Events to showcase Scotland's islands

image captionScotland's islands are home to more than 99,700 people

Events and activities will be held from April next year to promote the cultures, creativity, landscape and produce of Scotland's islands.

Organisations are being invited to bid for funding to put on events during Scotland's Year of Island Culture.

A marketing initiative - Scotland's Islands - has been launched to raise the profile of the isles.

Six local authorities are involved in the project backed with £1.8m of public funds.

The councils - Argyll and Bute, Highland, North Ayrshire, Orkney, Shetland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar - are working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Event Scotland, VisitScotland and Awards for All.

'Critical mass'

Joe MacPhee, head of economic development at the comhairle, said it was an exciting venture.

He said: "By working in partnership we can create the critical mass for more effective marketing, open up access to new markets and raise the islands' profile as modern communities which are wonderful places to visit, live and do business.

"This is also a tremendous example of how local authorities can work together to maximise resources and attract substantial inward investment."

According the last major census in 2001, Scotland's inhabited islands were home to 99,739 people.

Earlier this week it was revealed the Shetland Islands have been included in a list of the world's top 10 tourist sites by travel guide Lonely Planet.

The archipelago is described as possibly "the last untamed corner of the UK" in the Best In Travel 2011.

Fragile areas

But next year's celebrations will also take place against a backdrop of challenges facing island communities.

Eleven schools on the Western Isles are to be closed, while a decision on the future of schools in Argyll has still to be taken.

Earlier this year, a political row blew up over the extension of a Scottish government discount ferry fare pilot on routes to the Western Isles, Tiree and Coll.

Liberal Democrats accused the SNP of favouritism and ignoring the needs of the Northern Isles, a claim denied by the Nationalists.

Concerns have also been raised by island local authorities about plans to withdraw Maritime and Coastguard Agency tugs next year.

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