The area of Scotland devoted to crofting, the country’s unique system of small-scale subsistence farming, has been extended.

The government has agreed plans to include the islands of Arran, Bute, Greater and Little Cumbrae, Moray and the parts of Highland not already designated under the 120-year-old form of land tenure.

Landowners in these areas can apply to create new crofts and smallholders will be able to apply for conversion of their holding to attract an attractive package of crofting grants.

Revealing the move after almost two years of extensive consultations and reports, Environment Minister Michael Russell said crofting had a real role to play in maintaining vibrant populations in Scotland’s less accessible areas and also enabling them to grow and prosper.

Success would depend on landowners being prepared to put their land under crofting tenure, which brought special security and privileges for tenants.

There are 17,700 crofts attracting direct subsidies of £43m a year from the Scottish government.

The announcement followed a report published last week which recommended more support for new entrants to the traditional way of life which supports about 33,000 people in the north and west of Scotland.

And as proof that these remote communities understand the modern market for local artisan produce, the Crofting Foundation this week revealed a new marketing brand for traditional produce such as honey, beef and lamb at their annual conference on the Hebridean island of Barra.

NFUS Highlands and Islands spokeswoman Jo Durno welcomed the expansion to other areas but insisted that government finance should be increased to accommodate the funding requirements of crofters in the new areas.