The islands of Barra and Benbecula are among the few seeing the turning of the demographic tide, with new population growth being recorded, according to a research statement published on Friday (June 14th).

Ruth Wilson, Andrew Copus and Ruth Mitchell are the co-authors of a report published on the website of SEFARI (Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes). The report, described as work in progress, suggests that some islands are bucking a wider trend for 25% population decline and one-third in the working age population by 2046.

Among the islands where population has actually increased are Barra, where tourism is the suggested driver for the current growth in population, and Benbecula, where the authors speculate that the existence of the airport could explain an increase in numbers.

The authors admit that the findings so far are tentative, saying: “The results are tricky to interpret. For example, an increase in a school roll does not necessarily indicate an expansion of the local population of children, it may instead reflect the complex consequences of the closure of another school nearby.”

The research is part of a wider Islands Revival project, which is looking for first-hand accounts of economic revival to use on a blog. To find out more, or to participate in the research, go to https://islandsrevival.org

Meanwhile Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed the establishment of a Scottish Ministerial Task Force to consider Scotland’s future population changes. The Task Group on Population will explore different dimensions to the challenge and develop new solutions to address demographic and population change. There will be a focus on the dispersal of population across Scotland and how the economic benefits of future population growth are spread across all communities.

Population projections from the National Records of Scotland show that the Western Isles are expected to lose 15% of their population by 2040 – the highest expected loss of population of any area in Scotland.  Alasdair Allan MSP said: “I hope the Task Group will explore ways in which we can retain families in rural and island areas while encouraging others to consider living here. Encouraging more house building and making it easier for young families to get on the housing ladder, bringing in more employment to the islands and improving connectivity should all be a given.

“However, we also need to challenge the lazy stereotypes that all too often emanate from our media. The Faroes successfully managed to reverse depopulation trends in one of their island groups by, in part, putting a positive focus on media stories about fragile communities there. I hope the Task Force will consider this often-overlooked point.

“The Western Isles has one of the lowest crime rates in Scotland and one of the highest rates of happiness and fulfilment. We are consistently identified as one of the best places in Britain to raise children. There is no reason why we cannot stop these projections from becoming a reality.”

(This report has been updated with details from Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan since first being published)