Island Vulnerability explores the challenges which isolated geographies face when dealing with risk and disasters by examining the processes which create, maintain, and could be used to reduce their vulnerability. This page provides information on vulnerability issues on islands affiliated with the United Kingdom of which there are three statuses:
1. Overseas Territories.
2. Dependent Territories of the British Crown:
3. Islands which are part of the U.K., for example:
Scottish Islands Federation / Scottish Islands Network
Anglesey / Ynys Môn, Wales
Commentary by Fiona Salisbury from Ynys Môn on 10 November 2004:
The main problems facing Ynys Môn are cultural and economic. These are encountered on many small rural islands, but on Ynys Môn they are both tempered and exacerbated by the fixed links to the mainland: two bridges, one of which is road and rail and one of which is road only.
The cultural issues are mainly connected with the struggle for survival of the Welsh language and culture. Ynys Môn has always been a stronghold for the Welsh language and this is still true today. In many areas, Welsh remains the first language of people and, more importantly, is the preferred medium of communication for a majority of the population. All young people growing up in Ynys Môn learn Welsh to a high standard at school, most being bilingual by the time they leave whether their parents speak Welsh or not.
However, there is an obvious and growing split between the predominantly rural areas where most people are Welsh-speaking, and the more urban ‘Anglicised’ areas such as the town of Beaumaris. There is an element of circularity in the development of this split–-the more attractive, tourist towns are colonised by English speakers, often retiring from the North of England and the Midlands. Manchester, Lancashire and Yorkshire in particular are well-represented. These areas become richer and even more attractive to incomers. In contrast, the farming communities-–hit hard by the current agricultural depression that grips much of Britain–-are left far behind and become yet more isolated and economically unattractive. Naturally, this leads to resentment, particularly amongst the young, Welsh-speaking inhabitants of the island who see their language and culture increasingly used as a marketing tool to encourage yet more incomers who can do little to help the struggling economy of the rural regions.
Economically, Ynys Môn is one of the poorest regions in Wales, itself one of the poorest regions in Britain. House prices are low compared to the rest of Britain, roads and buildings are often old and neglected and public services are severely underfunded. The mounting problems facing farmers (mostly sheep and cattle farmers) and fishers mean that many are abandoning these traditional industries in favour of tourism, which plays a central role in the island’s economy.
Ynys Môn’s natural beauty and the rich array of tourist attractions along with the relatively good road and rail connections to England mean that Ynys Môn remains an extremely attractive tourist destination, despite the decline in the traditional British seaside holiday. A large proportion of the island’s population make their living working at one of the many tourist attractions or from camping and caravanning sites, hotels, and guest houses.
Many tourists return each year and eventually retire to Ynys Môn. Once settled, they often find themselves feeling isolated from friends and family, missing the urban lifestyle, and disturbed by the reserved character of the native inhabitants. They bring with them valuable disposable income, but they also strain the local health services and tend to push up house prices, increasing the likelihood that young people will move away from the island.
Other sources of employment on Ynys Môn are the nuclear power station (Wylfa), Anglesey Aluminium, and other industry. Many people commute daily across the two bridges to work in Bangor where the University of Wales College Bangor and Ysbyty Gwynedd, the main hospital for much of northwest Wales, are major employers.
In terms of vulnerability to disaster, Ynys Môn could easily prove to be a victim of both its success as a tourist destination and its economic links to the mainland, should there be any long term disruption to the road and rail links. This can already be seen when the larger, more robust Britannia Bridge is closed due to high winds in the winter, forcing all traffic to cross the older, smaller Menai Bridge. Long tail-backs and widespread disruption are the inevitable result, highlighting the dangers of relying too heavily on these links.
In summer, tourist queues frequently stretch miles back onto the mainland as traffic comes to a halt at these bottlenecks. Any major disruption to the bridges could be aggravated by the poor internal communications links on the island where most roads are narrow and poorly maintained and the bus and rail services are infrequent, antiquated and inconvenient for a large proportion of the population. Ynys Môn’s dependence on tourism also makes it vulnerable to the weather-–a wet summer can heavily impact the local economy. Should these become more frequent and severe due to climate change, the island could struggle to survive.
Rising sea-levels could also have an impact, given that much of Ynys Môn is low-lying. Theoretically, Ynys Môn could be split into a north and a south island should the sea rise high enough. High winds are often a problem in winter with power lines failing on a fairly regular basis (once or twice a winter), trees brought down across already narrow lanes and, occasionally , significant wind or tree damage to property. There is also the remote possibility of an industrial disaster in the north of the island where the power station and large industrial plants are situated.
Ynys Môn therefore presents a mixed picture. It faces similar problems of emigration, especially by youth, and unhelpful immigration, the colonisation by retirees. It also suffers from severe economic problems and strains on local culture. However, the good links to the mainland mean that these problems are alleviated to some extent, yet dependence on those links creates vulnerability. The people of Ynys Môn strongly resist cultural decay through their passionate commitment to keeping their traditional way of life and, in particular, their language alive. The high levels of youth bilingualism acts against the pull of well-paid jobs in other parts of Britain. A significant minority of youth leave Ynys Môn for a few years, but then return to their roots.
Commentary by Sandy Abrahams from Colonsay on 5 January 2003:
Island Vulnerability most certainly applies to the Island of Colonsay. One of the inner Hebrides, it is a small island, reached by public transport only by a 2½ hour ferry journey which runs 3 times a week. From a population of over 1,000 in the 1800s, it has seen a drastic drop to just over 100 today, simply due to the difficulties in making a living. Farming supports few families now, while fishing has all but collapsed. Today the main source of income is tourism.
The island's vulnerability can be looked at from a number of angles. Perhaps one which is most pertinent today is climate change. Should the gulf stream waver, the west coast of Scotland would lose its insulator, resulting in cold wet summers. It would no longer be a popular holiday destination. This could spell disaster for the island, for without the jobs that the service industry provides, it would be unlikely that a population could be maintained.
Another threat facing Colonsay is job opportunity. Increasingly, with fewer jobs available, houses are built for or sold to an incoming retired population. There are few incoming from a younger generation, and those that exist are reluctant to stay. There is little to hold a young person with any sort of prospects to this island. A common occurrence in all parts of rural Britain, depopulation is magnified in an island community.
Solutions to these problems are hard to find. If indeed the gulf stream were to weaken, it could do so in a very short space of time, perhaps on a scale of 10 to 50 years. There is little the island could do to prepare for this eventuality. The more immediate problem of job opportunities can only be solved by providing more jobs! However this is a difficult task in such a remote community. Tourism does very little to sustain a 'community'. Due to the short tourist season--6 months at a push, we could, and in fact already do see these jobs being taken by seasonal workers (e.g. South Africans, Australians with no relation to the Hebrides) willing to work for a low wage. Furthermore, these jobs do little to encourage a culture of traditional island community life. Something which is almost essential to maintain viable population.
Perhaps we need to turn back to fishing and agriculture to sustain this island. If climate change were, as predicted, to turn many arable farm lands in other parts of the world to desert, the west coast of Scotland could become a valuable asset in providing grazing for livestock. If fish and shellfish stocks were carefully managed though local licensing, or inshore fisheries established, we could see employment created again in this almost defunct sector.
Before concluding by saying that a solution must be found if we want to sustain the island community, it would be interesting to ask why this desire to maintain island life exists. We appear much less concerned when a village becomes depopulated on the mainland, or when communities become heavily weighted with the retired generation. Perhaps it has something to do with the fear of losing part of our culture that appears to be maintained on islands. Perhaps it has more to do with our recognition that islands breed independent and close-knit community lifestyles that are hard to find in our modern global society.
Bailiwick of Guernsey
Commentary by Louise Perrio from Guernsey on 29 January 2003:
The main feature of island vulnerability for me is that many of the factors which may be interpreted as weak points of my island are also those which are the origin of what is good about such a place and lifestyle. For example, the beautiful beaches, and the winter storms; or its tranquillity which is a prominent aspect for tourists, but which is a negative feature in the minds of many youngsters.
A further problem for Guernsey is that it is relatively highly populated and well developed as regards the finance sector. The dependence on agriculture as an export meanwhile has decreased. So in terms of development, it is on a par with a country, i.e. it has its own government and economy (to an extent) yet its economic and political clout internationally is not proportional to its size and status in this respect. Guernsey is under no legal obligation to follow the decisions of any UK or EU governing body, yet it is so linked to them economically that it is uncertain whether it will survive if it doesn't comply with such decisions. Furthermore, we have no direct representation to these bodies.
Internal government is sluggish and slow-moving. The members tend towards the older age range indicative of the problem of the problem faced by many islands: an ageing population and seemingly no way of persuading the native youth to stay, or to come back, in any great numbers. This has ramifications for public services such as nursing and teaching, which are regularly filled by non-locals. This again has a further effect on the population, in a potential vicious circle. I have no idea why this is such a problem--though it may now be floundering in house prices which are too high for first-time buyers, which could be remedied to some extent by the state and isn't--nor what to do about it.
An island's main potential vulnerability, bar that of the elements, is in its own people--especially the next generation.
Isle of Portland, England
Crichton, D. 2003. "The Shetland Islands" (185 kb in PDF). Posted here with the author's kind permission.
Gould, D. 2011. Climate Change Adaptation and Local Knowledge: A case study from the Developed World.. MSc dissertation, Climate Change Management, Birkbeck College, London, U.K., download the full text (454 kB in pdf).
This paper examines what role 'local knowledge' can play in strategies for adaptation to climate change. Using a small and vulnerable group of Scottish Islands, an ethnological approach is taken here in the developed world to see if 'local knowledge' exists in a community still mostly engaged in primary production. Local knowledge is defined and compared to citizen science. Its viability in Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCA/DRR) processes are explored drawing on the academic literature and practical case studies from the developing world. Trends in the composition of CCA/DRR processes are traced showing the increasing importance of local knowledge and its suitability for inclusion in policy. Issues of scale and the way local knowledge is held are discussed, together with ways of re-constructing a more valuable body of knowledge from the experience and pieces found. Areas for further research are highlighted.
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