Scotland’s crofters, the 13,000 small-scale farmers who work the land in the Highlands and Islands, are failing to apply for almost a quarter of the government’s £3m budget devoted to grants for infrastructure projects such as buildings and fencing.

The Scottish government’s environment minister Roseanna Cunningham told the crofters at their annual conference in Grantown on Spey that there had been an underspend of £700,000 in the Crofting Counties Agricultural Grants Scheme last year, and it was heading the same way again this year.

Ms Cunningham added: “Please ask for it. Please spend it. The pot of money is there so use it or it looks silly. And if you don’t use it, sooner or later it will be cut. So get your applications in now.”

The Scottish Crofting Foundation’s (SCF) chairman, Neil McLeod, said a lack of confidence in the industry had contributed to a reduction in investment. “The grants are only for 40% of any project so crofters need to be able to afford the rest. I hope we will see more applications in the next few months.”