Kilfinan Community Forest( KCFC) came into community ownership in 2010. An integral part of the vision was to create a truly working forest rooted in sustainable ethics. The community has established 10 woodland crofts on former sitka spruce plantation as part of a process of restoring the land and regenerating community. Community ownership and woodland crofting are two models of land reform in Scotland that offer the opportunity to redress the balance of land ownership, destructive land management models and bring people back into relationship with the land and living sustainably.

Why Woodland Crofts?

KCFC have successfully created three woodland crofts and a second wave of crofts is currently being created. There is potential for further land being made available for additional crofts as the felling of the timber crop continues. Why did KCFC chose to develop woodland crofts?

The Scottish Government has committed to create new crofts across the crofting counties in Scotland, recognising the potential for crofting to help create sustainable rural communities. KCFC are successfully combining crofting, woodlands and community ownership in a new model that allows the integration of these systems.

Crofting is a form of land tenure exclusive to the ‘crofting counties’ of Scotland in the Highlands and west coast of Scotland. A croft is simply a small parcel of land which is leased to a tenant. It is highly regulated, which does mean that both landowners and tenants are protected and have clarity about their rights and responsibilities.  This unique form of tenancy was fought for by impoverished tenants of Highland estates in the 19th century and has played an important part in helping small rural communities survive.

Most woodland in Scotland is regulated by Scottish Forestry (formerly the Forestry Commission). When trees are felled, and how and when land is replanted, has to be agreed in advance in the form of a Forest Development Plan. KCFC has a plan that covers all the Acharossan forest. This includes the land that is being crofted. So far, the crofts have been created on land where the existing woodland has already been felled. By taking on a tenancy, the crofters are agreeing to replant trees where they have been felled.

Giving the communities the right to purchase land and buildings has been an important part of the Scottish Government’s land reform strategy and has allowed communities across Scotland to purchase and manage land as well as shops, housing and whole estates.  Access to land is an issue across Scotland due to historic land ownership patterns – Scotland has one of the most unequal patterns of landownership in the world. The Scottish Land Commission’s report in 2019 looks at the pattern of land ownership in Scotland and highlights some of the problems this causes.  However, as the report notes community ownership on its own does not necessarily solve these problems, it depends on how the land is managed.

Crofting works well in conjunction with community ownership. It allows individuals and families access to land and gives them security, whilst ownership is retained by the community.  The way crofting is regulated, and the tenancy agreements that KCFC has created, means that tenants can’t make a profit from selling the land or tenancy. This means the land remains owned by the community and whilst the crofters can make a living by working on the land, they can’t simply make a profit by speculating on an increase in the land value.  

Community owned woodland crofts provide one model for creating sustainable rural communities.

KCFC’s yields from crofting

The creation of woodland crofts was identified as a key part of the project when it was initially proposed that the community buy the Acharossan forest. It was clear that woodland crofts could satisfy two of the needs that were a priority for the community: the need for housing and the need for local employment. It is clear why these were identified as priorities – both are vital for creating a sustainable rural community.

One of the key aims of KCFC is to create sustainable employment. There is also a lack of access to land for anyone wishing to start a business. The creation of crofts allows access to land for a wide variety of different business models. In the past many crofters have only received part of their income directly from their croft (see The Making of the Crofting Community by James Hunter for a history of crofting in Scotland). The is also be true for the crofters at KCFC because the parcels of land are relatively small, have relatively poor soil and generating an income from trees is a long term project. However, the crofters have submitted a wide variety of innovative business plans combining woodlands with ideas such as horticulture, animals, herb growing, mushroom cultivation and education. By providing access to land KCFC is able to allow such enterprises to develop.

Many households across Scotland have difficulty accesses suitable, affordable housing due to the high cost of housing compared to incomes. In rural areas such as Tighnabruaich the ratio between income and housing prices is often even higher due to relatively high house prices and relatively low incomes. Accessing land to build a house is often prohibitively expensive. It is possible to build a house on the croft – we have applied for planning permission. Once this has been granted, we will have to agree with KCFC the details of how a house can be built.

One of KCFC’s aims is to increase the biodiversity of the Acharossan forest – when KCFC purchased the land, it was made up of large areas planted with a single species with very little biodiversity. The replanting plan that is currently being developed increases the biodiversity across the forest. Crofting will further increase this biodiversity. Each croft will have a unique mix of trees, and other plants and animals, which will create a wide patchwork of different ecosystems. Each crofter will be looking after a small area of land, meaning they can provide a greater level of management than would be possible for the forest as a whole. This greater level of management allows them to focus on further increasing the biodiversity of the forest.

Renting out the land provides a regular income for KCFC, which can be invested in further developing the forest. Crofting the land provides KCFC with a higher income than the profit that would be generated by replanting with a short-term timber crop. By balancing the amount of land available for crofts, commercial replanting and native regeneration, KCFC can create a forest that is ecologically, socially and economically sustainable.

Combining forestry, crofting and community ownership provides many yields for local communities. KCFC are one of a handful of organisations that have successfully introduced this model in Scotland.

For more information on woodland crofts visit  For a history of crofting see The making of the Crofting Community by James Hunter and have a read of The Poor Had No Lawyers by Andy Wightman for a study of the history of landownership in Scotland.