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.


5 Exploring individual factors: population, local amenities, and ferry connections

This chapter provides information on how Scotland's islands might be grouped in terms of the individual dimensions of population, access to local services and amenities, and connections to mainland Scotland via ferries and fixed links. This may be of particular use to those whose work focuses on these specific areas.

Alongside the categories set out in Chapter 4, there is value in using the underlying data from the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) to group islands using the individual factors of population, local amenities, and ferry access. This chapter provides an overview of islands in eight of the ten categories included in the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) from each of these perspectives. Unserviced Islands and Previously Inhabited Islands have not been included due to their lack of amenities and ferry services, and low or absent populations.

5.1 Population

Population levels in the islands included in this chapter vary from seven people to over 21,000 with an average (median) population of 192 (Scottish Government, 2015). Population levels can affect human capacity in an island including, for example, the number of people available to deliver services or volunteer in key roles (e.g., emergency service cover or on the boards of community organisations). The number of people living in an island may also affect the willingness or ability for businesses and organisations based elsewhere to provide goods and services to an island. Islands with small populations may be unattractive to private sector suppliers because the potential market for their goods and services is too small to make doing business there profitable. Small populations can pose similar problems for public sector organisations who might find it difficult to recruit the staff they require locally to deliver statutory services and may experience higher costs per head of delivering services given the restricted market size (Skerratt, 2010).

Thinking about population size can help inform approaches to delivering policy and services in some areas. For example, in islands with larger populations, approaches which involve training local people or engaging with volunteers may be more fruitful than in smaller islands where there may not be enough people with the time and inclination to engage with an initiative.

The rest of this chapter provides a breakdown of islands into four broad categories based on their population levels at the 2011 census.

Islands / island groupings with very high population levels have populations higher than 90% of the islands covered in this chapter. The population of these islands varies significantly according to 2011 census data. The islands in this category are:

  • Lewis, Harris & connected isles (population 21,574)
  • Mainland Shetland & connected isles (population 19,882)
  • Mainland Orkney & connected isles (population 18,480)
  • Skye (population 10,008)

Islands / island groupings with mid to high population levels have populations which are higher than at least 60% of the islands covered in this chapter, but lower than 10% of the islands covered by this chapter. The population of these islands varies significantly. The islands in this category are:

  • Uist & connected isles (population 4,846)
  • Arran (population 4,629)
  • Islay (population 3,228)
  • Mull (population 2,800)
  • Great Cumbrae (population 1,376)
  • Barra & Vatersay (population 1,264)
  • Whalsay (population 1,061)
  • Yell (population 966)
  • Tiree (population 653)
  • Unst (population 632)
  • Westray (population 588)
  • Seil (population 551)
  • Sanday (Orkney) (population 494)
  • Hoy & Walls (population 419)
  • Bressay (population 368)

Islands with mid to low population levels have populations lower than 40% of the islands covered in this chapter, but higher than at least 40% of the islands covered in this chapter. The populations of these islands range from 160 (Eday) to 349 (Stronsay). The islands in this category are:

  • Stronsay (population 349)
  • Shapinsay (population 307)
  • Rousay (population 216)
  • Jura (population 196)
  • Luing (population 195)
  • Coll (population 195)
  • Lismore (population 192)
  • Iona (population 177)
  • Gigha (population 163)
  • Raasay (population 161)
  • Eday (population 160)

Islands / island groupings with very low population levels had populations lower than 70% of islands covered in this chapter. All had fewer than 100 inhabitants according to 2011 census data, apart from Colonsay & Oronsay which had 132 inhabitants. The island grouping with the lowest population in this category was Ulva & Gometra with 13 people between the two islands. The islands in this category are:

  • Colonsay & Oronsay (population 132)
  • Papa Westray (population 90)
  • Eigg (population 83)
  • Flotta (population 80)
  • Skerries (Housay & Bruray) (population 74)
  • North Ronaldsay (population 72)
  • Fair Isle (population 68)
  • Fetlar (population 61)
  • Easdale (population 59)
  • Foula (population 38)
  • Kerrera (population 34)
  • Wyre (population 29)
  • Graemsay (population 28)
  • Muck (population 27)
  • Egilsay (population 26)
  • Rum (population 22)
  • Canna & Sanday (population 21)
  • Papa Stour (population 15)
  • Ulva & Gometra (population 13)

Figure 1 illustrates the population levels of the islands included in this chapter while also indicating if and how population change affected an island between 1981 and 2011. This diagram only provides a high-level overview of population change in the islands. For example, it does not include any information about difference in population change in different areas of larger islands or within island groupings. Populations have been considered stable if population change is between +3.5% or -3.5% or, in islands with very small populations, if the difference between the populations in 1981 and 2011 is fewer than 5 people.

Figure 1: Relative populations and population change (1981-2011) for selected Scottish islands
population level shown as a sliding scale on the vertical axis and population growth / decline shown as a sliding scale on the horizontal axis. The names of each island or island grouping appear in the relevant area of the chart, for example islands with high populations and high levels of population growth relative to other items in the typology appear in the top right of the chart, whereas islands with low populations and the largest population decline relative to other islands in the typology appear in the bottom left of the chart. A full list of population and population growth / decline for each island cab be found in the accompanying Excel datasheet.

Note: A full list of island population sizes and rates of population decline or growth is available in the accompanying Excel data sheet. Sources: (1) Scotland’s Census 2011: Inhabited islands report appendix tables (National Records of Scotland, 2015) for 2011 population levels. 2) Scotland’s Census 2001 Statistics for Inhabited Islands (General Register Office for Scotland, 2003) for 1981 population levels.

5.1.1 Island population in context

Data from the 2022 census began to be released in late 2023 but, at the time of writing, no data was available for individual Scottish islands or areas defined by the Scottish Island Regions (2023) geography. However, data already released from the census shows that, in 2022, the population of Scotland was estimated to be 5,436,600. Population breakdowns for local authority areas have also been released, meaning we can assess population change in island-only local authority areas[18]. In these three local authority areas Na h-Eileanan Siar and Shetland saw a population decreases since 2011 (down 5.5% and 1.2% respectively) while the population of Orkney has grown by 3% over the same period.[19]

Although more detailed information from the 2022 census is not yet available, it is possible to apply the Scottish Island Regions geography to the National Records of Scotland’s Small Area Population Estimates to provide a guide as to population levels in different island areas. This reveals a highly variable picture of population change both between local authority areas and within local authority areas between 2001 and 2021 (see Figure 2). Whilst the overall population of Scotland's islands has grown over the last 20 years, there is considerable variation between island regions and some islands have a declining population.

Figure 2: Percentage population change in Scottish Island Regions and Mainland Scotland, 2001 – 2021
population change in various geographical areas between 2001 and 2021. It shows that Orkney - Mainland and connected had population growth of 19.7%; Highland Islands had 13.4% population growth; Shetland - Mainland and connected had 6.5% growth; Mainland Scotland had 8.3% population growth; Scottish islands had 3.8% population growth; Orkney - Outer islands had 2.4% population growth; Lewis and Harris, Great Bernera... had 1.1% population growth; The Uists and Barra islands had 0.5% population decline; Argyll Islands had 2.5% population decline; Shetland - Outer islands had 9.3% population decline; and Arran, Bute and the Cumbraes had 13% population decline.

Source: National Records of Scotland

Population growth has been strongest in Orkney Mainland and Connected Islands and the Highland Islands regions of the Scottish Island Regions geography. These areas have seen a population growth of 19.7% and 13.4% respectively. However, population in Arran, Bute and the Cumbraes and the Shetland Outer Isles has declined by 13% and 9.3% respectively. In addition, even where overall island population has grown, this growth is not spread equally across age groups. All island areas within the Scottish Island Regions geography that are estimated to have seen population growth have seen substantial increases in those age over 65, but a decrease in the 5-15 and 25-44 age groups[20]. This points to a loss of working age populations in the islands which is estimated to be disproportionately higher than the total percentage loss of population.

Across Scotland, the projected percentage change in population by age grouping shows that the population will age in every area to 2043. The highest percentage reduction in the number of children and the working age people is expected to be in islands and remote rural areas (-23% and -15% respectively).[21] The overall projected percentage change in population is most extreme in island and remote rural local authority areas, where an approximate drop of 19,000 people represents a -12% change between 2018 and 2043. In contrast, the population of large cities is projected to increase by 7%, or 109,000 people.[22]

5.2 Local Amenities

Access to amenities and services varies widely across Scotland’s inhabited islands. For example, residents on some islands must leave the island to visit a GP whereas those on other islands have multiple GP practices as well as on-island access to a hospital offering a range of additional medical services[23]. The provision of grocery stores ranges from islands with several stores, including a national chain, to those with one small community store, or no grocery store at all. Pupils in some islands are able to complete all of their education to the age of 18 by travelling daily to school by road, whereas others might have to leave their islands daily or even board away from home to access secondary education.

To understand the diversity of daily life in Scotland’s islands access to the following services and amenities was mapped for each island:

  • GPs and hospitals;
  • schooling;
  • grocery stores;
  • vehicle fuel.

This chapter uses the data gathered for Gow’s Typology of Scotland’s Islands and updated for the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) to create three groupings indicating only the level of amenities and services available in each island. Once again it is important to note that these categories compare islands to each other. This means that when terms such as ‘high’ or ‘low’ are used this indicates the availability of amenities and services in relation to other islands in the typology and do not indicate how islands compare to other areas such as mainland rural or urban areas.

By using access to local amenities and services as a way to distinguish between places the islands included in this chapter can be grouped into three broad categories.

Islands with high levels of access to amenities and services have access, via road, to education to the age of 18[24], GPs and hospital services, a range of grocery stores (including at least one national chain), and at least one vehicle fuel outlet. The islands in this category are:

  • Arran
  • Barra & Vatersay
  • Bute
  • Islay
  • Lewis, Harris & connected isles
  • Mainland Orkney & connected isles
  • Mainland Shetland & connected isles
  • Mull
  • Seil
  • Skye
  • Uist

Islands with mid-range levels of access to amenities and services include those who have a range of basic amenities and services available on-island, or who have fast and frequent ferry connections which allow them to access these elsewhere with relative ease. These islands have access by road to at least one grocery store. Most of these islands have on-island access to a GP practice, though a GP may not necessarily be permanently resident on the island. Those islands without a GP practice generally have fast, frequent ferry services which facilitate access to GP services elsewhere. Pupils on these islands can access all compulsory education daily by road or ferry, though some may choose to board away from home for high school due to travel time. The islands in this category are:

  • Bressay
  • Gigha
  • Great Cumbrae
  • Hoy & Walls
  • Jura
  • Kerrera
  • Lismore
  • Luing
  • Papa Westray
  • Raasay
  • Rousay
  • Sanday (Orkney)
  • Shapinsay
  • Stronsay
  • Tiree
  • Unst
  • Westray
  • Whalsay
  • Yell

Islands with low levels of access to amenities or services include those with the lowest level of on-island amenities and services of the islands considered. Only two islands in this class have a resident GP, with five islands served by visiting GPs and thirteen having no on-island access to a GP. Separately, in thirteen of the islands in this class, pupils must board away from home to complete high school education. Those on the remaining seven islands must travel daily by ferry to access high school education, with pupils on some of these islands given the option to board away from home to due to travel times. Islands in this class which do have grocery stores or fuel on-island are served by single, independent outlets. The islands in this category are:

  • Canna & Sanday
  • Coll
  • Colonsay & Oronsay
  • Easdale
  • Eday
  • Egilsay
  • Eigg
  • Fair Isle
  • Fetlar
  • Flotta
  • Foula
  • Graemsay
  • Iona
  • Muck
  • North Ronaldsay
  • Papa Stour
  • Rum
  • Skerries
  • Ulva & Gometra
  • Wyre

5.3 Ferry connectivity

Ferry connections are key to daily life in islands which do not have fixed links to mainland Scotland. Ferries are used by island residents to travel for a range of reasons including work, schooling, leisure, and medical appointments. Ferries are also used to transport goods and tradespeople to and from the islands.

Although ferries are a common part of life in Scotland’s islands, ferry services vary significantly. At one end of the scale, some islands are served by multiple routes to mainland Scotland with frequent departures throughout the day. At the other end of the scale, some islands are served by a single ferry route with less than one crossing per day. Crossing times to mainland Scotland also vary from between 5 minutes and 14.5 hours. In addition, the mainland destination port for ferries can vary between a city centre and a Remote Rural[25] area outwith a settlement. Of the 73 islands / island groupings included in this chapter[26], 28 did not have access to direct ferry connections to mainland Scotland in the winter of 2023/24, meaning that passengers were required to travel via up to two other islands in order to reach the Scottish mainland.

These factors affect the time, cost, and logistical complexity of travel from and to different islands. This influences how easy or difficult it is for islanders to access services and amenities elsewhere, and how easy or difficult it is for those in the wider world to provide goods and services to islands.

This chapter covers islands which do not have fixed links (e.g., a bridge) to mainland Scotland. This means that, as well as excluding Previously Inhabited Islands and Unserviced Islands, this chapter also excludes Mainland-Connected Islands. By using ferry services to distinguish between the remaining 71 islands in the typology, the islands can be grouped into four broad categories.

Islands with high levels of access to mainland Scotland via ferry all have more than five direct ferry connections to the Scottish mainland per day. Seven of the islands in this class are served by at least one ferry route which arrives on the Scottish mainland in an urban area or an accessible rural area with good transport links. Routes serving the remaining three islands all have a relatively high number of crossings per day and are within a 35-minute drive of an urban area. All islands are served by at least one ferry route with an average crossing time of less than one hour, apart from Mainland Orkney & connected isles where the shortest crossing time to mainland Scotland is 70 minutes. Arran, Bute, Lismore, Mainland Orkney & connected isles, and Mull are served by multiple routes which provides additional resilience, for example when one route is affected by adverse sailing conditions or technical failure. The islands in this category are:

  • Arran
  • Bute
  • Easdale
  • Gigha
  • Great Cumbrae
  • Kerrera
  • Lismore
  • Luing
  • Mainland Orkney & connected isles
  • Mull

Islands with mid-range levels of access to mainland Scotland via ferry all have at least one direct ferry connection to mainland Scotland, with the exception of Bressay which has high levels of connectivity to Mainland Shetland where onward services can be accessed. Islands in this class are served either by services arriving in a Remote Small Town[27] which have higher than average crossing times (ranging between 2.5 hours and just under 5 hours), or services which arrive on mainland Scotland in Remote Rural[28] areas where access to services and onward transport is likely to be limited. The only exception to this is Mainland Shetland & connected isles which is served by a route arriving in Aberdeen city centre, but which has the highest average crossing time of all ferry routes serving Scottish islands at just over 12.5 hours. The islands in this category are:

  • Barra and Vatersay
  • Bressay
  • Coll
  • Colonsay & Oronsay
  • Eigg
  • Islay
  • Lewis, Harris & connected isles
  • Mainland Shetland & connected isles
  • Muck
  • Raasay
  • Rum
  • Tiree
  • Uist & connected isles.

All islands with low levels of access to mainland Scotland via ferry are affected by double insularity, meaning that journeys from and to the island must travel via one other island to reach the Scottish mainland. This has implications for transporting people and goods from and to these islands in terms of time, cost and logistical complexity. There is considerable variability within this class in terms of the frequency and crossing time for ferries connecting these islands to the islands which provide them with access to onward travel to mainland Scotland. There is also considerable variability in the frequency and crossing time for ferries providing onward connections to mainland Scotland. The islands in this category are:

  • Eday
  • Egilsay
  • Flotta
  • Graemsay
  • Hoy & Walls
  • Iona
  • Jura
  • Papa Westray
  • Rousay
  • Sanday (Orkney)
  • Shapinsay
  • Stronsay
  • Ulva & Gometra
  • Westray
  • Whalsay
  • Wyre
  • Yell

Islands with very low levels of access to mainland Scotland via ferry are all affected by specific factors which have implications for ferry travel. Fetlar and Unst are affected by triple insularity, meaning that journeys from and to these islands must travel via two other islands to reach mainland Scotland. Also in the Shetland islands, Fair Isle, Foula, Papa Stour and Skerries are affected by double insularity and are served by inter-island ferries with infrequent services and / or lengthy crossing times. Once in Mainland Shetland those travelling from these islands then face an average ferry crossing time of just over 12.5 hours to reach mainland Scotland. North Ronaldsay in Orkney is also affected by double insularity and the winter 2023/4 timetable for inter-island ferries between North Ronaldsay and Mainland Orkney includes only one crossing a week. While Canna & Sanday has a direct ferry connection to mainland Scotland, it has the fewest crossing per week of all islands with mainland ferry connections, with fewer than 0.5 crossing per day on average in the winter 2023/4 timetable, and an average crossing time of 2 hours and 50 minutes. The islands in this category are:

  • Canna & Sanday
  • Fair Isle
  • Fetlar
  • Foula
  • North Ronaldsay
  • Papa Stour
  • Skerries
  • Unst

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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