GAELIC is facing a fight for its survival and every Scot needs to play a part to ensure that it continues to receive much-needed support, it has been warned.

Opening the Royal National Mod last night, the head of the Gaelic media service warned that one of Scotland’s cultural “jewels” is at serious risk of being lost forever unless it is given greater support.

Maggie Cunningham, chairwoman of MG Alba, the Gaelic Media Service, made an emotive speech about the future of the tongue which, despite receiving millions of pounds of public funding, has continued to decline.

There were an estimated 202,700 Gaelic and English bilingual speakers in 1901, but that number fell to 93,269 just 50 year later.

By 2001, there were just 58,652 and the last census showed a further loss of another 1,000.

The Mod, which opened in Stornoway last night, celebrates Gaelic culture and is set to draw an estimated 8,000 people from across the UK and abroad and provide a £3 million boost to the economy.

It features around 200 competitions, including singing, Highland dancing, literature and piping.

As she opened the event, Ms Cunningham, who is at the forefront of a campaign to persuade the BBC to extend the hours of Gaelic broadcasting, said: “We need to harness the support of everyone in Scotland and the wider world who cares about the survival of the “precious jewel” of Gaelic.

“We need every Gaelic speaker, every politician and everyone who cares about culture and heritage.

“We are talking about the survival of a precious jewel and an important part of the diversity of this country. We need to convince everyone that continuing support is vital for its survival and health.”

President of the Mod organisers John Macleod said developments in Gaelic-medium education had seen the rise in Gaelic speakers amid the younger generations.

Mr Macleod also praised the Western Isles for its ability to maintain the Gaelic language in daily use and as a result called for the isles to be recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

Unesco officially lists Scottish Gaelic as “definitely endangered” on its list of threatened languages.

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s director of events, said: “Now in its 125th year, this incredibly important annual celebration of Gaelic culture is just as popular as ever and we wish each of the performers across a wide variety of competitions taking place over the next week all the very best.”

The event, which has eight days of competition, began with the traditional torchlit procession through the streets of Stornoway led the Lewis Pipe Band.

The competition itself will feature thousands of entrants from Scotland and across the world, including Abu Dhabi.

Alongside the main competition, the Mod Fringe will run a bustling programme filled with traditional music, unique poetry, numerous concerts and art forms of every description.

BBC ALBA will broadcast daily programmes including three live programmes covering the most coveted events from the festival.

There will also be events marking the contributions of Lewis communities to the Great War, and a lecture from Deputy First Minister John Swinney on ‘The Place of Gaelic in a Modern Scotland’.