As part of our Shetland social media takeover, we spoke to Chris Dyer, owner of Garths Croft Bressay, about sustainability, agricultural tourism and the importance of providing authentic experiences for visitors to Shetland.
Garths Croft Bressay is an independent, sustainable agricultural holding which focuses on traditional and heritage breeds of sheep, pig and poultry within a spectacular natural wilderness landscape. The Croft is located on the beautiful island of Bressay, which has a population of just 350 people, and is a short seven-minute ferry crossing away from Lerwick, the capital of Shetland.
The Croft has been run by Chris Dyer, and his family, since purchasing it in 2014. Chris is a professional archaeologist, working for more than twenty years on a wide variety of heritage projects, initially as a fieldworker on multi-period archaeological excavations across the north of England before moving to Shetland in 2006.
Sustainability and self-sufficiency are key to the business, and through our croft tours we offer visitors an immersive, stimulating, and genuine lifestyle experience.
As a professional archaeologist, my background has long been in the promotion, interpretation and curation of heritage across a wide range of mediums from walks and talks, to lectures and excavations, but always fundamentally people-centred.
Garths Croft Bressay has evolved organically and I never set out to create a visitor attraction. It’s just me, living within a beautiful island and endeavouring to share my life to promote sustainability and encouraging visitors to engage with the local economy. I’m the crofter, shepherd, tractor driver, drystone wall builder, guide, alongside professionally being an archaeologist and part-time retained island firefighter.
However, through the focus on native and heritage breeds, sustainability, lifestyle experience, a desire to achieve quality public engagement and spectacular sites of natural and historical heritage on the croft, visitors began to find us.
I believe this was due to our focus on protecting and supporting native and heritage breeds, promoting sustainability, providing an engaging lifestyle experience that organically created a desirable visitor proposition. We work hard to deliver a quality visitor experience, and we have spectacular natural and historical heritage on the Croft.
The strong focus on sustainability at Garths Croft Bressay is key to the DNA of the businesses. Chris tells us more about the sustainable practices that they utilise, and why that’s important for the business.
I‘ve built over 500 tons of drystone walls to create a sheltered environment for nature to thrive in terms of a newly-planted woodland, habitat for nesting birds, planting of bushes and shrubs and protection of livestock especially newborn lambs.
Native Shetland sheep are bred for the variety of coloured fleeces whilst Iron Age, Tamworth and Saddleback pigs cultivate and improve ground which is reseeded with grass, arable crops and wildflowers. A poly-crub greenhouse structure provides the opportunity to be largely self-sufficient in growing fruit and vegetables which I hand deliver in cool-boxes to local shops and restaurants.
The sustainability credentials for Garths Croft Bressay are gaining traction across the wider industry. In 2020, Chris featured in #ScotlandIsNowStories in the article, Archaeologist on a Sustainability Crusade. Garths Croft Bressay was nominated in 2021 as a Food Scot Hero for the Crofts sustainable practices.
Through the Croft, Chris has built positive relationships with the local community and highlights the sustainability aspects that have brought nature-related benefits to local people and environment.
Specifically, our visitors are investing and therefore supporting ferry services, accommodation providers, local hotels and cafes and independent artist studios alongside the heritage centre and Noss National Nature Reserve.
In the future, we plan to continue to offer a visitor attraction which comprises a genuine family-orientated lifestyle experience with quality physical and virtual engagement. Our focus will continue to be on native and heritage breeds, on being a sustainable Croft and thus supporting employment within the island of Bressay through increasing our footfall.
We’ll continue to embrace digital platforms and social media to engage with a wide demographic and varied audience, as we know that not everybody who would like to visit us in person is able to. Accommodating those who can’t visit us personally through virtual experiences continues to be important to us.”
Find out more about Garths Croft Bressay, and for inspiration for your future Shetland visitors – take a look at their Instagram @garthscroftbressay.