Shetland crofter using trees to revitalise business

Crofter Andrew Hall has received grants on four occasions in the past few years
Crofter Andrew Hall has received grants on four occasions in the past few years

A Shetland crofter is set to plant another 2,500 trees after taking advantage of a new round of forestry grants in a bid to revitalise his business.

Establishing trees on Shetland is said to be notoriously difficult due to the climate and poor soil, but Andrew Hall, of Burravoe Croft, is busting this myth.

He has just received approval for more funding from Scottish Forestry which will help him plant another 2,500 trees.

Scottish Forestry recognises the challenges of establishing trees in places similar to Shetland and introduced their highest grant rate specifically for the Northern and Western Isles.

Through the Croft Woodlands Project, over 800 site visits have taken place to help crofters discuss woodland creation.

This has led to nearly 100 separate Forestry Grant Scheme applications being submitted.

Mr Hall said diversification was 'vital' for the financial viability of his croft: "It has taken a good number of years of very hard work to get where we are today, but it has been worth it.

“In our planning, we factored tree planting from the start, along with introducing kye and sheep to the croft.

"The trees have provided shelter belts for the livestock, transformed boggy areas for the better, and allowed us to create a scenic area for glamping pods."

When Mr Hall and his wife first bought the croft it was run down, taking them years to renovate the house and outbuildings.

In 2005 he received his first forestry grant which funded around 3,000 trees on former silage ground close to the crofthouse.

Since then, Mr Hall has planted more trees and bushes to transform his croft. Willow and Poplar has worked well, however, Rowan and Hazel struggle with the conditions.

The grants covered many aspects of getting trees planted on the croft, including livestock fencing, gates and annual management grants over a number of years to help get the woodlands established.

He added: “All the tree planting and bushes is great for the environment, as well as our business. It’s a win win situation. We now have an amazing variety of birds visiting the croft which is brilliant to see.

“I carry out the hard work of the planting myself, so at the end of the day, the effort I’ve put in should result in a hard earned surplus in our croft bank account.”

Jonathan Hawick, Scottish Forestry’s woodland officer, said more farmers should participate to meet the Scottish government's woodland expansion target.

“Crofters in the Northern and Western Isles have many challenges and we have a specific funding option available to help them which is the highest available," he said.

“We are very pleased that Andrew is getting the many benefits that tree planting brings. He’s put a lot of hard work into his croft and we are delighted trees are central to his plans.”

Scottish Forestry recently published a new ‘walk-through’ guide to planting trees which can be found online.