Sophie Gerrard - Isles of Uist, Outer Hebrides - Scotland - #2
The Isles of Uist lie off the coast of Scotland, on the westernmost fringe of Europe, forming the last stronghold of both the Gaelic language and a crofting traditionthat has maintained small-scale farming for generations. For the families here, saving seed and carrying on the crofting legacy is as much a political act as it is a way of life. The brutal Highland clearances, ‘the eviction of the Gaels’, that saw tenants driven from their land in the eighteenth and nineteenth century are still remembered nowadays, even among the youngest generations.
On Benbecula, Neil and Morag McPherson are third generation crofters who grow small oats and Bere Barley for seed. Like most crofters on Uist the family save seed from one year to the next, ensuring the local community can rely on the resilience of their crops which are adapted to the harsh climate of the Western Isles. There are 34 crofts in the village of Liniclate and at harvest time the community comes together to swap tools and machinery in return for labour, a tradition that goes back generations. The farmers here pride themselves on being self- sufficient off the Scottish mainland.
Over on North Uist, Angus MacDonald operates a herd of 300 highland cattle, which are fed on a mix of arable crops grown on the croft for winterfeed. Years of hard work have made him the largest breeder of organic highland cattle in the UK. In autumn, Angus takes the animals over to the neighbouring tidal island of Vallay, where they will stay and graze for the winter. Angus’ croft was handed onto him some years back by his mother Ena, who is now 78 years old and lives next door. She is well known nationally for speaking out for crofter’s rights.
Ena still remembers the days of growing up here as the youngest in a busy family of five: hunting, fishing and helping the community harvest every September until nightfall. They had three cows that ensured there was always fresh milk and butter. Every Christmas they would kill some hens to send to their cousins in Glasgow, where food wasn’t quite so abundant. Ena spent five years in Australia before returning to the croft to work alongside her father. ‘You have hard times and you have good times. If you really love it you just carry on. It is something that is in your blood.’