The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs and Environment Committee will meet in Lerwick in March to hear about the challenges facing crofting in the 21st century as it scrutinises the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill.
The committee will hold a formal meeting in the town on Tuesday 2 March where it will take evidence from local crofters and Shetland Islands Council. The meeting will also include a session where members of the public will have an opportunity to air their views on the bill.
Committee members will visit crofts, common grazings and a township in the surrounding area during their visit.
Committee Convener Maureen Watt MSP said: “Crofting has long been an important part of culture and society in the north of Scotland, and one of the main factors that has helped sustain remote and often fragile communities.
"This is why it is important that we come to Shetland to discover at first-hand how crofting is faring in the area.
"Crofting is also a diverse activity, and we hope to get a flavour of that from our visits to the surrounding area and by hearing evidence directly from crofters.
"The bill has arisen from the recognition that there are challenges to the crofting way of life that need to be addressed – issues such as the under-use of croft land, concerns over the effectiveness of the Crofters Commission, and the lack of availability of crofts to younger people.
"Everyone agrees there is a need for change if crofting communities are to have a thriving future. The question is whether the current bill does this in the best way or whether there are other approaches that would work better.”
The Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Parliament by the Scottish Government on 9 December 2009.
The bill is currently at Stage 1 of the scrutiny process meaning that the lead committee – the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee – will take evidence on the general principles of the bill from a range of stakeholders before reporting to the whole Parliament in late April.
The committee will meet at the Town Hall in Lerwick at 2pm on Tuesday 2 March. An opportunity for members of the public to make their views known will be provided halfway through the meeting, at around 3.15pm.
To be assured of participation, anyone wishing to take advantage of this opportunity should contact the clerks to the committee in advance.
The bill seeks to deal with issues including:
increasing the accountability of the Crofters Commission and strengthening its regulatory role
enabling the Commission to address absenteeism and neglect more effectively
providing for a more comprehensive and map-based system for croft registration
making it more difficult to de-croft land and to speculate from croft sales.
The Committee’s Stage 1 scrutiny process includes visits to the Western Isles, Caithness and Shetland, as well as public meetings with stakeholders and with the responsible Scottish Government minister in Edinburgh.