Scotland’s rural communities to lose quarter of their population

Mangurstadh,  in the Uig area of Lewis. The Highlands and islands are expected to suffer most from population decline. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL
Mangurstadh, in the Uig area of Lewis. The Highlands and islands are expected to suffer most from population decline. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL
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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.”

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