Friday 12 April 2024
 8.8°C   S Fresh Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Community / New research suggests population growth over last two decades

Lerwick. Photo: Jim Mullay

SHETLAND’s estimated population has increased over the last 20 years – but some areas within the isles have suffered a decline, according to new research.

Estimated figures from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre show that Lerwick North, the North Isles and the North Mainland have all suffered slight population declines since 2021.

But Central Shetland, Shetland South, the East and West Mainland and Lerwick South have all seemingly grown.

The data is included in new research in the growth and decline of populations in Scotland’s islands over the last two decades.

Orkney, Highland (mainly areas in Skye) and Shetland have shown the largest growth, although locally it appears to be modest, while the Western Isles have remained steady.

Island communities in Argyll and Bute and in North Ayrshire have experienced “significant reductions in their populations”.

Overall the islands have grown in population by an estimated 2.6 per cent since 2001, but this is well behind the national 7.9 per cent average.

Meanwhile the proportion of people aged 65 and over on Scotland’s islands rose from 18 per cent in 2001 to 26 per cent in 2020.

The figures in the study are based on births, deaths and migration, but a reminder was made that there is no comprehensive system which registers migration in the UK.

Depopulation has been a worry for the islands for some time, and the Scottish Government is proposing a scheme which could give people up to £50,000 to stay in or move to an island community.

National Records of Scotland statisticians are forecasting population reductions for all of Scotland’s island local authorities over the next 20 years.

The research on population was published alongside the latest annual review of the Scottish Government’s national islands plan.

Cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands Mairi Gougeon said a “number of commitments have either been fulfilled or are on their way to being met”.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


Speaking in response to the research Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said depopulation was a “complex issue”.

“When too many people leave a place services are lost and it becomes less viable for others to live there,” she added.

“Islanders need employment, reliable transport, digital connectivity, access to local amenities and public services, just like other places. In other words, the modern infrastructure and job opportunities  that will support island living and keep them vibrant.

“I have repeatedly called on the Scottish Government to tackle underlying issues which contribute to depopulation such as a shortage of affordable housing, especially for younger people who want to stay in their island communities.

“In February this year Alistair Carmichael and I hosted the Tunnel Vision event where we heard from the Faroese experience of fixed links and their contribution to tackling depopulation.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.