SWATHES of rural and western Scotland have experienced population decline in recent years as people continue to leave remote areas and move to cities.

Around 80 per cent of “data zones” in the Western Isles and Inverclyde saw the number of people living there drop, adding to concerns around long-term depopulation.

Figures show that over the last seven years, rural and island councils had the highest percentage of data zones – small areas used to provide local statistics – which experienced population falls.

In contrast, 70% of data zones in Edinburgh saw a rise in population, alongside 57% in Glasgow.

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Chris McEleny, SNP opposition leader at Inverclyde Council, called for part of the Scottish Government’s next budget to go towards a “specific, targeted fund” to help drive repopulation in the worst hit communities.

He said it was something the council is “absolutely” concerned about.

He added: “We have had various guises of repopulation strategy for the last 15 to 20 years.

“There’s been so many different things that the council has been trying, and without saying that they have all been a failure, they have not brought the success we were hoping to find.

“One of the main issues is birth rate versus death rate. We have had a real decline in birth rate, while people are living a lot longer.”

Mr McEleny said ensuring good quality jobs, housing, schools and transport is crucial – as well as encouraging migration.

Kenny John Macleod, chair of the communities and housing committee at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, formerly Western Isles Council, also said it is “very concerned” about depopulation.

He said the problem is not simply confined to young people moving to the mainland, but also takes in those moving from more rural island communities into centres such as Stornoway.

He added: “A number of our rural communities are in desperate need of new blood and investment. That continues to be a priority for the local government.”

Mr Macleod said depopulation has an impact on everything, from housing to education and social care.

He said the council now aims to target 55 per cent of its social housing at remote areas.

As of June last year, Scotland’s population was 5,438,100 – an increase of 13,300 people (0.2%) since mid-2017.

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The majority of Scots (71%) live in large urban and other urban areas, defined as settlements of 10,000 people or more.

Large urban areas have enjoyed the highest net migration every year since 2011, with between 5,210 to 18,730 more people moving in than out of these areas.

But while accessible rural areas have seen a notable population rise, remote small towns have declined.

Rural and island councils also struggle with the highest proportion of data zones where residents have a median age of 54 or over.

In Argyll and Bute and South Ayrshire, around one in four data zones fall into this category.

Meanwhile, four of the six council areas which had the largest proportion of data zones that increased in population were cities.

There are 6,976 data zones covering the whole of Scotland, sitting within council areas. Each is designed to have a population of approximately 500 to 1,000 household residents.

In terms of Holyrood constituencies, Greenock and Inverclyde has seen the biggest population fall since 2011, dropping by 4% from 75,974 to 72,866. In contrast, Glasgow Kelvin saw its population rise by 17%, from 79,921 to 93,212.

The latest figures are contained in the small area population estimates published by National Records of Scotland.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government launched a new ministerial task group to address population challenges.