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Support for crofting communities
Scotland's Environment Minister, Michael Russell, has outlined his positive vision of crofting in the 21st century in his first major keynote speech on the subject, made today to the annual conference of the Scottish Crofter's Foundation.
Describing crofting as having "a vital role to play in sustaining vibrant populations in Scotland's less accessible areas", Mr Russell has indicated his backing for the work being done by the Committee of Inquiry into Crofting, but he has also pledged new resources now, including an additional £100,000 per year to help improve quality of life in the crofting communities by enabling access to the new Scottish Rural Development Programme.
In addition, and in response to strong representations from the Scottish Crofting Foundation, he has also signalled to crofters that the previously threatened crofting bull hire arrangements will now be continued into 2008 so that detailed evaluation of future options can be undertaken.
Mr Russell said:
"Crofting has a vital role to play in sustaining vibrant populations in Scotland's less accessible areas, in maintaining thriving communities and enabling their populations to flourish.
"I want to see more communities pursuing whether ownership of the land on which they live and work is right for them. I want to see invigorated, viable communities with adequate infrastructure and quality livestock.
"Communities must also be skilled and ready to bid effectively for new style development contracts under the rural development plan which should come on stream at the end of this year."
To achieve his plans, the Minister will give the Crofters Commission £100,000 per annum to help crofting communities prepare applications for Rural Development Contracts. He has also asked the Crofters Commission to formally appraise the investment needed to modernise the government's stud farms; and asked the Crofting Committee of Inquiry to advise on whether a scheme of the nature of the Crofters Cattle Quality Improvement Scheme is the best way of achieving the Government's vision for crofting.
£100,000 per annum is being made available to help crofting communities take full advantage of opportunities to bid for rural community investment projects under the Scottish Rural Development Programme.
The Crofters Cattle Quality Improvement Scheme has in the past provided for the loan of quality bulls to groups of crofters for the purposes of improving local livestock. Costs to crofters are currently £500 per bull plus transport and insurance.
State aid rules allow agricultural de-minimis payments totalling €3,000 over three years per beneficiary. It is anticipated that from January 1, the EC will approve a higher limit of €6,000 per beneficiary over three years.
The stud farms are at Balrobert, Knocknagael and Beechwood - all near Inverness. Collectively the farms extend to 353 hectares, and provide facilities for the overwintering and housing of bulls available through the scheme.