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Factfile - Population

Migration and Achieving a Sustainable Populatioun

The freedom to breath…
The freedom to breathe…

Migration has historically played a pivotal role in shaping the rich cultural heritage of the Outer Hebrides. Occupying a strategic position on key trade and fishing routes and with many historic socio economic drivers, the islands have long been both a destination and a departure point for many people. Those who came brought with them a diversity of language and traditions that blended with existing customs to form the enduring and distinctive elements of our unique heritage. Those who left, took with them pieces of their homeland culture which became part of their destinations own heritage and are still evident in many parts of the world today, such as Nova Scotia, Patagonia and the American Prairies.

A heritage to share…
A heritage to share…

But migration is not just part of our past; it will also play a vital role in our future.  For our island communities to thrive, a healthy balance in terms of age and gender must be achieved, and migration offers in-part, a solution to the demographic challenges we currently face.

While in recent years the Outer Hebrides is estimated to have experienced positive net in-migration (more people moving to the islands than leaving) it has not been enough to combat the persistent year-on-year negative natural change (more deaths than births). Despite, a higher than average fertility rate (2nd highest in Scotland in 2006), annual births are projected to decline by 50% in the next 20 years as our age structure is currently skewed to older age groups, leaving a significant deficit of young people and young families within our population structure.

The space to grow…
The space to grow…

Our legacy of an ageing population profile has created a momentum so well established, that based on current trends, our population is set to continue to decline and age at a worrying rate. While we cannot modify the natural change patterns already set in place, by reducing out-migration and encouraging complimentary in-migration we can help to ensure our communities, services and workforce are sustainable for the future.  

While efforts to retain our current population, and attract back those who have left, form a critical element of the plan, it is clear that a worthwhile opportunity exists in encouraging in-migration. New migrants offer fresh skills, experience and ideas for our workplaces and communities, and can help to revitalise our population structure.

The opportunity to flourish…
The opportunity to flourish…

In 2006, the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partners recognised there was a significant gap in our understanding of migration and the dynamics behind these movements on and off the islands. The Outer Hebrides Migration Study was commissioned to provide detailed information on population decline and migration as it affects the Outer Hebrides and to make an assessment of what a sustainable population would look like for the islands. The report was released in February 2007.

A smaller follow-on study was subsequently commissioned to identify appropriate methods for building and strengthening confidence and capacity for integration in our island communities. The ‘Building Capacity for a Sustainable Population Final Report' (PDF, 625K) was published in January 2009.

In 2008, the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership formed an inter-agency Sustainable Population Project Team to jointly tackle our demographic challenges and progress the recommendations of the above reports.

The potential to fulfil...
The potential to fulfil…

Although a number of challenges lie ahead in achieving an economic climate which is conducive to sustaining a thriving population, we are fortunate to already have an abundance of assets which make our islands an ideal destination for families and individuals alike, such as: a high quality of life, a rich cultural heritage, strong community cohesion, a low crime rate and a pristine and accessible natural environment.

The quality to succeed...
The quality to succeed...

As our islands have shown before, if our culture remains dynamic and embracing, migration can enrich every element of it; while our heritage will be treasured for its enduring legacy and worth. 

Interesting Facts

  • The Outer Hebrides had the second highest fertility rate of all Scottish Local Authority areas in 2006.
  • The population of the Outer Hebrides declined by almost 43% over the last century (1901-2001).
  • In the year preceding the June 2001 census, 61% of in-migrants to the Outer Hebrides came from within Scotland.
  • All parishes (except Stornoway at -7.5%) have seen a dramatic decline over the last century (Uig -66%; Lochs -62%; North Uist -61%; Harris -59%; Barra -54%; Barvas -54%; South Uist -42%).
  • The Gaelic name for the Outer Hebrides “Innse Gall" actually means "Isles of the foreigners / non Gaels" in reference to its early Viking occupation. 

Outer Hebrides Migration Study - Final Report

Building Capacity for a Sustainable Population – Final Report (PDF, 625K)