Depending on your location (e.g. transport links to your land, your distance from population centres) and the local demand, converting a portion of farmland to allotments could be a win-win decision for farmers/crofters and the local community. Initially, there is some paperwork with working out tenancy agreements (see the National Allotment Society or the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society for help in setting things up) and getting planning permission (e.g. hard standings for parking, other on-site facilities). Once you get through this, you could potentially be making much more income from the allotments compared to the previous land-use. This Ecologist article showcases a couple who increased their income from £700 a year on 8 acres of grass for livestock and hay/silage production to approximately £12,000 a year by converting the 8 acres to allotments. Sharing their land with allotment holders also had the benefit that many of them became customers of the farm’s produce too. One key point raised by this article is that the couple encouraged their allotment holders to harvest rainwater in order to keep allotment rental prices lower. But, this would also be important in light of the increasing amount of dry spells and droughts that climate change is expected to cause.
Native Tree Planting
This year, the Scottish Government have pledged £64 million to forestry and £40 million to the Agricultural Transformation Programme – an initiative implemented specifically to “support farming’s contribution to meeting Scotland’s climate change ambitions”. Tree planting is a key part of this measure.
Robin Bell planted 22,000 trees – native Scots pine, oak and birch – on 34 acres of his Sutherland croft. The Forestry Grant Scheme will pay him around £4,000/year for the next five years.
Ecosystem Restoration | Rewilding
The Scottish Government is currently piloting systems of support for farmers to restore ecosystems. For inspiration see Scotland The Big Picture.
Alley involves planting food crops or speciality crops between rows of trees (e.g. nut trees or hard wood trees). The crops can provide an income stream whilst the nut trees come into bearing. The trees provide shelter, prevent erosion, and turn marginal or poor cropland into higher value woodland.
A lazy bed, otherwise known as a “ridge and furrow”, is a historic arable cultivation method that was especially useful for people living in marginal areas such as uplands and islands where there were thin soils and poor drainage. Lazy beds are created by turning over the soil either side of a strip of land back onto itself, to form a ridge in the centre with two ditches (or furrows) either side of it (Watch this video for an example). Whilst establishing a lazy bed can be labour intensive, creating one helps improve soil drainage, increases the soil depth, and increases the soil temperature within the ridge. Lazy beds are generally associated with growing potatoes but many other crops are suitable. For example, barley, oats, rye, flax, hemp, and turnips were all historically known to be included in lazy bed rotations, although many more crops can be expected to be suitable for this system. There is evidence that adding seaweed to a lazy bed is vital for obtaining high yields, however, for areas where seaweed isn’t readily available, perhaps using green manures in a lazy bed rotation can achieve a similar result. All the information on lazy beds here is sourced from Knox et al.’s (2015) paper “Improved sustainability and ecosystem services from seaweed additions to an old agricultural production
‘Leafu’ or Leaf Protein Concentrate Production
Leafu (also called leaf protein concentrate, leaf concentrate, leaf curd, leaf protein, leaf extract) is a nutrient and protein rich food for human consumption. It is made by a process called leaf fractionation. This consists of first reducing lots of young leaf matter to a pulp, pressing the juice from this pulp, then heating the juice to above 90 degrees Celsius, which causes a green curd to form on top that is then skimmed off, strained and used fresh or dried. To get a better understanding of its production process, we recommend watching this video giving an overview of leafu, and this video which covers leafu production at the smallest scale. Read our full article on leafu here to find out how it could play a huge role in Scottish farming and crofting!
Invented in Shetland, polycrubs are like a cross between a polytunnel and a planticrub (a circular enclosure made of dry-stone which was historically used to protect crops against the wind). So while it retains the shape and function of a polytunnel, it’s design and it’s stronger components allows it to endure much harsher weather conditions, particularly gale force winds. This makes polycrubs ideal for farmers and crofters located in less favourable microclimates where they may want to extend their growing season or diversify into growing crops for human consumption. The polycrub website features an article on a family living on a Hebridean croft who received a CAGS grant to help establish a polycrub on their land.
Natural Burial Grounds – The Natural Death Centre (NDC) charity gives this broad description for natural burial grounds:
“Essentially, natural burial sites only accept unembalmed bodies in biodegradable coffins, and they are cemeteries where the graves are not marked with carbon-costly gravestones, having instead memorial planting of trees or flowers. Some of the natural or woodland sites have buildings where you can hold a ceremony and maybe entertain after the burial.” (The Natural Death Handbook 5th Edition, p.153-4).
Demand for natural burials (also known as green or woodland burials) is on the rise, as is the number of sites that provide such a service. The NDC states that there are more than 270 natural burial grounds across the UK, many of which can be found through their Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG) members directory. There are a variety of natural burial grounds with some continuing to operate in agricultural capacities as hay meadows or orchards and others as coppiced woodlands, whilst others are managed to benefit wildlife in newly planted or existing woodland.
To establish a natural burial ground, planning permission is needed. Such an application will need the approval from:
- highway officers (their concern will be the safety of the entry/exit from the site and the suitability of the carriageway among other things)
- county archaeologists (they may object if there is a potential archaeological site in close proximity)
- the Environment Agency (their primary concern is avoiding contamination of groundwater)
- ecology officers (an ecological scoping study must be paid for to ensure the development will not be to the detriment of any fauna or flora).
It is also important to note that once burials have taken place, this locks in what the land can be used for over the long term which will likely be limited to forestry, agriculture or retention as a nature reserve/green space. However, these land-uses will need to be compatible with the long term wishes of the buried and their families.
Additional information for establishing your own natural burial ground can be found on the NDC’s website and through their book, the Natural Death Handbook. You can also join the ANBG to access specialised advice on establishing and managing a natural burial site.
While there are several hurdles to go through when creating a natural burial ground, there are several reasons that may make it a worthwhile endeavour:
“Creating and running an eco burial ground is one of the most rewarding and positive services that you can provide. Not only do these sites offer an improved and more meaningful choice to families, they provide valuable and protected wildlife habitats. The environmental impact of this disposal method is also beneficial, especially when compared to cremation or deep, traditional burial.” (The Natural Death Handbook 5th Edition, p.157)
Farmland can be a great space for outdoor weddings, offering a great change of scenery from the traditional indoor setting.
While the bigger, past festivals like T-in-the-park and Rockness may come to mind, there are a brilliant variety of smaller music festivals throughout Scotland that farmland could be suited to hosting. Electric Fields Festival, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Oban Live and the Kelburn Garden Party are some examples of popular outdoor music festivals.
For more information on festivals in Scotland, see Inverness Gigs.
Photo: Oban Live
Secure Dog Walking
Secured dog walking fields provide a great, safe environment for dogs to enjoy more freedom while exercising. At the same time, it can generate an extra source of income and can make use of marginal land that isn’t otherwise being used regularly. Run Free (https://runfreedogfields.co.uk/) has 12 secured dog walking fields throughout Scotland.