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NFFN Farm Case Study: Peatland restoration in the Shetlands: Aithsetter Croft

Hazel Mackenzie runs a croft in Aithsetter, Cunningsburgh with her husband Kenneth. Aithsetter was in an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) for 10 years and is now in an Agri Environment Climate Scheme (AECS), which provides financial support for sensitive land management techniques. Hazel is passionate about making sure that the wildlife, flora and fauna that she grew up enjoying, remains there for future generations.

The nature found on the croft when Hazel was small is still here. She attributes this to the croft still growing the crops that her parents and grandparents grew: meadow hay, silage, turnips and Shetland Kale. By harvesting the crops at the traditional time of year, they encourage re-growth of flowers and grasses and the breeding of wildlife. There are also cattle, sheep, pigs and hens.

However there has been an issue with the condition of peatland, with a high level of wind erosion making it one of the most damaged peat sites in Shetland. To tackle this, the Mackenzies pioneered one of Shetland’s first peatland restoration scheme. This included planting sphagnum moss and moorland grasses, and re-wetting the land using recycled salmon pipe and netting. This is an ongoing project and each year, they restore more. The improved land has made the croft easier to farm. For example, managing the livestock is easier because walkways are being installed over the re-wetted gulleys giving easier access for farm quads and drovers.

Part of the holding’s heather moorland was runner up in the 2015 Heather Trust’s Golden Plover Award for Moorland Management (Shetland Peatland Restoration Project). On the moorland, there are many species including golden plovers, grouse and hare which are all thriving. The croft’s Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage, and it is in good condition, despite very wet weather of late – making it difficult to mow or graze.

The couple diversified in 2012 by building two holiday lodges on their croft and in June 2017 by building Britain’s most northerly farm shop and café. The shop and café sell beef, lamb, pork, mutton and orange-yolked eggs from the croft and have over 50 other local suppliers. People come from all over the world to stay in the holiday lodges and many return every year. The lodges, which were supported by Scottish Rural Development Programme funding, are now paying their way. The farm shop, which did particularly well during its first summer and at Shetland’s famous Up Helly Aa festival, will have paid for itself soon too. As the peatland improves, the Mackenzies are planning to add a circular walk from the lodges, through the farm shop, up to the peatland and back again, enhancing the site even more.

Tips:

  • In Shetland peat is particularly vulnerable to wind erosion. By taking steps to restore it crofters can prevent the condition of the land degrading further.
  • Crofters can get funding towards peat restoration through the Peatland Action scheme.
  • Join the Nature Friendly Farming Network for more tips and support: https://www.nffn.org.uk/