Report offers nuanced view of island and very remote regions

A new report provides a better focus on Scotland's more peripheral communities.

Scotland’s islands and very remote mainland regions have come under a “more nuanced lens” in a bid to better understand the challenges facing these communities – as well as future opportunities.

Researchers at SRUC have extended the Scottish Government’s Urban Rural classification from eight to ten unique categories to gain accurate and up-to-date evidence about the characteristics of the communities and the businesses within them.

The Rural and Islands Report 2023, launched today, is the first in a series of annual reports funded by The Scottish Government to support its work on delivering a Rural Delivery Plan.

Rural areas - settlements with less than 3000 people - make up 98 per cent of Scotland’s landmass and 17 per cent of its population. In addition, Scotland has a total of 790 islands, with 73 of these currently inhabited.

The report found that rural and island economies and communities are incredibly diverse, with issues faced in one locality not always the same in the next.

However, in general, very remote mainland areas and islands are experiencing challenges such as slow population growth, ageing populations, high levels of vacant and second home ownership, lack of affordable housing for locals and higher fuel prices.

Meanwhile, in accessible parts of Scotland, there has been rapid population growth, leading to an increase in housing developments and pressures on local services.

The new classification divides ‘very remote’ regions - defined as being more than a 60-minute drive-time from population centres of over 10,000 people - into ‘very remote mainland’ and ‘very remote island’ categories to provide a better focus on the most peripheral communities.

The report uses these new classifications to compare performance in key areas including people, transport, housing, workforce and earnings, and business and economy.

It is hoped the information gained about the characteristics of, and challenges and opportunities facing, these communities and the businesses within them will support them to become more sustainable and resilient – something that is critical to Scotland’s ambitions of achieving its target of net zero by 2045.

Rural Affairs and Islands Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “The Scottish Government is committed to continuing to build vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural and island communities, now and for future generations.

“This report will help to inform the Rural Delivery Plan which is an opportunity to set out the actions government and public bodies are taking to improve policies that impact rural communities - such as agriculture, marine, land reform, transport, housing, repopulation, social justice and digital connectivity.

“Fully understanding the challenges faced by rural and island communities is crucial to addressing their specific needs. The insight and recommendations from this research, combined with hearing directly from rural and island communities themselves, will be valuable as we develop the plan, which will ensure that a rural lens is applied to all ongoing policy.”

Lead researcher Steven Thomson, a Reader at SRUC, said: “The use of the NISRIE classification allows for a much more nuanced picture to be generated of the socio-economic trends across accessible, remote and very remote rural mainland and island communities.

“The report also demonstrates how using different geographical classifications can generate quite different pictures of these trends.

“Building up a holistic picture of these trends will enable us to better and more accurately inform policy formation.”

The report is part of the Novel insights on Scotland’s rural and island economies (NISRIE) and Reimagined rural and island communities (ReRic) projects funded by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme 2022-27.


For more information, visit: 2023 Islands & Rural Insights Report from SRUC (

Posted by SRUC on 01/08/2023

Categories: Research