Seventeen post offices across the Highlands are to close, with a further 11 downgraded.

Post Office Ltd said the first of the closures will happen next month.

The decision follows a six-week public consultation by the company, in which 1,500 responses were received from the region and 12 public meetings held.

Post Office Ltd said 181 branches would continue to serve the region, with 11 branches downgraded to outreach post office services.

The company said the remaining network meets the UK Government's national accessibility criteria, with 99.5% of the area's population either seeing no change to their existing branch or remaining within one mile of an alternative branch.

Politicians from the region as well as campaign group Help the Aged have been critical of the plans.

Originally 18 branches had been earmarked for closure, but one - Pulteneytown in Wick - will now remain open as alternative branches were not deemed sufficiently close.

There are no plans for further closures in the Highlands, the company said.

Sally Buchanan, Post Office Ltd's network development manager for Scotland, said: "These are difficult decisions which have not been taken lightly.

"We have considered very carefully all the comments made during the public consultation.

"We believe that the amended plan announced today offers our customers across the Highlands of Scotland the best prospect for a sustainable network in the future, bearing in mind the UK Government's minimum access criteria and the other factors they have asked us to consider."

The Highland post offices which will close completely are: Harbour Street, Kingsmills Road and Abriachan post offices (all in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey); Spittal, Barrock and Saltburn (all in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross); and Breakish, Contin, Duncanstown, Earlish, Killearnan, Maryburgh, Onich, Rosemarkie, Treslaig, Waternish, and Dingwall West (all in Ross, Skye and Lochaber).

Local politicians expressed dismay at the closures, but welcomed Pulteneytown's reprieve.

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "I am quite delighted by the decision over Pulteneytown, this was a clear example of people power, and there may be a lesson here for all of us.

"The closure of other post offices, including in my own constituency, is a sad prospect, and very much counter to the wishes of ordinary people who use post offices.

"But I remain an eternal optimist, and in the past schools in the Highlands which have closed have been opened again.

"This is precisely the angle I will be approaching this from."

Peter Peacock, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, said: "I appreciate the impact the post office closures will have on local communities, particularly for the elderly.

"I am pleased that Pulteneytown post office will remain open as it provides an important service to this part of Wick.

"I am sorry that other branches have not been given similar treatment and will continue to argue to persuade the Post Office to provide more outreach services across the Highlands."