In March 2001, the Director of Habitat Scotland attended the UK Islands in Europe conference on Islay organised by Argyll & Bute Council at which a Scottish Islands Network (SIN) was formed. A European Small Islands Network (ESIN) was established at a subsequent conference on the Swedish island of Moja in May of that year and SIN became a constituent member. In January 2002 Habitat obtained a grant for three years from the Scottish Executive Rural Strategic Support Fund in order to appoint and manage a Project Officer for SIN. At the same time the Director of Habitat became the FT Executive Director for GIN, which together with SIN shared the same office building in Portree, Isle of Skye.
A website for SIN was constructed and a monthly e-newsletter quickly introduced that was freely circulated to over 1500 people throughout the Scottish islands. In addition, SIN initiated consultancy studies on the implications European Commission livestock transportation and waste management legislation would have on Scottish islands. The Project Officer also undertook consultancy work for Highland Council on the EC Leonardo da Vinci NISSOS project into successful small-scale manufacturing from islands that involved Maltese lead partners and others from Aland, Iceland and Saaremaa.
SIN was also a partner in the ESIN three year EU Interreg IIIC programme funded project to investigate why certain islands were more successful than others in maintaining viable communities with sustainable approaches and solutions to their most pressing development problems. Some 13 inter-island exchange visits were undertaken and 18 good practice case studies produced that culminated with their findings being presented at a major conference held on the Isle of Islay in 2006. ESIN then campaigned with others in getting the European Parliament to adopt a resolution proposing a European strategy for economic and social development of mountain regions, islands and sparsely populated areas. The highly influential Intergroup 174 was subsequently formed to debate and reflect on the approaches and perspectives brought by the Lisbon Treaty for specific territories.
The core activity of GIN has been managing their website with its daily news desk that has sourced and featured more than 13,000 items since it started; a links directory with over 4,000 entries; and a range of other services like an events calendar and marketplace. In 2007 GIN was invited to help set up the Small Islands Film Trust that went on to organise several annual film festivals on various Scottish islands. The same year GIN also initiated discussions and entered into negotiations that ultimately led to the Scottish Centre for Island Studies becoming established at the University of the West of Scotland where the GIN Executive Director was duly appointed an Honorary Research Fellow for three years.
Whilst based in Scotland, GIN has since 2002 mostly concentrated on building up formal working relationships with a range of UN agencies and other international bodies as well as supporting many of our 150 partner organisations spread over 60 countries worldwide. Various GIN board members have attended important events like the Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands in Paris 2003; SIDS Barbados Programme of Action + 10 conference in Mauritius 2005; IUCN Climate Change and Biodiversity in the European Union Overseas Entities conference in Reunion 2008; UNFCCC Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009; UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janiero in 2012; and UN Conference on SIDS in Samoa 2014.
GIN having helped to set up the IUCN-WCPA Task Force on Island Conservation and Protected Areas and acting as coordinator for one of their thematic working groups then went on to become an active member of the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA). Since its inception in 2005, the central goal of GLISPA has been to help implement the priority actions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Island Biodiversity Programme of Work, which was formally adopted at its 8th Conference of the Parties (COP8) meeting in Curitiba, Brazil, in March 2006. GIN attended the GLISPA High Level Event at the CBD COP9 meeting in Bonn, Germany, in May 2008 where funding from the Italian Government was officially announced for GIN and UNEP-WCMC to create a Global Island Database (GID) that was subsequently launched at UN headquarters in May 2010.
As we entered a new decade in 2011, GIN took a change of direction by moving its home office to North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. These islands are famous for their biodiverse machair habitats that support some of the most important populations of nesting wader birds in Europe and the world. Various local organisations such as the North Uist Development Company, Storas Uibhist and Sustainable Uist address a wide range of environmental issues that include responding to the impacts of climate change. Much of the problem is due to the fact these islands are deeply indented by the sea and have hundreds of low-lying freshwater lochs that are separated from the ocean only by narrow strips of land. Increased winter rainfall has made many lochs vulnerable to flooding because there is no proper drainage system. In addition, South Uist has been particularly affected with increased coastal erosion brought about by more frequent winter storm surges, leading some to fear that the island may be split in two. Local crofting communities with support from the EU funded CoastAdapt project, together with other initiatives, are starting to take direct action by using old tyres and reclaimed fishing nets to anchor sand dunes until marram grass can take hold and bind them together thus helping protect the coastline.
Anthropogenic climate change is arguably the most important and urgent issue confronting humanity, as it expresses on a global scale the convergent stresses associated with our economic activities, our local behaviours and our resource and energy use. But science alone cannot convey either the challenges presented by sea level rise or the attitudinal shifts required to mitigate and adapt to it. Cape Farewell has pioneered a cultural response to climate change by bringing together leading artists, writers, scientists, educators and media for a series of sailing expeditions and legacy projects. GIN helped to plan their latest venture involving two voyages around the Scottish islands that resulted in a range of creative outputs exhibited under their Sea Change programme of research.
The term ‘Green Economy’ has recently emerged to describe a form of development that addresses in a holistic way the multiple economic and environmental challenges confronting the planet. This concept has been rapidly picked up and demonstrated by small island communities around the world as evidenced by our 50 Green Island case studies completed in 2012. These documented good practices related to renewable energy & eco housing; waste minimisation & recycling; water management & security; extensive agriculture & organic food production; transport; sustainable tourism & niche marketing; biodiversity & protected areas; integrated development planning; climate change mitigation & adaptation measures. The numerous online documents associated with these case studies are now averaging 1000 downloads per month indicating a high degree of interest. However, it has also become evident that the vast majority of these ‘green islands’ work in isolation and do not communicate with each other in order to share their experience and knowledge. In addition, there are a great many other island communities wishing to become carbon neutral and/or are seeking effective solutions to environmental problems but don’t know how or who to approach for help. To address this significant gap in provision GIN now wishes to establish a new Green Islands Network that will support action research, education, information exchange, international dialogue and practical development initiatives. By so doing, it will help position even more islands in the vanguard of the growing green economy movement.