A legal challenge in England could pave the way for better support for crofters using common grazings, claims the Scottish Crofting Federation.
The crofters body is calling on Scottish Government to clarify the rules in Scotland governing subsidy support on common grazings.
This follows a legal challenge by grazing rights commoners in England over the way in which subsidy support was paid to those using the grazings.
Defra has said its rules, adopted in 2005, do not comply with European regulations and for the new Basic Payment Scheme the rules will be changed.
Those using the grazings will now be paid based on the land they manage, rather than a proportion based on their share in the common grazings.
SCF director Joyce Wilkinson said: “This has potentially given crofting common grazings share-holders a chance to redress what many see as the injustice of being only paid on a proportion of the land they actually manage. This is particularly rankling in comparison when a farmer on the next hill, quite rightly, receives full payment for all the non-common grazing they have stock on.
“Crofting is shrouded in the complexity of crofting legislation and regulations that few officials can really be expected to be fully to grips with, but SCF has long sought for a route to fair payments to be devised despite this. There must be an answer to whether crofters can be paid for their actual activity, which could attract more crofters back into using the common grazing and revitalise the hills.”
Highlands and Islands MSP, Jean Urquhart, backed the calls for clarity and called on Scottish Government to change its rules in the same way Defra has.
“Developments in England confirm the principle that payments should be made on all common grazing shares, and that those payments should go to the crofters who are active on the grazings,” said Ms Urquhart, who is deputy convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on crofting.
“The Scottish Government has already made progress in ending subsidies to those who are not actively working the land. But that only goes halfway if the money doesn’t go instead to the active farmers who need it.
“I hope the Scottish ministers will now make the same change that Defra has made. Not only is this fair, it could be the catalyst that will encourage people back to the land and greatly assist in meeting the Scottish Government’s ambition to increase the number of small farmers and crofters.”
She urged government to work with crofters and common grazing committees to identify all eligible shares, to ensure crofters got all of the funds they were entitled to.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have noted the legal challenge in England, however the whole system for claiming subsidy in relation to Common Land in England is different from that applying to Common Grazings in Scotland where we have already brought in new minimum activity rules to ensure only active farmers and crofters qualify for direct payments.
“This is a complex issue and, although we do not currently envisage any implications for our own approach in Scotland, we will discuss with industry representatives as well as carefully monitoring what happens in England to check for any effects it may have here.”