Island voices needed!

View of open country in North Uist with house in the distance
Alan Robertson

An islands researcher is looking to hear from people who used to live on a Scottish island and who have other long term island connections. Kirsten Gow, herself based on the Isle of Jura, has developed a survey in a bid to understand how people stay connected to island life whilst living elsewhere, and what part islanders who live off-island could play a part in the future of island life.


The research project is part of a PhD, funded by the Macaulay Development Trust and supervised by the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute, which focuses on strategic objective one of the National Islands Plan - addressing population decline and ensuring a healthy, balanced population profile in Scotland’s islands.  The 2019 plan noted that the global trend for urbanisation has led to long-term depopulation and a shrinking working age populations in many island areas, highlighting that ‘depopulation has an adverse effect on community confidence and service sustainability, increasing the vulnerability of communities already experiencing higher costs of service provision and market access’. In addition, some have pointed to the cultural impact of depopulation, with the loss of Gaelic language and local knowledge threatening unique ways of life in the islands.


“Tackling depopulation is central to ensuring sustainable futures for Scotland’s islands in order to safeguard the communities who call them home, and the cultural and economic wealth that benefits us all,” explains Kirsten. “Return migration – people with connections to an island moving ‘back’ to the island – can potentially help tackle depopulation, alongside efforts to bring in new people. The wider benefit of return migration is that it can potentially help retain local knowledge and culture, which has been shown to be a key part of building resilient and sustainable communities. But first we need to fully explore more about the connections that people continue to have with islands even while they live elsewhere, and what level of interest there is among this group in moving back to an island. This is what my survey aims to understand.”


The survey, available at is the first phase of the research project which will go on to speak to those with island connections who are actively seeking to move ‘back’ to an island, and to those who have already made the move in order to understand the aspirations and realities of return.