Last year the Islands (Scotland) Act was passed. RSPB Scotland's David Hunt discusses the significance of the Act and how you can contribute to the next steps.

What's next for the Islands Act?

From the Ailsa Craig in the Clyde to Unst on the northern frontier, Scotland’s 1,382 islands – more or less, depending on how they are counted - are without doubt some of the most remarkable wildlife sites in the whole of Europe. Compared to the far greater area of the Scottish mainland, the islands are of strikingly disproportionate significance for native species and habitats, holding fully 40% of Scotland’s internationally important protected wildlife areas. The pattern is created by a unique combination of geology, climate and human activity, much of which –agriculture, local fisheries and wider land management - has served to sustain and enhance the natural environment. It is reflected in island economies, tourism industries, and indeed in the work of my RSPB Scotland colleagues, who have been part of island communities for the best part of a century - 39 nature reserves across 29 islands benefit from conservation management, delivered in collaboration with volunteers, partners and our neighbours in agricultural communities.

Machir Bay on Islay. Credit: Rory Crawford

Last year we blogged about the passing of the historic Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and its significance in ensuring island communities are not disadvantaged by virtue of geography. The Act will seek to ensure the ‘island proofing’ of future Government plans, programmes and policies. The explicit inclusion of uninhabited islands (often immeasurably important wildlife sites of deep cultural significance - witness St Kilda); environmental wellbeing; and island biosecurity, so important in ensuring that invasive non-native species do not threaten fragile island ecosystems, were all hugely progressive and welcome.

In April, the Scottish Government announced the next steps for the Islands Act. The cornerstone of the Act will be the creation of a National Islands Plan, which will set out the Government’s strategy for improving a range of island outcomes, from increasing population levels and improving transport links, to enhancing biosecurity measures and improving environmental wellbeing. 

You can have your say in the content of this pivotal Plan. The Scottish Government, in collaboration with the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance and with support from the Scottish Islands Federation, are running a wide-ranging but time limited consultation. They want to hear from the public on both the formation of the National Islands Plan, and on the Island Communities Impact Assessment - a mechanism for assessing how new policy proposals will impact upon island communities.

Machair grassland, RSPB Balranald, North Uist. Credit: Chris Gomersall

The consultation involves an online survey and will also see a series of community events across key islands and on the Scottish mainland too. The consultation will run until 6th July 2019. This is your opportunity to contribute your views on the key priorities for Scotland’s islands.

We welcome this unique opportunity to recognise and reflect the global significance of Scotland’s islands for wildlife – and the importance of that natural heritage to Scottish life and culture in the round – in a collaborative and impactful National Islands Plan. To succeed, we believe it will be necessary to consider how island natural heritage can be protected, enhanced, resourced and sensitively promoted, and how the synergies between island economies and the natural environment can be capitalised-on and sustainably developed, working for both wildlife and communities.

The Islands (Scotland) Act is a unique chance to contribute to positive change for Scotland’s wonderful islands. RSPB Scotland will be championing the incredible abundance of wildlife that they support: and we invite you to join us, and make your own contribution to this discussion at a critical interface between nature, culture and society in Scotland.

Take part in the consultation here