Links of interest for

Scotland : Eigg, Gigha & Westray


The 2001 official census recorded that there were 96 inhabited islands in Scotland, including those joined to the mainland or to other islands by a bridge, causeway or ford. A total of 99,739 persons lived on these islands representing 2% of the country’s population. All the inhabited islands fall under six local government authority areas: Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles (which each have their own separate councils) and Highland, Argyll & Bute and North Ayrshire (which are mainland councils with island communities). For a full comparative analysis of statistical data including useful maps, which can be downloaded separately, the reader is referred to an Occasional Paper published in November 2003 by the General Register for Scotland. There are several ‘green island’ candidates for Scotland but the three that will feature in this case study are Eigg, Gigha and Westray.

Eigg is one of the Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides that lies to the south of Skye and to the north of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. With an area of around 12 square miles, the main settlement is Cleadale, a fertile coastal plain in the north west overlooking the mountains of Rum. Here you will find the beautiful beaches of Laig Bay and Singing Sands. The centre of the island is a moorland plateau, rising to 393m at An Sgurr, a dramatic stump of pitchstone, sheer on three sides that gives the island its unique appearance. After decades of problems with absentee landlords in the 20th century, the island was bought in 1997 by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust,  a partnership between the residents of Eigg, the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. At the time, the population was around 60. In 2012, Eigg had 90 residents, many of them young people who have returned to the island or incomers who have moved there to make it their home and set up in business.

Gigha is also community owned and the most southerly of the Inner Hebridean islands. Seven miles long by a mile and a half wide, it is situated 3 miles west of the Kintyre peninsula and approximately three hours drive from Glasgow. There is a primary school on the island but secondary pupils must go to the mainland for education. Ardminish is the main settlement with a pier, post office and shop.

At about 25 square miles, Westray is the second largest of Orkney’s North Isles with a population of nearly 600. A shared Norse history is evident in land use, settlement patterns, place and family names. The rural economy is dominated by agriculture. Intensive grass management for grazing and silage crops is the mainstay for the beef farming industry whilst limited barley production provides supplementary feed for over-wintering cattle. Fishing is another core activity with an organic salmon farm, a co-operatively owned shellfish factory and fish processors. Other businesses include a building firm who employ a significant number of the locals and provides apprenticeships, a bakery, and several tourism enterprises. There are 3 general stores on the island, a nine-hole golf course and the local school has a swimming pool open to the public.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

A report commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise about establishing a carbon neutral Scottish island was published in 2007. Since then the Scottish Government has sought to maximise the benefits for communities from renewable energy and all three islands featured in our case studies have received considerable advice, funding and technical support from Community Energy Scotland.

The Eigg electrification scheme was commissioned and became operational in 2008. All 37 households and 5 commercial properties on the island are connected and now have their very own supply of renewable electricity. It is the first island electrical grid network in the British Isles that is being powered by an integrated mix of micro-scale renewable energy technologies namely a new 10kW solar photovoltaic array, a new 100 kW run-of-river hydro generator, wind power from four new 6kW wind turbines and the inclusion of two existing 6kW hydro generators. The new scheme also includes a control and battery system that can yield 24 hours of stored renewable energy. For back-up there are also two 80kW diesel generators.

Although Eigg now has a continuous electricity supply for the first time, it has still been necessary to adopt a cautious approach to the allocation of electricity supply. The potential threat of inappropriate use/abuse of supply by some customers could destabilise the balance and smooth operation of the system. To mitigate this threat, supplies have been capped at 5kW for domestic purposes and 10kW for larger properties. If these limits are exceeded then meters ‘lock-out’ and require to be reset, with customers incurring a penalty of £25. Every property on Eigg has been supplied with smart energy meters that constantly give updated digital displays of current energy consumption. The use of smart meters and the capping of supply have engendered a culture of energy prudence amongst the islanders that has, potentially, much wider application.

Gigha has three Vestas V27 wind turbines each with an installed capacity of 225kW. The amount of energy these turbines produce is equivalent to 2/3 of the island’s electricity needs. They were installed in 2004 and became Scotland’s first grid connected, local community owned wind farm with the turbines affectionately named ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’ and collectively known as ‘The Dancing Ladies’. This landmark project provides an annual net income to the community of around £100,000 from the electricity generated. Perhaps even more significantly, the financial model that was developed to underpin the project was very robust and capable of widespread replication by communities throughout Scotland. The Gigha Heritage Trust now has planning permission and the grid connection secured in order to erect a fourth Enercon E-33 turbine in 2013 subject to obtaining the necessary finance for its purchase and installation. In addition, solar panels have already been fitted on some of the houses to ensure a constant supply of hot water for tenants and a wood boiler to power heating in the community owned hotel is also being investigated.

After around six years of effort, the award of a substantial grant from the Big Lottery Growing Community Assets Fund and a loan from Triodos Bank UK enabled Westray Development Trust to install an 900kW Enercon E44 wind turbine in 2009. The turbine is operated by Westray Renewable Energy Ltd a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trust. The electricity generated is sold to SmartestEnergy Ltd who then sell this power to Marks & Spencer as part of their green policy. There are also several smaller wind turbines on the island, some on public buildings and some privately owned. Those erected at the Hofn Youth Centre and Kalisgarth Care Centre, for example, are registered for feed-in tariff thus providing power to the buildings and income to cover most of their running costs. Westray Processors is a huge part of the island’s economy and the Trust is currently looking into how to install and manage an 80kW turbine that will reduce high-energy bills at their factory.

The Trust has also been involved in a fuel poverty project because community consultation showed housing issues as a major priority area. By the end of 2009, approximately 75% of households in Westray had been encouraged to volunteer for surveys and 95 were completed. Much of the project work was in publicising the assistance that was already out there to the most eligible households and helping them to obtain unclaimed entitlements. In addition, nine of the most inefficient homes received ground source heat pumps, loft insulation top-ups to the current standard of 270mm, draught proofing, as well as energy efficient light bulbs and plugs. Another company, Energy Action Westray supported the Trust in this effort and in 2009 received funding from the Climate Change Fund to develop an action plan to further reduce the island’s greenhouse gas emissions and their final report details the outputs from their various projects. Heat and Power is yet another local company started on Westray that designed and constructed an anaerobic digestion plant for a beef cattle farm on the island in 2007 capable of handling 3,200 tonnes per annum of organic materials. The farmer provided the cattle slurry required for the digester and in return obtained an improved fertiliser product and energy to help move the farm towards 100% renewable energy.

With some of Europe’s best wave and tidal resources, the Orkney islands lie at the heart of a marine renewable energy revolution. It is home to the European Marine Energy Centre where pioneering developers are using world-leading test facilities to perfect the technologies needed to convert wave and tidal energy into electricity.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

The residents of Eigg actively compost, reuse and recycle as much as possible in order to reduce the number of skip loads of waste leaving the island for mainland landfill. There is a Swap Shop where islanders leave clothes and household goods they no longer need, so others can use them. On Gigha there is very little recycling apart from a bottle collection bank and so all domestic refuse is sent to the mainland where there are opportunities to utilise a great many other waste products through the Group for Recycling in Argyll and Bute.

Westray Development Trust did intend to develop a community reuse and recycling facility at a site it owned at Gallowhill. However, with increasing uncertainty how this Zero Waste Centre could be funded, it was reluctantly decided in 2011 not to proceed further with developing the site. The first project was meant to be the collection, storage and selling of reusable items – furniture, small household goods, bric-a-brac, clothing, etc – as a way to channel some of proceeds back to charity. At the same time, the project was investigating the feasibility of using some of the waste already collected by Orkney Islands Council (glass, paper and cans in particular), as well as how it might collect and use other types of recyclable materials (for example, cardboard, scrap metal and building materials). In late 2010, a can crusher, baler and Krysteline glass imploder arrived and were used in a limited way for several months. With the council having started kerbside recycling in the meantime, and with no power to the site, it was not considered economic to pursue can and glass processing on Westray. These items of equipment were then passed to another local development trust for use.

Orkney Biofuels Ltd was set up as a wholly owned subsidiary of Westray Development Trust to pursue one of several renewable energy income generating ideas that were being discussed about 2003 to help cover the basic operating costs of the Trust. This company was already using part of the site identified for the Zero Waste Centre to manufacture and store biodiesel made from the recycled cooking oil that the council collects throughout Orkney. It had some early successes, but as diesel vehicle technology became more advanced, it became more difficult to produce a high quality fuel at a competitive price.  After a number of years with very little saleable biodiesel being produced the Trust decided to wind up the project with an intention of passing over the equipment to another local not-for-profit group.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

On Eigg a good number of residents grow their own food organically mostly in polytunnels and the Earth Connections centre has developed an organic forest garden by planting over 120 fruit and nut trees. One enterprising crofter legally harvests and sells wild bluebell seeds. Eigg is a leading member of the Scottish Islands Federation that fully recognise the benefits of sustainable food production.

There are currently four dairy farms on Gigha, one of which was vacant at the time of the community purchase. It was quickly let, and the Trust decided to enlarge all four to give them a chance of greater viability. Vacant land on the island was used to augment the pre-existing agriculture holdings. With a total herd size of around 300 cows, the milk from each farm is collected daily by road tanker and goes to a creamery in Campbeltown on the mainland. Gigha Halibut specialise in the artisan production of sustainable Scottish Atlantic halibut. The company has adopted a unique land-based system of aquaculture where the water is pumped onto the land and into tanks. The large flat solid based tanks are ideal for flat fish like halibut that are fed with a certified organic diet using 100% fish trimmings as a source of protein and organic vegetable products as a source of carbohydrate. Therefore no pressure is placed on the global fisheries used for sourcing fish meal and the farmed halibut ensure that the wild stocks of this endangered species are not depleted.

Westray is a Fair Trade Island, with all businesses and many other individuals signed-up to a Fair Trade Charter. Some are on the Orkney Food Trail and others like the family-run bakery sell their products online through  Orkney Store. An organic dairy farm has recently started up with the intention of making cheese. Pierowall Fish Ltd is a small family run business on Westray that process a variety of fresh fish in new purpose built premises and also produce a small range of cooked products.


The ferry services to Eigg and Gigha are operated by Caledonian MacBrayne  and there is also a passenger ferry to Eigg from April until late September from Arisaig on the mainland. There is an unmanned grass landing strip on Gigha requiring prior permission for landing. Northlink Ferries and Pentland Ferries both offer a passenger and vehicle service from the Scottish mainland to Orkney. Orkney Ferries operates a daily passenger and vehicle service from Kirkwall to Westray. Loganair have flights from Kirkwall to Westray and to Papa Westray, as well as the shortest scheduled flight in the world (just two minutes) – from Westray to Papa Westray.

CalMac will soon be taking delivery of the world’s first sea going Roll On Roll Off vehicle and passenger diesel electric hydrid ferries. The two low emission ferries are designed for use on many of the short crossing routes around the Clyde and Hebrides and will use some of the most innovative new green technology. Each ferry will be designed to accommodate 150 passengers, 23 cars or 2 HGVs, with a service speed of nine knots and will be powered by small diesel generator sets, feeding power to a 400 volt switchboard, which will supply power to electric motors that turn the propulsion units.  In addition, two lithium-ion battery banks with a total of 700kWh will also be able to supply power to the units reducing fuel and CO2 consumption by at least 20%. The battery banks will be charged overnight from the mains although the possibility of using energy from local wind, solar, micro-hydro, tidal or wave systems to charge the batteries is also being explored.

Until recently the Westray skiff was the sea taxi used to transport people and small cargo between the isles. These boats were built, maintained and used locally as well as exported to other islands. As local transport systems improved, reliance on the skiff decreased, as did the skills to build, maintain and sail them. With funding from The Prince’s Trust and Millenium Commission, a local team built a new skiff, which helped them to increase awareness of their heritage and facilitated interaction between the young and old. The skiff was then donated to Westray Sailing Club and is now raced at the local regatta every July, which is an important date in the local calendar. All their experiences were recorded and put online during the build.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Tourism is important to Eigg especially in the summer months, and the first major project of the Heritage Trust was An Laimhrig, a new building near the pier to house the island's store, post office, craftshop and public toilets that include shower facilities. Located within the same complex is the Galmisdale Bay café, bar and restaurant. It is also the starting point for the island minibus which runs a service to the other side of the island and back several times a day during the summer. There is a range of accommodation available on the island including Glebe Barn hostel and outdoor centre, Lageorna that offers B&B, self catering and a restaurant and Eigg yurting and camping. Eigg Adventures has bikes for hire and offer various outdoor activities.

Amongst the places worth visiting on Eigg are two caves that lie about a mile to the south of the old pier. Cathedral Cave was once used for Roman Catholic Services. The Cave of Francis is also known as the Massacre Cave. In the 16th century, due to an ongoing feud between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods, the entire population of Eigg (c400) perished when the MacLeods lit a fire at the entrance to the cave where the islanders were hiding.  The Eigg History Society organises regular guided walks and has been involved in a variety of projects to make the island’s history accessible to all. Amongst these are the Eigg photographic archive, the Cleadale crofting museum and most recently the Cleadale crofting trail.

The main visitor attractions on Gigha include the 20.2 ha Achamore Gardens begun in 1945 by Sir James Horlick and known for its rhododendrons and azaleas, the 13th century St Catan’s Chapel ruins and many archaeological sites including an Ogham stone, which has not been deciphered. There are also several sandy beaches, a nine-hole golf course, Boats Activity Centre, local craft shop and annual music festival. To help explore Gigha there are 12 designated off-road walks and this path network is described in detail (with maps) in the “Walk Gigha” booklet available from Gigha Stores and Gigha Hotel.

The Westray & Papa Westray Tourist Association provides general information and there is wide range of accommodation on the island from the Pierowall Hotel to several self catering cottage businesses like Bis Geos and West Manse that also runs various courses, exhibitions and other activities throughout the year. Pierowall Charters operate boat trips and Westraak offer guided tours of the island as well as running the Haff Yok café. There is a designated craft trail leading to an art gallery, jewellery makers, potters, knitters, painters and people, who still fabricate the traditional Orkney straw-backed chairs. Hume Sweet Hume with their wide spectrum of art and textiles has a reputation that extends far beyond the borders of Orkney.

Westray has many ancient archaeological sites including the Quoygrew Viking longhouse, the 12th century Cross Kirk and Viking remains at Tuquoy and St Mary’s Church, Pierowall. Impressive Noltland Castle is an incomplete fortress built in the 16th century by Gilbert Balfour, Mary Queen of Scots’ Sheriff of Orkney. The island hit the headlines in the summer of 2009 when the Neolithic carved stone figurine the Orkney Venus, known locally as the Westray Wife, was discovered during the annual archaeological dig at the Links of Noltland. It is the oldest figure of a human found in Scotland and on display at the local heritage centre. This centre also has a website giving residents past and present the facility to upload their memorable island related photographs, video clips and sound recordings.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

An average of 130 species of bird are recorded annually on Eigg and the island has particularly good breeding populations of various raptors. There are three protected Sites of Special Scientific Interest and from April to September, weekly guided walks with the Scottish Wildlife Trust resident warden enables the visitor to discover Eigg's many birds and flowering species. Gigha has a good cross section of plant and bird species but few mammals and no protected areas.

In 2002 Westray Development Trust commissioned a natural history audit of the island that has species-rich maritime grassland and heath including the nationally scarce Scottish Primrose, Sea Plantain and Spring Squill. There is a Special Protection Area covering 350ha of this habitat that includes the RSPB reserve at Noup Head where dramatic sandstone cliffs house Orkney’s largest seabird colony. The guillemot, razorbill and kittiwake populations all raised good numbers of chicks in 2012. Seals are plentiful around Westray but dolphins, porpoises and even killer whales are being observed more often.

Integrated Development Planning

In September 2008, Eigg began a year long series of projects as part of their success as one of ten finalists in NESTA’s Big Green Challenge. While the challenge finished in September 2009, the work to make the island ‘green’  is continuing with an additional 20kW of photovoltaic panels installed, mass domestic insulation, making biodiesel out of used chip oil for community vehicles and increasing local food production. In May 2009 the island hosted the "Giant’s Footstep Family Festival", which included talks, workshops, music, theatre and advice about what individuals and communities can do to tackle climate change. Earth Connections is a new Sustainability Centre working to find practical, low cost, local and human scale solutions to global environmental problems. It runs residential courses that aim to promote green living and inspire people to make positive changes in their lives. Another islander is seeking to establish eco-built studios and creative workspace called the Eigg Box to become a cultural enterprise hub, bringing together local creative businesses with artists from around the world. In January 2010, Eigg was announced as one of three joint winners in NESTA's Big Green Challenge, winning a prize of £300,000. Eigg also won the prestigious Ashden UK Gold Award  in July 2010 for sustainable energy.

During the 20th century Gigha had various owners both good and bad. By the 1960s resident numbers had fallen to 163 and by the beginning of the 21st century the population was reduced to only 98 and the housing stock was in poor condition. The era of private landlords came to end in March 2002 when the islanders managed, with help from grants and loans from the Scottish Land Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to purchase the island for £4 million. They now own it through a development trust called the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. £1 million of the financial support was in the form of a short-term loan. The money to pay this loan back was largely raised by selling Achamore House (but not the famous gardens) to Don Dennis, a businessman from California. Dennis runs a flower essences company and a sea tours company from the house, which is also rented out as a bed and breakfast business. An additional £200,000 was raised by islanders setting up a number of other fundraising ventures that included the sale of Gigha whisky and tartan. This allowed the loan to be paid back to the Scottish Land Fund on 15 March 2004.

After decades of decline, this pro-active community has done much to regenerate their island but there are still further improvements to consider as outlined in this study. The number of residents has risen from 98 to 153 and the primary school roll from 6 to 23 pupils. The windfarm produces £100K income a year that has been used for the refurbishment of the 42 Trust owned properties, 75% of which were classed as below a tolerable standard when the island was purchased. To address a serious lack of affordable housing, the Trust sold building land to Fyne Homes for the development of 18 new homes for social rent by local people. A number of quarter acre plots were also sold to new incomers to build their own homes if they were able to demonstrate they would be developing businesses or bringing key skills to the island. The Trust also owns and manages the island hotel, self-catering cottages, the quarry and Achamore Gardens. These various income streams have permitted a number of other infrastructure investments, including road maintenance, the building of a children’s play park and an upgrading of the petrol station. New yacht moorings, additional self-catering accommodation and establishing new crofts are some other ventures currently being investigated.

The Westray Development Trust was formed in 1998 with a remit to address some of the socio-economic factors that were causing population decline. "Turning the Tide" was the title of their first Development Plan published in 1999 and the success of a number of its projects bolstered community confidence and created interest in the island's regeneration. Following on from this success, a second plan "The Tide is Turning" was published in 2005 which coincided with the community's moving on from the first phase of the Scottish Executive's Initiative at the Edge project. With financial assistance from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the latest community planning documents  &   have been prepared. These are "A Framework for Development" and "WDT Project Evaluation - Policy and Processes". They outline how future projects become part of an action plan. Action plans are put to members for agreement on an annual basis at the trust AGM.

Some of the past successes which benefited from Westray Development Trust's involvement included the building of the Hofn Youth Centre; the construction of a children’s play park; the establishment of a local craft association; work on local marinas; environmental research and publication of volumes relating to the flora and fauna of Westray and its archaeology; establishing a base for the learning centre and the construction of Kalisgarth Care Centre on the island. Money generated by the wind turbine (£582k in 2011 & £404k in 2012) will also enable the Trust to take forward a number of other projects for the benefit of the community. Two Westray blogs The Edge of Nowhere and The Hall of Einar give a taste of island life.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 introduced ambitious legislation to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050, including emissions from international aviation and shipping, thus putting Scotland at the forefront of building a sustainable low carbon economy. It also set a world-leading interim target for a 42% cut in emissions by 2020. Other targets included renewable energy generating the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption by 2020 and for renewable sources to provide the equivalent of 11% of Scotland’s heat demand by 2020. Adaptation Scotland provides advice and support to help ensure the country is prepared for, and resilient to the impacts of climate change. Greener Scotland is a one-stop website for all sorts of information on how to save energy, reduce waste, travel smarter and eat greener.

The Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, claim that he heads one of the world’s greenest governments was vigorously contested by senior climate scientists and environmentalists in October 2012.  A Guardian analysis of his government’s energy strategy found that its plans to sell 12-24bn barrels of oil and gas over the next 40 years would mean the release of 5.2-10.4bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. That figure, verified by climate experts, dwarfs the impact of the “world-leading” legally binding targets to cut Scotland’s CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020, down to 40m tonnes. Salmond immediately hit back at critics saying there was no contradiction between pursuing renewable targets while maximising oil and gas production.