Crofting boundary dispute settled by old maps

24 September 2011

A dispute over croft land in Sutherland has been settled by the Land court after old estate maps were used to clarify boundaries. William Murray, who occupied crofts 49 and 51 in Forsinard, Sutherland, tried to appeal against a previous ruling that his neighbours croft, 47, occupied by Heather Jardine, did indeed extend into an area that Mr Murray asserted was part of the common grazings. He had initially said it was part of his croft, but later retracted this claim.
The case arguably provides forewarning of the potential kind of dispute that may arise once the new Crofting Register is in place. The dispute started when Ms Jardine requested the Land Court to determine the boundaries of her croft. In doing so, the Court gave weight to an Inland Revenue map of 1909, used for the purpose of valuation along with a ‘working map’ from the Sutherland Estate, and an old estate rent book which contained details of acreage of each holding. There was a discrepancy between the acreage stated in the holding and the actual area occupied; in reality, tenants appeared to always have occupied more than stated in the book, but with the consent of the landlord and with no disputes between neighbours arising. It was this piece of evidence that Mr Murray relied upon for his argument. 
Although the map alone could not be said to be definitive, along with the Revenue map and the rent book it was so detailed in relation to the map that overall, that map was very persuasive. In his appeal, Mr Murray firstly argued whether there was sufficient evidence for the Court to have arrived at this decision. Secondly, the Court was to consider that if there was sufficient evidence, was it all given appropriate weight. The Court found that the evidence was adequate and the way it was handled was correct in terms of their decision.
A prophetic case, perhaps; will this be one way of settling disputed boundaries between warring crofting neighbours trying to register? Ms Jardine has been quoted in the press as being pleased of the decision but concerned as to the cost of the matter, which reportedly may run to hundreds of thousands of pounds. The use of community mapping may go some way to minimise disputes as they arise but where both parties are adamant they are right, and failing mediation, the courts will be the only route to a definitive but ultimately costly decision.

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