Orkney comprises 70 or so islands and skerries, of which up to 19 may be inhabited depending on the time of year. The total land area of approximately 1,000 square kilometres raises some of the best livestock in Scotland and Orkney enjoys an outstanding natural environment with clean air and water, fine scenery, diverse wildlife and a unique cultural heritage.
The sea separates Orkney from the Scottish mainland and Orkney’s mainland from its island communities. Yet it is the sea which has contributed to self-sufficiency, a fascinating history, and helped to create a unique local culture and strong sense of community. However, Orkney is not immune to the difficulties facing other remote and rural communities, including an ageing population, under-employment, low wages, a high cost of living, limited affordable housing, fuel poverty and access to essential services.
Survival is a very real issue for an island community. From a peak of over 32,000 in the 1861 census, Orkney's resident population declined to a low of just over 17,000 in 1971. However, since then the population has been recovering steadily. Between 2001 and 2011, there has been a significant rise in population, most marked in the over 65 age group which has seen a 31% increase, the highest in Scotland. This is expected to continue and will be very significant in planning future services.
The General Register Office for Scotland gives a snapshot of Orkney’s demographic profile in recent statistics:
- The estimated total population of Orkney in 2014 was 21,590.
- By 2037, the population is projected to rise to 22,724.
- 181 births were registered in Orkney in 2014 (109 boys and 72 girls).
- 205 deaths were registered in 2014, the most common cause being cancer, followed by circulatory disease.
- Female life expectancy at birth (82.8 years) is greater than male life expectancy (78.7 years), and both are greater than the Scottish average.
- From 2012-14 there was an average net inflow of 86 people into Orkney per year, 16 to 29 year olds were the largest migrant group in both directions.
- There were 102 marriages and no civil partnerships registered in 2014.
- In 2014 Orkney had an estimated 10,042 households and 10,816 dwellings; of the latter 90% were occupied, 7% vacant and 4% second homes.
Sustainability is a particular challenge for Orkney's smaller isles. While the overall population may be growing, there has been a steady drift away from the isles towards mainland Orkney. In 1961, 28% of the population lived on the isles but by the 2011 census, this figure had dropped to 19.6%.
Access to services is a key driver behind this trend, with all of Orkney's smaller isles ranking among the most deprived 10% of communities in Scotland in this regard. Local development trusts in several of the isles have taken decisive action to improve their sustainability by investing in community wind turbines. This is generating income to invest in local enterprises, services and projects of benefit to the community. Wind and increasingly marine renewable energy have huge potential to increase the sustainability of Orkney as a whole.
 Scottish Index Of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) 2012: Geographical Access to Services