Scottish Islands Typology: overview 2024

This report outlines the Scottish Islands Typology (2024). It classifies Scotland’s islands into ten categories based on combinations of population, access to local amenities, and access to mainland Scotland. It offers an alternative way to compare the differences and similarities between islands.

3 Methodology

This chapter briefly outlines the way that the typology was compiled, including which islands were included, and how population, access to local amenities and services, and ferry connections were measured. The chapter also provides information on and what the chosen dimensions might indicate about life in different island communities.

The Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) uses the methodology developed for Gow’s Typology of Scotland’s Islands (Gow et al. 2023) to examine factors of capacity and reliance in the islands. Gow’s Typology has been extended to develop the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) with the latter including all islands listed within the Scottish Island Regions geography. The islands included are listed in Appendix 1.

The Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) examines:

  • population levels in islands and population change over time;
  • the availability of specific amenities and services in each island;
  • access to services, amenities, suppliers, and markets beyond an island’s borders via scheduled ferry routes.

This chapter provides an overview of how scores were calculated and applied. More information is available in the Technical Note on Gow’s Typology of Scotland’s Islands.

3.1 Islands included in the typology

The Scotland’s Census 2011: Inhabited Islands Report (Scottish Government, 2015) identified 93 inhabited islands in Scotland. This included 88 islands located in open seas and sea lochs, as well five islands located in bodies of freshwater.[1] It is also noted that the Inhabited Islands Report does not list Walls in Orkney as an island in its own right. Instead data for Walls is included under Hoy as the two islands are linked by a bridge. This is inconsistent with the way other islands with fixed links to each other are treated, for example Canna and Sanday or Housay and Bruray, which are each recognised as islands in their own right regardless of fixed links.

The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 specifically covers inhabited islands which are “(a) surrounded on all sides by the sea (ignoring artificial structures such as bridges), and (b) above water at high tide.” Using the Inhabited Islands Report (Scottish Government 2015) as a starting point, but excluding islands in fresh water and recognising Walls as an island in its own right, means that the Act covers 89 inhabited islands according to 2011 census data.

When Scottish Island Regions (2023) geography was developed it included these 89, though Walls was again classed under Hoy. In addition it covered 72 islands which were recorded as previously inhabited in order to allow the geography to be used to examine both historical and future data. The Scottish Island Regions (2023) geography therefore recognises 160 islands. In order to be consistent with the way other islands in the typology are treated, the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) recognises Hoy and Walls as distinct islands, meaning that the typology covers 161 islands.

Appendix 2 provides a list of all islands included in the typology with details of the local authority, Scottish Island Regions (2023) geography class, and Scottish Government Scottish Island Typology (2024) class for each island.

3.2 Measuring capacity and reliance in the islands

Three factors were selected to assess some of the similarities and differences between islands which affect daily life: population, access to amenities and services on-island, and ferry connections.

Population levels were used as an indicator of the human capital available in each island, including an indication of the number of people potentially available to deliver services and fulfil key volunteer roles. In addition, population levels also indicate the potential market size within an island, which may affect the willingness or ability of those based elsewhere to provide goods and services to the island. Population change over time indicates the stability of this factor and was measured over 30 years, using census data from 1981 and 2011.

The availability of local amenities and services was used as an indicator of island residents’ ability to fulfil some of the basic needs of daily life without leaving the island. This included access to schooling, GP practices and hospitals, grocery stores, and fuel outlets. As well as reflecting key aspects of daily life these areas were selected because their availability is highly variable across the islands. Information on the availability of these services was collated in November 2022 for Gow’s Typology of Scotland’s Islands with additional updating in November 2023. This information was used to create a rating to indicate the availability of amenities and services on each island compared to other islands in the typology.

Scheduled ferry services between islands and mainland Scotland were used as an indicator of the access island residents have to goods and services located elsewhere. This includes access for suppliers travelling to the islands (e.g., wholesalers supplying island shops or renewable energy installers), and for island residents accessing goods and services located elsewhere (e.g., medical specialists). While some islands are also served by scheduled flight connections to mainland Scotland[2], ferries offer the most universal method of transport between mainland Scotland and the islands and therefore provided a consistent basis for analysis. They are also the most flexible form of transport in terms of the range of goods and equipment which can be carried given that basic goods and materials such as fuel, groceries and building supplies are not routinely transported via air.

Timetabled ferry services from and to some islands vary between summer and winter and the 2023/24 timetables were used to indicate the minimum service levels island residents can rely on throughout the year[3]. To reflect the variability of ferry provision across the islands this factor was measured using the following dimensions:

  • average crossing times from the island;
  • the average number of sailings from the island on a daily basis;
  • the location of the mainland port which the ferry arrives at; and
  • the number of ferries an island resident must take to reach the mainland.

Some islands have multiple ferry routes to mainland Scotland. This was taken into account using the methodology used to develop Gow’s Typology of Scotland’s Islands.

The average crossing time acts as an indicator of the effort required to reach mainland Scotland and the average number of daily sailings acts as an indicator of the potential availability of ferries as a travel option. Ferries from Scotland’s islands arrive in a variety of destinations, ranging from city centres to areas classed as Remote Rural under the Scottish Government’s Urban Rural 6-fold classification. To reflect this variety, island ferry routes were given a score based on a sliding scale which uses the Scottish Government’s Urban Rural 6-fold classification as a basis to reflect the likely access to goods and services that the mainland port location provides.

Ferry access to the Scottish mainland can require travel via a second or a third island. Where this is required, islands are affected by double or triple insularity respectively, and this affects access to goods and services based in mainland Scotland in a number of ways including in terms of time, cost, and logistical complexity. To reflect this, all islands were given a score based on a sliding scale ranging to indicate their insularity status.

Access to people, amenities and ferry routes was based on what island residents can access via road. This means that, within the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024), islands which are connected to each other via permanent fixed links or tidal access points are grouped together and their populations, amenities and ferry connections considered as one. For example, the Mainland Orkney & connected isles grouping includes the islands of Mainland Orkney, Burray, Lamb Holm, and South Ronaldsay, which are connected to each other by road through a series of causeways, known locally as barriers. While there is highly likely to be differences between areas within island groupings, the same might also be said about different areas of larger islands – for example between Bowmore and Portnahaven in Islay.

Once data on all these areas were collated, the results were analysed to identify similarities and differences between Scotland’s islands and to create categories which reflect factors which influence daily life in the Scottish islands.



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