Scotland’s island population is on the rise

The population of Scotland’s islands is on the increase, according to research institutes, community groups and public sector organisations.

They have issued a joint statement which says there is credible evidence of ‘green shoots’ of population turnaround, which as yet does not show up in official statistics.

The Islands Revival Declaration, developed by social scientists and community representatives from the James Hutton Institute, Scotland’s Rural College, Community Development Lens (CoDeL) and Community Land Scotland, with input from over 20 island stakeholders from across Scotland and further afield, alludes to examples of population growth in Scottish islands which go against the undercurrent that identifies the islands as places where population is in decline.

These examples point to instances where, on some islands at least, young people are increasingly choosing to stay, return or relocate to island homes.

The declaration also identifies multiple factors facilitating positive population trends in some island areas and offers policy recommendations for the creation of sustainable populations.

Dr Ruth Wilson, a researcher based within the James Hutton Institute’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group in Aberdeen, believes it is crucial that policy is informed by these ‘green shoots’ of recovery in order to respond effectively to opportunities and challenges for island renewal.

She said: ‘Our intention is to facilitate discussion between communities, local and Scottish Government, island businesses and international experts, to identify ways in which policy can best support positive population trends in the islands.’

Theona Morrison and Thomas Fisher, from CoDeL, added: ‘The Islands Revival blog sources community knowledge about micro-trends at the island level, revealing examples of dynamic and entrepreneurial communities driving positive change and increasing their populations.

‘Islands have assets, including intangible ones of wellbeing and community, culture and identity, that are increasingly attractive to younger people. Island communities are investing in a holistic way, with interlocking and mutually supporting initiatives, to generate positive impacts and community resilience.”

Community Land Scotland’s Policy Director, Dr Calum MacLeod added: ‘The Islands Revival Declaration rightly highlights local control of land and marine assets as a key driver of positive population change in some island areas.

‘The challenge now is to ensure that public policy maximises opportunities for more of that local control to be exercised through community ownership and other means to enable the continuing sustainability of all our islands communities.’

Evidence of population turnaround in Scottish isles is characterised by:

  • A more positive discourse on population change in island communities.
  • Changing perceptions of younger, economically active people, especially out-migrant islanders, who increasingly consider their birthplace as a place to return to, and at an earlier stage in their lives. Connectivity (especially social media) is playing an important role in popularising this attitude.
  • An increasing appreciation, particularly by younger people (whether they have stayed, returned or settled), of the cultural wealth, environmental assets, well-being, and community-related benefits of island life.
  • Aspirations of sustainability, renewal, or restored viability, without risk to social, cultural and environmental assets.

The full Islands Revival declaration is available at