Next week The Herald embarks on a new series investigating an issue which has been raised repeatedly in our coverage of exclusive stories, impacting on Scotland's Highlands and Islands.

Time and again local people, impacted by a series of issues surrounding transport, infrastructure and opportunities, have described the region as being in the midst of a 'New Highland Clearances'.

Over the coming week we will examine those issues, feature local voices and ask if the viability and very futures of rural communities in Scotland are under threat. Here senior reporter at The Herald, Caroline Wilson, looks ahead to what we will cover.

We thought long and hard about the title.

Comparing population decline in the Highlands and Islands – however serious – to the notorious 19th clearances that led to families being burned out of their homes might not sit well with some Herald readers.

However, it’s a comparison that was made not by us but by others living at the sharp end of what is being described as a “population emergency”. 

A report by Highland Council published last month following last year's Census paints a worrying picture, showing that areas including Caithness, Sutherland and West Lochaber are being ‘drained of people’.

The Western Isles is forecast to lose 6% of its population by 2028. 

An ageing population, falling birth rates and the attractiveness of the Highlands as a retirement destination is contributing to decline. However, this is only part of the picture. 

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On Monday, The Herald launches a new series that will get to the heart of the issues and challenges that are hampering population growth in the Highlands and Islands.

We will be travelling to areas identified as most at risk to hear from the communities who are best placed to explain the challenges of rural life in modern day Scotland. 

Our series will also include exclusive interviews with politicians and policy makers and leading voices on demographic change taking in transport, housing, health, connectivity and education, all key to population resilience. 

We will hear from businesses, large and small, including those in the tourism industry, seen as the thread that runs through the Highlands and Islands economy to explore if government policy is helping or hindering their success.

Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, will discuss the one government measure she believes could halt population decline while Labour’s Rhoda Grant will also be presenting her case for a change that she believes could help alleviate housing shortages. 

Writing exclusively for The Herald, Professor Sir Tom Devine will argue that today’s ‘clearances’ have commonality with the historic events that led to mass emigration from areas including Sutherland in the 19th century.

We will travel to the Hebridean isle that is bucking population trends but is being held back by housing shortages and is facing a new threat with NHS proposals that locals say could threaten its future. 

The series will also include expert analysis from The Herald’s top team of specialists in education, health and transport, taking in the ferry disruption that has blighted highland and island communities for years.

Senior reporter Caroline Wilson, who is leading the series, will be exploring her own reasons for leaving the Highlands 30 years ago, following in the footsteps of her Vatersay-born granny, who left her island home at 16.

We will also be speaking to the women living in an area of the Highlands categorised as high risk for population decline who are saying no to more children because of cuts in health service provision. 

The Herald is also planning a special event, as part of our series – The New Highland Clearances –  with more details to follow.