg

A lapwing on the South Uist machair. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Route Map recognises that one of the key pressures on biodiversity is land use intensification. Crofting however is low intensity.  That is why crofts are often full of wild flowers and can support nesting lapwings or help protect bumblebees.  It should be no surprise therefore that crofting areas already contribute a lot of Scotland’s natural capital.  And that natural capital is worth cultivating.  The Route Map also identifies which species should be the priority for our help. Removing American mink from the Western Isles to help birds, developing conservation projects for curlew, corncrake, corn bunting and the great yellow bumblebee are all  priority species associated with crofting areas.  It should be no surprise that some agri-environment options have been tailored for some of these species.

The answer therefore to the original question, what has crofting ever done for Biodiversity, is: a lot.

This blog is taken from an article by SNH’s Iain Macdonald in The Crofter, the magazine of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

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