Highland, Inverness, and Nairn population facts and figures

October 27, 2009 · Filed Under Development 

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You’d think with all the recent talk of development that many in the Highlands thinks Inverness is being turned into a giant megacity, and the A96 corridor as a sprawling conurbation – where the locals want out and other towns want in!

So for comparison, I thought I’d do some research that puts into perspective the size of the population for relative measurement.

According to the 2001 census, the populations for the Highlands, Inverness, and Nairn (normal resident population) were:

Highlands: 208,914
Inverness: 42,880
Nairn: 7,892

Highlands of Scotland

Compared to the rest of Scotland, this means the entire Highlands of Scotland:

– has a similar population to Aberdeen City (193,379)
– has half the population of the City of Edinburgh (420,893)
– has one sixth the population of Glasgow (1,199,629)

Additionally, the Highlands of Scotland:

– covers more than half of the land mass of Scotland – but only has 4% of the Scottish population
– has lowest population density anywhere in the UK, at less than 0.1 persons per hectare

Compared to England and Wales, there are 31 urban areas that have a larger population than the Highlands according to the same 2001 census data, with the entire Highlands of Scotland population easily outranked by towns such as:

Kingston upon Hull 301,416
Swansea Urban Area 270,506
Southend Urban Area 269,415
Preston Urban Area 264,601
Blackpool Urban Area 261,088
Plymouth 243,795
Aldershot Urban Area 243,344
Derby Urban Area 236,738
Luton/Dunstable 236,318
The Medway Towns Urban Area 231,659

The most comparable area for population size is part of South Yorkshire known as the Dearne Valley Urban Area, which is mostly Barnsley and a few small outlying villages along the same river.

The population of the Highlands of Scotland is bigger than:

Northampton Urban Area 197,199
Norwich Urban Area 194,839
Milton Keynes Urban Area 184,506
Sunderland Urban Area 182,974
Crawley Urban Area 180,177
Wigan Urban Area 166,840
Warrington Urban Area 158,195

So, the Highlands of Scotland covers a huge area, but it’s population is dwarfed by major towns in England.

In fact, the entire population of the Highlands is probably similar to a medium-sized Northern town in England.

In fact, the population of the Highlands could all comfortably fit into Blackpool!


So how does Inverness, with a population of 42,880 in 2001 compare?

Inverness is smaller than:

Ayr/Prestwick 61,411
Livingston 50,771
Cumbernauld 49,507
Dumbarton 47,801
Kirkcaldy 47,274
Glenrothes 44,335
Kilmarnock 43,207

Inverness is larger than:

Perth 41,724
Stirling 40,431
Dunfermline 39,068
Irvine 37,366
Dalkeith 37,114
Ardrossan 32,615
Dumfries 31,936


The town of Nairn, with a population of 7,892 in the 2001 census, is smaller than:

Buckie 8,425
Forres 8,346
Lanark 8,341
Tranent 8,313
Thurso 8,246
Oban 8,041
Kilbirnie 7,990

Nairn is larger than:

Wick 7,681
Brechin 7,655
Cupar 7,545
Blairgowrie 7,492
Dunblane 7,368
Lerwick 7,336
Girvan 7,305


11 Responses to “Highland, Inverness, and Nairn population facts and figures”

  1. frederick on October 27th, 2009 7:30 pm

    Dear Brian, This is just a long shot, but we have a painting of a man and on the reverse is the artist’s signature (A Gallaway)It was painted and finished in Nairn on 20th Aug. 1816. We are trying to identify the sitter who must have been important in Nairn considering Gallaway travelled from Edinburgh for the commission. The sitter was aged 34 that year. I could send you an image if you think you help with the identification.

    best regards

  2. Brian Turner on October 27th, 2009 8:09 pm

    You mean this one?

    Would be hard to tell – I’m not that up on local history at the moment – try contacting the Nairn museum as they might know:

    Hope that helps. :)

  3. nairnbairn on October 28th, 2009 12:40 am

    Brian – I’m not sure why the posts about artworks are in this thread(?).

    But to get back to your original subject: you know what they say about statistics…

    Of course you – and the census – are right that the Highlands are more sparsely populated, and the towns much smaller, than other regions of the UK. That’s probably why you, and many others, chose to come and live here, and why others like to visit!

    But I’d urge you to take a look at the figures on the Highland Council website about population and growth-trends within the region. Just for example:

    – on 2007 figures, the Nairn area has the highest population density of any sub-region within the Highlands at 28.5 persons per sq km, which is more than three times the Highland average of 8.2. The Inverness area, which takes in both the city and the hinterland down Loch Ness-side, comes next at 24.2. Sutherland is the most thinly-inhabited at 4.1 persons per sq km.

    – population growth-rates are also striking. Inverness leads the field (+7% between 1991-2001, or +10% between 1997 and 2007). Close behind are Badenoch & Strathspey (+7% from 91-01, or +11% from 97-07) and Nairn (+6% from 91-01, or +10% from 97-07). At the other extreme Caithness and Lochaber are steadily losing people at around -4% each decade.

    Of course this is neither original nor surprising. Much more intriguing is that these official (Council and GROS) stats also project that by 2031 Inverness will have grown by 21% and Nairn by almost 15%, well above the Highland regional average of 9.6%. Caithness and Sutherland populations are expected to continue to shrink, and most other areas to grow rather more slowly.

    Well, yes, maybe that’s credible, depending on wider economic conditions and other factors. In terms of the actual numbers for Nairn, that growth projection means around 1,600 more residents by 2031, which is still higher than the recent past.

    The really staggering assumption, or aspiration, set out in the A96 Corridor Plan (and in the latest draft documents) is however that by 2041, a mere 10 years further down the track, Nairn is expected to have grown by around 10,000 people! That’s not 15% growth over 30 years, that’s a doubling in the town’s population over 40 years! And no, this doesn’t include the Tornagrain new town, this is just Nairn.

    Is it any wonder people are puzzled, if not alarmed. Where will all these new residents of Nairn be coming from, and what will they be doing? To coin a phrase, it just doesn’t seem to add up…

  4. Brian Turner on October 28th, 2009 9:27 am

    Thanks for the stats, nairnbairn – much appreciated. :)

    It’s interesting you bring up the stats discrepancy – while researching the figures I found a page from the Scottish Government claiming that 370,000 people actually live in the Highlands – almost double the 2001 census tally:

    It wouldn’t be surprising if the sudden jump from 2031 to 2041 therefore includes an erroneous dataset – and I wonder if this might be behind some of the stranger figures.

    Especially interesting that you bring up population density as well – hadn’t noticed that in the stats, but would certainly be a cause of concern, and something to raise with any concrete development proposals.

  5. Kenny on February 2nd, 2010 9:54 am

    You’re mixing up two definitions of the Highlands and indeed, two definitions of Inverness.

    There is the Scottish Highlands and the Highland Council. The Scottish Highlands includes other council areas and is the historical area of Gaelic culture in Scotland. The Scottish Highlands is the larger of the two with around 350,000 people, the Highland council has 219,000 people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Council

    Notice how the Highland council does not include Eileanan Siar or large parts of the mountainous Southern Highlands.

    The former town of Inverness, that is the ‘old town’ has about 40,000 people, but this does not include the new suburbs which has caused Inverness’ population to swell very quickly for a settlement of its size in the Highlands. This is closer to around 70,000 people.

    Hope that helps.

  6. rob jackson on February 21st, 2011 9:40 am

    I would say Inverness population has to be over 80,000….plus the population that isnt tracked…it is believed at one stage there were around 6000 Polish in Inverness for example.
    I moved to Inverness in 1976 and in those 35 years the residential areas have got to have tripled at least.
    The East side of Inverness in 1976 (Smithton, Culloden, Balloch, Cradlehall) was linked to Inverness via a single tracked road with passing places…today we see this area conjoined to Inverness and integrated fully.
    I would be guessing here, but i would bet the East of Inverness has a population of 30,000 alone….every time i look at the pop stats for this area they seem way off and way behind the real population as it has and is growing so fast…to be honest there is not many places left to build!
    So, in conclusion, although the comparisons are useful in the information here, they are majorly skewed and distorted by a lack of timeous accurate information…you may find some of the comparisons are wildly off the mark.


  7. Stephen on June 23rd, 2011 3:56 pm

    Dear Mr Turner, Can you tell me what proportion of the scottish population lived in the Highlands pre-Culloden ? (there was a debate in the pub last night)
    Many thanks, Stephen

  8. Kenny on July 17th, 2011 12:15 am

    Stephen, perhaps I’m too late and you won’t see this, but the population of the Highlands pre Culloden was between 30-40% of Scotland (depending on whether we’re using today’s definition of the Highlands or the larger “Scottish Highlands” definition which includes all areas in which Gaelic was spoken in the 1700s, i.e a much larger area).

    Culloden, the Clearances etc etc.

  9. ian on April 2nd, 2012 7:25 pm

    What is the population oh the ‘Islands’, oft regarded as Highlands?

  10. Kenny on April 6th, 2012 4:26 pm

    Ian – it depends what you mean by the “islands.” I will preceed on the assumption that you are not referring to Orkney or Shetland, as these islands are not part of the Highlands proper owing to their traditionally Norse and Scots cultures.

    Na h-Eileanan Siar / Outer Hebrides, has a population of approximately 26,000. However, the inner Hebrides has a population of a further 18,000 or so people.

    Unlike the Outer Hebrides, the Inner Hebrides are not in the same council area (some are part of Highland Council and some are part of Argyll and Bute.)

    Hope that helps.

  11. Frances on January 7th, 2013 7:20 am

    Dear Brian,
    Is there any possibility of contacting Frederick Oct 27 2009 re his Gallaway miniature? I am researching Gallaway and would be interested in exchanging info if possible. Or with anyone else ‘out there’!
    Briefly, Gallaway’s daughter Jane married William McIntosh of Millbank; another daughter Ann married Dr Peter Macarthur also of Nairn; Macintosh’s sister Margaret married a Macdonald.
    They were all in Nairn prior to c.1840.
    This is probably an “arts” query???