Crofters are to be given free advice and support as part of a new scheme to create 1,235 acres of new woodland by 2020.
The Croft Woodlands Project is led by the Woodland Trust Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, Point and Sandwick Trust and the Scottish Crofting Federation.
In a bid to create the new woodland areas, three croft woodland advisers will be appointed to provide specialist support and advice to crofting communities in the Highlands, Orkney and Shetland.
A dedicated project officer for the Western Isles will be employed at the end of this year, with another appointed for Argyll and Lochaber in early 2016.
“Crofting forms the backbone of many remote and fragile communities. Increasingly crofters are finding that they have to diversify, and creating and managing small areas of woodland can be an excellent way to do that,” said MSP John Finnie, launching the scheme at Ian Mhor croft, near Dingwall.
“I’m pleased that the Woodland Trust Scotland is working with a range of organisations to offer crofters free support overcome the major hurdles faced by those who want to plant trees and manage woodland effectively.”
The project’s lead officer, William Beattie, said: “Our package of free advice and support is designed to overcome the main barriers that are holding crofters back from planting trees, primarily expertise in woodland management and finding funding.
“Not every croft will be suitable for woodland but we know from the Crofting Census that more than one in 10 crofters have already planted trees on their holdings, and there’s an unfulfilled demand from others who want to do the same.”
Ian Mhor croft is a 40-acre certified organic enterprise run by Jo Hunt and Lorna Walker.
The pair have planted 25 acres of woodland, including native woodland and commercial conifers and broadleaves, with funding from the Scottish Rural Development Programme.
Mr Hunt said: “Planting new woodland has definitely helped us diversify. In the long term it will boost local wildlife and create some extra income through selling woodland products including quality Douglas fir logs. Additional advice and support for crofters is welcome because it can be a challenge to get started, but with perseverance lots of benefits can be achieved.”