The working age population in Scotland’s rural areas will plummet by a third by 2046, new research has found.
The very existence of communities in remote corners of the Highlands and islands is threatened by a “spiral of decline” caused by depopulation.
A report by the James Hutton Institute found that “sparsely populated areas” - defined as those where fewer than 10,000 people can be reached within 30 minutes of travel - account for almost half of Scotland, but just 2.6 per cent of the population live there.
It is these areas that are projected to lose more than a quarter of their population within the next 30 years, with Western Isles, Argyll and the Southern Uplands among the worst affected.
“Scotland’s sparsely populated areas have a demographic legacy, which, in the absence of intervention, would result in decades of population decline, and shrinkage of its working age population on a scale which implies serious challenges for economic development,” said Dr Andrew Copus, lead author of the report.
“Our research underlines a divergence in the demographic development of these areas to the rest of the country. The key is a relatively small number of children and young people, which in the years to come will translate into a shrinking working age population, projected to decrease by 33 per cent by 2046.”