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New network set up for Hebrides' young crofters

Sarah Campbell and lamb
Sarah Campbell juggles her work as a nurse with crofting [Sarah Campbell]

A new group has been set up to support young crofters across the Western Isles and encourage more people into the industry.

Crofting is a system of land tenure and farming unique to Scotland, and has had its own legislation for almost 140 years.

About 33,000 people live on crofts across the Hebrides, Highlands, Argyll and Northern Isles.

More than 200 people turned out for the launch of the new Western Isles Young Crofters.

The group aims to create a network of contacts for people involved in crofting along the 160-mile (257km) length of the Outer Hebrides.

Western Isles Young Crofters was launched at an event in a Stornoway auction mart and the group already has its own line in merchandise, including T-shirts and hats.

Sarah Campbell, 24, has been involved in crofting since she was a child.

She would spend her Easter school holidays helping her father and grandfather lambing ewes on the tiny island of Pabbay.

Ms Campbell continues to work on a croft in south Harris, while also working as a nurse.

She said: "Crofting is something I was brought up doing and really enjoy.

"It's just good to get out into the fresh air and work with the sheep."

Sarah Campbell and lambs
Ms Campbell grew up in a crofting family [Sarah Campbell]

Ms Campbell has welcomed the setting up of Western Isles Young Crofters.

She said: "It is a great opportunity for us to have a support network.

"It lets you know you are not the only one doing it or having difficulties."

Ms Campbell said in recent years crofting had seen a decline in livestock numbers, and also older generations having to bear the responsibilities for keeping the industry going.

But she said the launch event had shown there were young people interested in crofting.

"It is important to keep that alive and create opportunities for people to get into it and support people to keep it going," she added.

Fiona Maciver, 29, crofts in the Lochs area of Lewis, and works full-time as a supervisor in the care sector.

She has also been involved in crofting since a young age.

"A lot more younger people are taking an interest and I think there are number of reasons for that," she said.

"I think it is a bit of novelty now while years ago it was an expectation for people to take over the family croft and working them.

"Social media also has a lot to do with it.

"There are a lot of influencers out there who are farming or crofting. It is good to see how other people are crofting and farming."

She said increasing interest in food security - access to sufficient nutritious food - was another factor.

Ms Maciver said crofting was hard work and it could be tricky at times balancing busy times, such as the lambing season, with her full-time job.

In numbers:. Crofting [ 1.8 million Acres of land in Scotland is under crofting regulation ] [ 13,500 Crofters ],[ 33,000 People in total live on croft land ], Source: Source: Crofting Commission, Image: Sheep grazing on machair
In numbers:. Crofting [ 1.8 million Acres of land in Scotland is under crofting regulation ] [ 13,500 Crofters ],[ 33,000 People in total live on croft land ], Source: Source: Crofting Commission, Image: Sheep grazing on machair

The launch was supported by Lewis and Harris Sheep Producers Association and attended by members of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs.

One of the organisers, Ally Williamson, said: “In the last few years we have seen more and more young people attending sales, shows and events.

"There is obviously a growing interest in crofting but there is no dedicated organisation for them to get involved in.

"This event was about exploring demand for setting up such a group and the turnout has certainly shown that demand is there."

Ayrshire sheep shearer and BBC Landward presenter Cammy Wilson, who also took part, said: “This is the third time I’ve been to the Western Isles and one of the things I think is really special about the place is the sense of community, that was certainly on display at the launch event."

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