Wildlife Croft Skye is an owner occupied 9-acre croft on the Sleat Peninsula on the Isle of Skye.  We are managing the croft for native wildlife and growing food and natural materials.  We hope to live a little more sustainably and seasonally. Maximising biodiversity by managing habitat for native wildlife, alongside growing food, is a constant juggling act and we are learning all the time. We are passionate about wildlife, climate solutions and this amazing community we live in.

We moved here in 2015 to begin our family and embark on this crofting journey. The land here is boggy and acidic and the vegetation was dominated by Molinia and rushes.  It was not ideal for growing by any stretch of the imagination but the young woodland and deer fence drew us to this croft. Our main aim at the time was to manage the croft for native wildlife, providing a habitat for invertebrates and birds to thrive.

We began cutting paths through the waist-high vegetation, mattocking out tussocks and filling the holes left by the mounding from woodland planting in 2005.  We then began planting hedges, willow beds, fruit trees, fruit bushes, and cut areas for meadows to grow from the natural seedbank, as well as digging several wildlife ponds.   Our friends gifted us a small team of five ducks who became our incredible slug patrol.  All the work we do here is carried out using handtools and practical labour. 

Biodiversity

We have recorded over 80 species of bird on the croft, nearly 300 species of moth, and over 70 species of wildflowers.  We had the first record for Skye of the beautiful moth, Merveille du Jour, and have discovered rare plant species growing (Moonwort).  We observed a Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly here on the croft for the first time in Summer 2022.  We’ve also seen an increase in the number of bird species breeding here on the croft and have observed Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Coal Tit starting to breed successfully. These species weren’t breeding here in our first few years.  Our efforts are paying off. Most of the croft is undisturbed woodland, and our growing efforts are concentrated in relatively small areas of the croft.

The moth pictured on the left/above is a Clouded Buff (a disappointingly boring name for such a brightly coloured beauty!)

Trees

We’ve been collecting tree seed and growing native trees of local provenance to underplant, creating a healthy woodland of mixed age.  This has been so successful Phil has started a tree nursery on the croft and you can follow this on <a href=”https://www.instagram.com/drumfearn_trees/” target=”_blank”>Instagram</a> . We’ve planted hedges to create areas of shelter for growing, and in 2017 we planted 1700 trees and shrubs thanks to MoreWoods and MoreHedges grants from the Woodland Trust.  We achieved this with the help of our incredible Workawayer Thomas, all the way from Italy.  

The ground is slowly improving and our croft is beginning to flourish. The trees add nutrients and stabilise the soil, and increase water retention.  Many Alder trees are growing on the croft, appropriate for a township named Drumfearn, Fearn being the Gaelic word for Alder and Drum for ridge.  We decided to use Alder leaves in our logo as it’s such an important tree for us, providing habitat for native wildlife and improving the soil. We harvest our firewood, by coppicing the trees on the croft.  These trees continue to live and produce wood for us, sequestering carbon, building soil and providing habitat for our native wildlife too.

Horticulture

During the first lockdown we bought a polytunnel and our horticultural efforts began in earnest.  Carrying out the daily tasks of watering and potting on, and growing food helped to keep us busy and physically and mentally well.  We know how lucky we are to live in this beautiful place, and have the space to grow food and be surrounded by wildlife.  During the Summer of 2021 we weighed the food we grew and averaged 1.5 kilos of homegrown produce a day, mostly made up of potatoes, followed by eggs, berries, courgettes and salad greens. We have planted fruit trees and bushes and built raised beds to increase the amount of food we can grow.  It’s a huge learning experience figuring out which varieties do well here, what we like to eat, and how to preserve the surplus we have each autumn. 

Livestock

We have 3 hens, who lay delicious eggs for us, and our guests in Stonechat Bothy.  The hens do an important job of disturbing the vegetation, allowing wildflowers space to grow. It is tricky though, as they eat a lot of wildlife when they are out foraging. They have a good life here and enjoy exploring the whole croft, but they also peck our plants and destroy veg beds! We think three is the right number of hens for us, maybe four. 

We plan to have more livestock here in the future once our trees and hedges are established.  This will help us increase the biodiversity, and the diversity of food and materials we can produce for ourselves, and hopefully for others too in time. 

Community

We host community events here and hope to do more in the future.  We held a moth trapping morning as part of Butterfly Conservation’s National Moth Night. Phil has taken students from the Rural Skills course at UHI in Broadford to hone their practical skills. Phil regularly gives public tours of the croft and has hosted events with organisations such as Landworkers Alliance and Nature Friendly Farming Network. Our friends and family regularly help out when they visit, and our friends in the community often lend a hand too. We’ve enjoyed hosting talented and hard-working work-awayers, who have helped to shape the croft with their time and skills.   We enjoy being members of Landworkers Alliance, Nature Friendly Farming Network, Reforesting Scotland, Scottish Crofting Federation and the Highland Good Food Partnership. We are also part of a group of local families who get together monthly to share skills, tools and help each other working together on our crofts.

Weaving & Foraging

Laura grows around 20 varieties of basketry willow and gathers native plants that grow here on the croft in abundance to make baskets.  Laura has received funding to learn basketmaking with two great teachers- in person with Monique Bervoets, and through Hanna Van Aelst's online course. You can follow Laura's Basketmaking journey and find out how you can buy one of her croft-grown, chemical-free baskets on Instagram.

As our hedges mature we will forage sloes and haws and elderberries to make drinks and preserves, and we’ve been experimenting with Rowan buds and berries, and Larch needles in our recipes. Fermented Rosebay Willowherb tea has been a great success this season, and we are increasingly finding ways to use the abundance of native plants that grow here for a wide variety of uses.

Sustainability and Future Aims

  • We currently buy in compost but we aim to produce our own going forward, and this will be an important project for us in the next year or two. Instead of buying compost that has been packaged and transported here, we will be producing our own high-quality product. We are lucky to be able to use local seaweed to build fertility into our veg beds. 
  • We collect seed from wildflowers, trees and the food plants we grow here to reduce the amount we buy. 
  • We make our own bedding for the hens by cutting the wildflower meadow in late Summer
  • We grow food without chemicals – reducing food miles and reliance on pesticides, fertilisers and packaging.  We aim to become self-sufficient in vegetable production and perhaps in time obtain organic certification. 
  • We collect rainwater in butts, and from the burns on the croft to water the young trees, and the plants in the polytunnel.  
  • To increase our self-sufficiency we aim to install a small hydro scheme and solar panels in the future.

 

Funding we have received to date

  • An 80% grant from the Woodland Trust to plant 600 trees and 1100 hedging plants in 2017 (MoreWoods and Morehedges scheme).

  • Women in the Rural Economy grants from Lantra awarded to Laura for Basketmaking courses in 2021 and 2022.

<li.Laura received an early career bursary from VACMA in 2023 to attend a basketmaking course in Ireland in 2024.

  • Phil is being mentored by several mentors through the Farm Advisory Service mentoring scheme.