Skip to navigation Skip to content

National Islands Plan survey paints mixed picture of life in Scottish islands

Tobermory, Mull, Argyll islands. Image: hendersona980/Pixabay
“This is a big step forward in understanding the realities of life across Scotland's islands and improving the islands’ evidence base.”

New social research conducted by the James Hutton Institute for the Scottish Government’s National Islands Plan paints a mixed picture of life in Scotland’s islands: while most respondents rate their local environment very highly and a majority indicate that they’re likely to remain in the islands for the next five years, challenges persist regarding housing, jobs, transport, fuel poverty, and speed and reliability of digital connections.

The survey sought the views of adult residents in 76 permanently inhabited islands in Argyll and Bute, Na h-Eileanan Siar, Highland, North Ayrshire, Orkney and Shetland, and was conducted pre-lockdown.  More than 4,000 responses were recorded, making this the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken in the islands.

A majority (86%) of respondents indicate that they are likely to remain on the islands for the next five years. Less than one third agree that it is easy for young people to live and work on the islands. A quarter agree that young people are supported to remain, move or return.

Young people aged 18 to 35 are more positive about job availability. 50% of respondents disagree that there are jobs available to suit interests, skills, and ambitions. Less than half of respondents agree that there are services available to help people find and keep jobs.

Attitudes towards transport varied between island regions and respondent age groups. In particular, Orkney and Shetland mainlanders were more positive about bus availability than outer islanders. 38% of respondents agree that making connections between different forms of transport is easy.

Respondents indicate low rates of satisfaction with housing availability and affordability on many of the islands. Almost three quarters of respondents (71%) agree that there is a high proportion of local holiday lets and second homes on the islands.

78% of people aged over 65 agree that fuel costs are an issue, with heating bills having increased in the past year, compared to 69% of 18- to 35-year-olds. The majority of respondents agree that they can afford to heat their own home, however, a significant minority (13%) could not, and some had to choose between food and heating.

The majority of respondents (96%) had digital connectivity at home. However, speed and reliability of internet connections are an issue for many, particularly in Orkney Outer Isles and Shetland Outer Isles. 31% disagree that there is good mobile phone signal in their home and 33% disagree that there is a good signal in their local area.

Most agree they could easily access healthcare, but responses were less positive in the Orkney Outer Isles and Shetland Outer Isles. Most respondents agree that there are places where they can go to take part in sports and physical exercise, but not all agree that these facilities are affordable.

Respondents largely feel positive about their local environment. Nearly all agree that the air quality is good, that they see a lot of wildlife and have green and blue (water) spaces within a 5-minute walk of their home. Availability of recycling facilities is mixed, and some responses indicate that it is hard to recycle bulky items.

High proportions engage in environmentally friendly behaviours, notably buying food locally and using LED light bulbs. Proportions of those who have installed equipment to generate their own renewable energy are highest in Orkney Outer Isles and Orkney Mainland.

Islanders, particularly the young, have a high sense of empowerment within their communities. However, agreement with this varies from 64% in Lewis and Harris to 81% in Shetland Outer Isles.

Experiences of culture and language vary considerably across island groups, age groups and genders: 60% agree that there is investment in cultural and historic places. The highest proportion of Scottish Gaelic speakers is in Uist and Barra, and 59% of speakers agree that there is support for them to live and work in their community.

Most agree that children living there have access to good quality primary and secondary school education. Agreement rates with respect to college and university education and professional qualifications are lower. More positive perceptions were found among those living in island groups with small towns.

Dr Ruth Wilson, lead author of the report on the findings of the survey, said: “The findings underline just how diverse our islands are. Life in one island can be experienced very differently from life in another, even where these islands are close by. The findings also show that the challenges facing a young person can be quite different from those facing an older person living in the same island group.

“This is a big step forward in understanding the realities of life across Scotland's islands and improving the islands’ evidence base.”

Islands Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:“The aim of the National Islands Plan is to improve the quality of life for island communities by showing them that they are very important to our nation, we care about their futures and that their voices are strong and being heard.

“The results of this report will be used to monitor the effectiveness of the implementation of the National Islands Plan and improve the availability of data held about Scotland’s islands.”

The full report on the findings of the National Islands Plan survey can be accessed on the Scottish Government website, and the James Hutton Institute has  also developed an online tool for exploring the results.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/national-islands-plan-survey-paints-mixed-picture-life-scottish-islands on 03/08/21 09:50:03 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.