CROFTING ACTIVITIES

History

The Croft of Laikenbuie was abandoned prior to 1895 and amalgamated with the neighboring farm Park. Both were on the Estate of Kinsteary based around the historic village of Auldearn (Battle of Auldearn 1645 between the Covenanters and the Royalists, and connections with the witches in Shakespeare's MacBeth). There are few owner-occupied farms in Nairnshire, squeezed between the large estates of Cawdor, Lethen and Moray. Luckily for us there was poor tax planning and Kinsteary Estate was sold in 196? to pay death duties and save the main family seat of Cluny in Aberdeenshire. Anyway enough modern history. A few years before that, probably during the Iron Age, there was a settlement here. The 50+ hut circles and stone clearance heaps can be clearly seen. We would like an archaeologist to investigate them - any offers?

I first saw this glen in 1974 when I came to work at Park Farm. About 30 incalf heifers were kept here summer and winter. At that time the track stopped at the entrance gate and there were no internal fences in this 57ha (142ac) area. The fields were very rough and had large patches of whins growing in them. It was possible to spend an hour looking for the heifers and go home without finding them! Before the heifers the main influence on the vegetation today was a herd of Shetland ponies which were here until the early sixties. They also had the run of the moor which extended across the Grantown Road and is now the Forest Enterprise plantation.

We bought the 45ha (110ac) of rough ground in 1984 and started building our home. At that time we kept 15 ewes and 60 free range hens. Following the death of Walter Adam in 1996 and sale of Park, where I had been manager for 21 years, we were able to buy the 12ha (30ac) of improved grass and steading.

Arial view of the croft

A view of the whole croft looking from the north east

Field plan of Laikenbuie from north-east

Location, climate and geology

We are situated 5km south of the Moray Firth coast at 60m above sea level in a small glen. This takes us off the narrow coastal plain which tends to have light sandy soil and over the brow of a low ridge to give us a southerly aspect. With prevailing westerly winds the Moray Firth creates a very favorable climatic pocket. Average rainfall is 575mm (23in), only a third of that falling on the West Coast 80km (50miles) away. Inversely hours of sunshine are increased.

The geology needs a specialist to tell me more. There are areas of boulders presumably left by a glacier and terraces suggesting different water levels. Help! On the better drier areas the top soil is very stony and too shallow to plough successfully. The north facing bank is wet due to a line of springs and hence natural woodland and rough grazing. The bottom area is a peat bog.

The crops and livestock

The total of 57ha (140ac) comprises approximately a quarter each of improved grass, wetland, rough grazing, and birch woodland. We are now fully organic and certified by the Soil Association. We have 13 cows and 34 ewes. Hopefully these will utilize half the ground each allowing us to work a clean grazing system by alternating them year about. We hope to develop a market for all the lambs selling direct to the consumer, freezer ready, to eliminate the stress of livestock markets and long journeys to slaughter. The calves will probably be sold as stores at 10 months old. There are horses on rented grazing which can help balance the system. We also want to maximize the number of different wildlife habitats, for our own interest, and to provide a special holiday destination for our guests. As amateurs we have identified 90 species of bird and have a long list of mammals, some of which we would rather be without - rabbits!

The garden

Therese has been dedicated to her garden ever since we moved here and it keeps expanding every year. The main area is in a four course rotation of potatoes, peas and beans, brassicas, carrots and onions. The other areas include asparagus, cougettes, leeks, salad crops and of course flowers everywhere to encourage beneficial insects.

There is also a greenhouse, an orchard of apples, pears and plums, a polytunnel to extend the season for basic vegetables and to grow tomatoes and cucumbers. There are Shitaki mushrooms growing on birch logs. Therese's Garden

The woodland

We inherited typical farm woodland, damaged by livestock and neglected by man. Mainly birch, with some pockets of ash, and a scattering of holly, willows, rowan, gean and hawthorn. There is an area of older trees but I suspect that the bulk of the trees started growing after the Shetland ponies left in the early sixties. We want to develop a woodland more diverse in age structure and species, with an improvement in timber quality, but retaining the wildlife and landscape features.

In 1989 we entered 2.7ha (7ac) into the WGS. We wanted an area of more mixed woodland so the birch was thinned and under planted with a mixture of oak, ash, willow, alder, whitebeam, rowan and gean. This is situated in the south east corner.

In 1992 we cleared 0.92ha (2.5ac) of scrub on our western boundary and planted it with a similar mixture, again with the help of a WGS. This wood is also covered by planning permission as a burial ground so our children won't need anything more expensive than a wheelbarrow and spade.

The latest venture started in 1998 is the regeneration of 7ha (17.5ac) of mainly birch trees. This is to be a demonstration site and we are getting management expertise and help from Highland Birchwoods. In fact without their help the wood would have probably remained damaged by livestock and neglected by man. The grants will enable us to protect the new trees, manage them for better timber quality and compensate us for the loss of grazing.

Birds, animals and plants recorded on the croft