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Population boom as thousands flock to Scottish islands


They’re some of the most remote parts of the British Isles, presenting challenges to simple everyday life posed by nowhere else in the UK – just as George Orwell learnt in Jura 60 years ago.

In the modern age, with more people moving to cities, you might think places such as Shetland, Orkney and Harris would be struggling to maintain their populations. Think again.

Open air, an untouched landscape and an abundance of wildlife are just some of the reasons why thousands of people have moved to the islands of Scotland in the past decade.

Offering a very different lifestyle even to mainland parts of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides and other northern isles are flourishing according to recent census statistics released by the Office of National Statistics – with the number of residents rising from 99,739 people in 2001 to 103,702 people in 2011.

Russ Madge, a local councillor on the island who is a father of three and works for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, moved to Orkney from East Sussex in 2002. He isn’t surprised that more have followed his lead.

“It was a family decision. We came here on holiday and loved it,” he said. “It’s a great place to live, fantastic opportunities, good education for the kids... It’s all about the freedom for the children. The kids love playing on their bikes outside.”

There’s employment for them too, he says. “There’s a lot of stuff going on with marine renewables here.”

The rise has not been consistent across the Western Isles with places such as Arran, Bute and Islay experiencing a drop in their population.

In some areas, the difficulties of everything from buying food and supplies to reaching the nearest hospital are proving too much. But Shetland has also lured in newcomers.

Morgan Blanch and her husband Patrick moved there in March this year, and now own the Maryfield House Hotel on Bressay. Originally from Vancouver, Ms Blanch says: “Patrick and I were talking one day and we found that it was both our dream to live in the countryside or even a small island.

“We had moved to Edinburgh from Canada last October and liked the city because it was a short travelling distance to the countryside. One night in March this year we saw the TV advert with the dancing Shetland pony and both our hearts sank because we both fell in love with the island right then.”

“So two days later we packed our bags and headed to Shetland. The way of life here, the beauty and the peacefulness of it made us want to stay. We were looking over from the larger part of the Shetland and saw this beautiful hotel and thought ‘That is our dream home’. Surprisingly when we went to visit it the next day it was for sale.”

Maurice Irvan, 24, manager of Captain’s Flint pub in Shetland adds: “We notice it in the pub and profits are increasing, so that is a good thing. I think our history in Shetland, the fact that most of the land has been untouched so we still have our Shetland ponies and flowers take people back to the basics. There are quite a few ages moving here, not just the older retired generation.

“I was speaking to a couple the other day that moved here – they bought a hotel and want to raise a family here on the Island”.

A piece of peace

103,702 The number of people living on the islands at the 2011 census, the most recent survey

2 The percentage of the national population that  the Scottish  island-dwellers make up

47,103 The number of homes on Scotland’s inhabited islands

250 New island jobs created by the marine renewables industry