The Small Isles Economy
The Scottish 2011 census figures for the Small Isles show 84.6% of people being economically active as opposed to 71.5% in Highland and 69% nationally.
A growing tourism economy
With 36 000 visitors travelling by ferry to the Small Isles every year, the Small Isles economy is increasingly dominated by tourism. This means very busy summers but much quieter winters, a way of life which allows islanders to look into a mix of activities to keep themselves busy all year around.
Licensed cafe, restaurants, B&B, guest houses and small hotels all locally run are providing a lot of the seasonal work on which islanders depend for their living. Polualtion growth also means that there is also now enough island trade for at least two of the islands to keep a local shop open.
The traditional sectors
Commercial lobster and prawn fishing has seen a big decline in the last 10 years with only 1 commercial fishing boat working in the islands now.There are a few islanders fishing for the pot and sharing their catch with friends and visitors. However, plans are afoot for salmon fish farming on the coast of Muck, where deep waters allow better living conditions for the farmed fish.
Farming on Canna, Muck and Eigg consists mainly of hill farming for sheep and cattle. Highland ponies are also bred on Rum as well as Muck. Crofting is also well established in the Small Isles, with new crofts recently created on Rum and Eigg. Crofters tend to have cattle rather than sheep, and if they have some, these are mostly the small Soay sheep renown for the quality of their meat. Egg productions is also widespread amongst crofters and small farmers, with Eigg shop being almost exclusively supplied by local producers. Polytunnels on each of the islands have enabled a substantial increase in veg production, with salads, herbs, tomatoes, and soft fruits as well as a variety of greens being produced on Eigg and Muck especially. Look out for farmers' market or producers' signs on the road to add the freshest product to your holiday fare.
A varied working life
Working in the Small Isles does not always mean having only one job. Most islanders have several jobs which they often have to juggle to earn their living. Crofting is a perfect example, with island crofters looking after their animals, running a B&B and having another occupation, such as running the local bus, working in the post-office, the cafe or the school.
Most islanders can turn their hands at anything, and many have become specialised tradesmen, from part time electricians working in the upkeep of the islands' green electricity scheme, to joiners, plumbers and builders. There is a constant need for good handymen to repair the damage caused by storms on the islands' buildings, as well engineering talent to deal with temperamental vehicles suffering from having to deal with the islands' rough tracks and salt water corrosion.
A changing way of working
With electricity and the internet, the Small Isles' economy is changing rapidly to include working remotely. An increasing number of islanders now depend on the internet for their livelihood, whether it is for selling their craft production or for accessing work such as graphic design, webdesign, desk top publishing and other remote work.
Land management which used to be in the hands of the landowner's factor, is now increasingly in the hands of local project officers and administrative staff working in cooperation with the island communities in implementing forward plans elaborated collaboratively.
Developing sporting, wilderness activities and wellbeing opportunities
Both Muck and Rum have seen the expansion of traditional sporting activities, with small pheasant, ducks and partridges family shoots in the winter months on Muck whilst deer stalking on Rum now attracts an international audience. Brown trout fishing is now being developed on Eigg's many moorland lochs.
Kayaking, and mountain biking are now on offer in both Eigg and Rum, whilst ranger services are employing people on Canna, Eigg and Rum.
Archery on the croft and organic gardening summer courses are part of crofting diversification activities on Eigg. There is also a growing demand for yoga, Qigong and Green know-how classes which are now run on a regular basis as well as during weekend workshops throughout the year.
The growth of the creative sector
The Creative industries are also on the up in the Small Isles. Many musicians have made their home on the isle of Eigg where there is now the capacity to record music in two small studios. Traditional and multimedia Interpretation of the islands' cultural features also provides part time employment.
Art has always provided a means to expand the islanders' cultural horizons through yearly traditional music and art festivals such as Feis Eige and Feis Chanaidh, whilst touring productions are often invited to perform in the islands' community halls and new venues such as St Edward Chapel on Canna, as part of their Highland schedule.
Today there are new openings on Eigg especially with a display space for local artists at the smallest Scottish gallery on Eigg and a new art residency space on that island offered by the Bothy Project in cooperation with a Cleadale croft and Eigg Box, a new social enterprise which is mentoring and supporting 10 local artists and craft producers.
This does not mean to say that creativity is not thriving in the other three islands of the Small Isles. The Green Shed and the Craftshop on Muck, the Craft shack on Rum and the community shop in Canna are teeming with examples of the islanders' creative endeavours.