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Nuclear Crofters

by Janet Bryer


Crofters have always been adaptable folk and the experiences of those working at Dounreay highlighted this.

In the television show Atom Town, the growth of Dounreay Nuclear site highlighted the development of the 'new skills' needed for the Nuclear age. Some of the new apprentices were crofters' sons including those from Orkney and Shetland coming over to learn skills which their fathers did not have the opportunity to study. However there is no guarantee that they will be able to walk into a job as the traditional lifestyle in the far North of Scotland still relied on more traditional skills. The attitude expressed is that this areas was "where the past still has a long way to go to catch up to the present and nuclear future". James Gunn, the Heritage Officer, reflected on how the new communities in Thurso came together with half being incomers, quoting a local report saying it worked because "the local people were kind, broadminded, helpful, tolerant, proud and had common sense".

A black and white image which shows a view overlooking the Dounreay reactor across a bay Image provided by Am Baile/ Highland Libraries

The Dounreay Experimental Reactor, Caithness

The crofting industry received a huge boost with the coming of Dounreay. The increase in wages generated by the presence of Dounreay sustained its small-scale producers, as crofters like Alastair Fraser who now had access to employment which meant it was economically viable to work his croft in his spare time. Indeed, the Crofters Commission, which recognised in 1965 that approximately 500 crofter families benefitted from Dounreay employment, made it clear that "the crofting population in the north of Scotland, and particularly in Sutherland, requires steady employment of this kind if viable communities are to be maintained". Thus it was possible for the traditional and the modern to operate effectively side-by-side.

My experience of working with Dounreay was when I was based at AEE Winfrith at the other end of the country in Dorset. I was told by my Scottish colleagues that during certain times of the year it was not worth phoning after 3:30pm as everyone would be away to the croft!

Want to find out more? Click here to watch a short clip from Atom Town and click here to listen to Heritage Officer James Gunn speaking on Dounreay, recorded by Wick Voices.


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