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New method to help project demographic changes in Scotland’s sparsely populated areas

Walker in Quinag, Assynt (c) James Hutton Institute
“Improving knowledge of these factors could help to design targeted place-based policies to support population levels, which could include ‘repopulation initiatives’ and improvements to the housing supply, infrastructure and services to improve economic links and lower barriers to migration.”

Social scientists at the James Hutton Institute have developed a novel method to estimate future demographic change in Scotland’s sparsely populated areas, by considering geographical differences in employment structures and regional economic linkages, among other factors, to produce estimates of future labour migration in different regions. Initial results have been produced for a ‘baseline’ scenario of future employment change but refining this and the model assumptions, following Covid-19 and Brexit, could offer valuable projections for remote areas.

The new method builds on a set of revised population projections, that estimates a decline of 18.6% in the population of Scotland’s sparsely populated areas (more than 41% of the country by area) in the period 2018-2043, with working-age population falling by 25.5% in the same period, if current trends continue.

Projections are less negative, however, in sparsely populated parts of the northern isles and in some parts of the Highlands. These projections follow those previously published by the Institute, and use updated data, including detailed demographic information and a revised definition of sparsely populated areas.

Dr Jonathan Hopkins, a social scientist based at the Institute’s Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences department in Aberdeen, worked on the analysis with Dr Simone Piras and said: “Remote communities in Scotland are highly diverse, and within sparsely populated areas there are differences in projected demographic changes, local economic characteristics, and employment links with other regions.

“Improving knowledge of these factors could help to design targeted place-based policies to support population levels, which could include ‘repopulation initiatives’ and improvements to the housing supply, infrastructure and services to improve economic links and lower barriers to migration.”

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing commented: “The sustainability of our rural communities is extremely important. As we get closer to the end of the transition period, it is clear that the impacts of Brexit and the end of freedom of movement could be devastating to our rural and remote areas. We want people to make Scotland their home before and after Brexit. We will be there to help and support anyone navigating through the EU Settlement Scheme through our Stay in Scotland Campaign. By the end of 2020, we will launch a Welcome to Scotland resource to provide information to people who have recently moved or are considering a move to Scotland.

“As part of our Programme for Government, we will publish a Population Strategy in early 2021, to set out Scotland’s demographic challenge and the actions we will take to address it. This will be created by our Population Programme and Ministerial Population Taskforce and we will work closely with partners to develop it.

“The research that we commissioned to further develop population projections for our Sparsely Populated Areas and to investigate case studies of island repopulation initiatives will support us in developing a better understanding of what depopulation looks like across our rural and island communities now and in the long-term, and to learn from positive examples of repopulation initiatives from within Scotland and internationally.”

Place-based policies, tailored to places and their needs, are hugely relevant for Scotland’s future as the location where people live have a considerable influence on their quality of life; government policies are not implemented equally across all areas, and country-level information frequently masks major inequalities between regions.

The report Population projections and an introduction to economic-demographic foresight for Scotland’s sparsely populated areas (2018-43) can be accessed here.

The research is funded by the Rural & Environment Science & Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government as part of the 2016-2021 Strategic Research Programme (RD3.4.1).

Notes to editors

Depopulation was the top priority issue identified by respondents to the National Islands Plan consultation. The National Islands Plan was launched by the Scottish Government and published on 27 December 2019 and seeks to address population decline and ensure a healthy, balanced population profile.

The Scottish Government’s Population Programme dashboard can be used to monitor progress and understand the demographic challenges in Scotland. 

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/new-method-help-project-demographic-changes-scotland%E2%80%99s-sparsely-populated-areas on 27/10/20 09:02:54 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.