Woodland, peatland and a low carbon crofting future?
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Calum MacLeod is a Partner in the Rural Economy team at Harper Macleod and one of only two Accredited Specialists in Crofting Law in Scotland. Here, he looks at a relatively new opportunity for croftland.
The reduction of greenhouse emissions is at the forefront of discussions regarding climate change. While renewable energy development has been prominent in the north of Scotland, there are new opportunities for rural landowners and occupiers to tackle the climate change challenge by implementing schemes which use the natural resources of woodland and peatland.
Woodland and Peatland Restoration Schemes are not just attractive from an environmental perspective - we are now seeing opportunities to realise value from these schemes to sell “carbon units”.
While woodland has a long history of providing benefits to occupiers of crofts and rural land, arguably the most important benefit to be drawn from woodland creation is the ability to eliminate carbon dioxide and thus help slow down climate change. Peatland restoration can deliver the same benefits
Putting in place formal schemes enables landowners to properly establish carbon units under what is called the Carbon Code, with one carbon unit equating to one tonne of CO2 removed from the atmosphere. Landowners can sell the carbon units to companies seeking to offset their carbon emissions by investing in either peatland restoration or woodland projects, or indeed the landowners can use the carbon units against their own private or business emissions
The purchase of a rural estate by BrewDog is a high-profile example of the new kind of “green landowner” who is seeking to use land to significantly bolster their green credentials and reduce carbon emissions.
It would be easy to dismiss these projects as being for the larger estates or landowners. However, both crofters and crofting communities should also be mindful of the opportunities that may be available to them.
Crofting tenants and those who have rights in common grazings can play a part, and one of the defined croft uses which satisfies a crofting tenant’s legal duty to “cultivate” their crofts is the creation of woodland. A crofting tenant also has rights to put their croft to another purposeful use (though they should notify the landlord in advance if they do that). What better use than a woodland planting scheme or a peatland restoration project which brings in carbon units but also benefits the environment?
Similarly it is possible for common grazers to come together and create a crofter forestry scheme on common grazings under the existing forestry provisions which are set out in the Crofters Act. To do this, they must first apply to the Commission to plant and develop woodland on their common grazings. They should also apply to the owner of the common grazings for consent.
This also raises the possibly of using the specific provisions in the Crofters Act which allow joint forestry enterprises between landowners and crofters. Though “joint forestry enterprises” haven’t been common to date, perhaps the ability to sell carbon units will see them become more widely used.
Peatland Restoration projects to generate income are new, but the management of peatland on common grazings is not with the Crofting Commission having powers to draw up a scheme regulating the use by crofters of peat bogs. Furthermore, common grazers could use existing crofting legislation to come together and take forward a restoration scheme on their grazings. They would need to obtain the appropriate consents and the use proposed must not be detrimental to the interests of the owner, so care must still be taken that the scheme is well thought out.
Overall, while advice should always be sought first, crofting legislation doesn’t appear to be a significant impediment to the schemes and as the Carbon Code and these projects become more established, we expect to see more of these types of schemes in the future on croftland.