Islands – present

Explore the realities of and gain insights into Scotland’s island communities in our upcoming Islands – present event.

What are the present opportunities and challenges facing and shaping the Scottish Islands? Explore the unique position, brilliant stories, and present realities of life in Scottish island communities in the second instalment of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Islands – past, present, and future event series.  

Hear from a range of community leaders and experts as they discuss themes from language, archaeology, and landscape to the climate crisis, crofting, renewable energy, as well as many other topics. 

Islands – past, present, and future

The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Islands – past, present, and future event series puts the complex stories of Scotland’s Island communities in the spotlight – looking back, taking stock, and imagining the future. 

With each instalment taking place in a different island community and live streamed to ensure the widest possible reach, the Royal Society of Edinburgh aims to support networks of learning and knowledge sharing in the Islands as well as Scotland as a whole. 

The first event of the series, Islands – past, took place on Skye in Spring 2023. Watch the conference on demand here.


Day 1: Friday 22 March

Working with communities – challenges and opportunities

13:00 – 13:10 | Welcome and introduction – day 1

13:15 – 13:20 | Introduction to UHI Islands Strategy | Professor Neil Simco

13:25 – 13:55 | An introduction to the Scottish islands | Professor Christopher A Whatley OBE, FRSE and Becky Stabler

14:00 – 14:30 | A personal perspective on Island opportunities and challenges | Rt Hon Brian Wilson

14:30 – 14:50 | Break

14:50 – 15:20 | Community land successes and opportunities | David Ewan Cameron and Dr Rona Campbell

15:25 – 15:55 | Perspective on wind energy opportunities | Faye MacLeod

16:00 – 16:30 | The Galson Community Trust – trials, tribulations and successes | Agnes Rennie

16:35 – 16:45 | Closing

Day 2: Saturday 23 March, 09:00 – 14:00

Environmental challenges and opportunities

09:00 – 09:10 | Welcome and introductions – day 2

09:15 – 09:45 | The future of crofting – vibrant viability | Professor Frank Rennie

09:50 – 10:20 | A survey of community wellbeing, heritage, and sustainability | Professor John Gillies FRSE, Jessica Wood and Uisdean Robertson

10:20 – 10:45| Break

10:45 – 11:15 | Overcoming the climate-nature crisis | David Maclennan

11:20 – 11:50 | The value of long term studies: four decades of research on Soay sheep on St Kilda | Professor Josephine Pemberton FRSE, FRS

11:55 – 12:25 | Present but not counted: addressing the societal condition of the Gaelic vernacular community in the islands | Professor Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

12:30 – 13:00 | Bog breathing from space: how mechanics help re-defining our understanding of peatland resilience | Professor Roxane Anderson

13:05 – 13:15 | Closing | Professor Des Thompson FRSE and Professor Christopher A Whatley OBE, FRSE 



Principal Adviser on Biodiversity and Science, NatureScot

With more than 30 years’ experience working in government agencies, Des was the Principal Adviser on Biodiversity and Science with NatureScot, Scotland’s Nature Agency.  He worked closely with the Scottish Government devising the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy 2022-2045, and its Delivery Plan. Now a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow his interests include the conservation ecology of north European shorebirds and science-policy biodiversity decision making.  He is a member of the UN Technical Advisory Group supporting the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia (founder chair for ten years), member of the Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Programme Advisory Group, Specialty Chief Editor of the journal Bird Conservation and Management, and Vice President (and former Chair of the Board of Trustees) of the Field Studies Council.  With specialist interests in upland and arctic-alpine environments, publishing more than 15 books, he took his PhD and DSc from the University of Nottingham, and hails from the small village of Culrain in Sutherland.
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Emeritus Professor, Scottish History, University of Dundee 

Christopher Whatley has written on a wide range of Scottish historical topics. These include book-length histories of the salt industry and Scotland’s industrial revolution, as well as challenging studies of Scottish society during this period. He is best known for his award-winning book and papers on the Union of 1707, and for his study of the legacy of Robert Burns. His most recent book is his acclaimed Pabay: An Island Odyssey (Birlinn, 2019), which is in part a personal account, (but also a serious history, of a small island where he spent much of his boyhood. 


Professor John Gillies OBE, FRSE, FRCPE, FRCGP

Honorary Professor of General Practice, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh

Dr John Gillies OBE, FRSE, FRCPE, FRCGP was born in North Uist. He is an Edinburgh graduate and has worked as a doctor in Malawi and rural Scotland. He was Chair of the Royal College of GPs in Scotland from 2010 to 2014. He co-directs the Compassion Initiative within the Global Health Academy in Edinburgh, which works across disciplines to use the growing evidence for compassion in workplaces including healthcare. He was deputy director of the Scottish School of Primary Care from 2015-2019.
He is an Honorary Professor of General Practice at the University of Edinburgh.
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Jess Wood

PhD student, University of Aberdeen

Jess is a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, based in the Outer Hebrides. Jess has been collaborating with Comann Eachdraidh Uibhist a Tuath and institutional partners (the Universities of the Highlands and Islands and St Andrews) on the Aire air Sunnd project since 2022. Jess applies an interdisciplinary approach to her work that incorporates both the social sciences and applied health sciences. Her key interests relate to community engagement methodologies, wellbeing, identity, and environmental entanglements.
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Faye MacLeod 

Chartered Accountant & Firm Principal of Campbell Stewart MacLennan & Co, Co-founder of SkyeWind website 

Faye runs an accountancy practice on the Isle of Skye leading a fantastic team of islanders, from offices in Portree, Benbecula & Kyle regularly conversing with clients in her native Gaelic language. In addition to providing accountancy and taxation services, she has also built up experience in the charities and communities sector, undertaking feasibility studies and financial projections supporting community buyouts, asset transfers, and development projects, including renewable energy developments. Faye is co-founder of the SkyeWind website, bringing together information for the local community on proposed wind developments on Skye and considering alternatives that could deliver greater benefit to communities. 
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Professor Conchúr Ó Giollagáin 

Gaelic Research Professor at the Language Sciences Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands 

Conchúr Ó Giollagáin is the Gaelic Research Professor in the University of the Highlands and Islands and the director of the UHI Language Sciences Institute, which leads the Collaborative Interdisciplinary & Applied Linguistic Links academic partnership. In 2022 Conchúr was appointed as a Visiting Professor at Ulster University. Conchúr is a prominent scholar in language planning and minority language culture and sociology. He has written extensively on issues concerning the sustainability of minority cultures, especially the Gaeltacht/Gàidhealtachd communities in Ireland and Scotland. 
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David Cameron 

North Harris Trust 

David, a long-time resident of the Isle of Harris, actively engages in various local businesses. He strongly advocates for land reform, particularly community landownership. He played a key role in the community purchase and development of the 55,000-acre North Harris Estate in 2003, reinforcing his belief in the necessity of land reform for a fair and socially just Scotland. David has served as chairman for Community Energy Scotland and Community Land Scotland, representing community landowners across the country. 
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Professor Josephine Pemberton FRSE, FRS

Chair of Natural History, University of Edinburgh 

Josephine Pemberton is an evolutionary biologist who uses genetic markers to answer questions about the ecology and evolution of natural populations. She pioneered genetic parentage analysis in wild animal populations, leading to new insights into mating behaviour and natural selection. More recently she has made advances using genome-wide genotype information, for example showing that inbreeding depression is more severe than it appears from typical wild pedigrees.
Most of Josephine’s research is within two long-term studies in which individual life histories of wild animals are recorded in detail: the Soay sheep of St Kilda and the red deer on the Isle of Rum. Such datasets allow exceptional multidisciplinary research across ecology and evolution, and Josephine has played a key role in keeping these studies going.
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David Maclennan 

Head of Operations – West, NatureScot 

David Maclennan has been involved in nature conservation in Scotland since starting work with the Nature Conservancy Council in 1989. David is currently Head of Operations – West, for NatureScot. As a member of the Outer Hebrides Community Planning partnership, David has chaired their Climate Change Working Group since April 2019 – leading work on the development of adaptation plans for the Outer Hebrides. 


Professor Roxane Andersen 

Senior Research Fellow, Environmental Research Institute, UHI NWH 

Professor Roxane Andersen is a Senior Research Fellow at the Environmental Research Institute, part of the UHI and based in Thurso. For the last 20 years, Prof. Andersen sought to track the recovery trajectories of peatland functions and species following restoration intervention. From microbes to whole landscapes, combining field-based work, experimental manipulations, modelling and remote sensing, her applied research also seeks to better understand peatland resilience in the face of the dual pressures from climate and land use change. 
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Professor Frank Rennnie 

Professor of Sustainable Rural Development, University of the Highlands and Islands and Head of Research at Lews Castle College, UHI 

Frank Rennie was Professor of Sustainable Rural Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands and Head of Research at Lews Castle College UHI. A natural scientist, he tutored on the MSc in Sustainable Rural Development and the MSc Digital Pedagogy, as well as supervising research students. His main research interests continue to be in human ecology, online education, and the benefits of digital networking for rural development. He has been an advisor to several government bodies, is a Fellow of six learned societies, and has published 36 books so far. He is a Research Fellow at the UHI Environmental Research Institute. 
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Mr Uisdean Robertson


Uisdean Robertson Chair of Comunn Eachdraidh Uibhist a Tuath, Vice Chair of Comataidh na Gaidhlig at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Chair of Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Also Chair of Highlands & Islands Transport Partnership. Has been the Elected Member for Uibhist a Tuath Ward for the last seventeen years. Before that worked for the Comhairle in Uist for nearly 30 years in various roles. I have a particular interest in the Gaidhlig language and in all efforts to save it as a living language.
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Dr Rona Campbell

Senior Development Manager, Population and Talent Attraction at HIE

Former radio/television reporter covering news, politics and sport, Rona took a change of direction career wise in 2007 to work in business and economic development, firstly as an assistant director at CBI Scotland. In 2013 Rona joined Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) as a senior development manager working initially in the Energy Team, with other roles in marketing and the Moray team before moving to her current post focused on population. To extend her knowledge of sustainable development whilst working at HIE, Rona has achieved an MSc and a PhD in Sustainability Studies at UHI North, West and Hebrides in Stornoway.
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Agnes Rennie

Agnes, Chair of the Galson Estate Trust, oversaw the community’s 2007 purchase of the Estate in the Isle of Lewis. With deep connections to the land, crofting lifestyle, and community, she is also the Vice Chair of Community Land Scotland, advocating for community land ownership. Formerly the manager of Gaelic publishing company Acair until her 2022 retirement, Agnes was honored as the Gaelic Ambassador by An Comann Gaidhealach at the 2020 National Mod for her lifelong dedication to promoting Gaelic culture in Scotland.


Rt Hon Brian Wilson CBE

Brian, a former Labour MP for 18 years and five-time Minister under Tony Blair, is actively involved in trade, serving on the UK Board of Trade and contributing to various publications. He founded the West Highland Free Press, serves as Editor at Large for the Stornoway Gazette, and is a director of Celtic Football Club. Brian, a visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde, chairs its Centre for Energy Studies. He played a key role in reviving the Harris Tweed industry, earning the title of UK Global Director of the Year in 2012 and a CBE for services to business and charity in Scotland in the New Year honours list.
In partnership with
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Friday March 22nd - Saturday March 23rd, 2024


UHI Stornoway campus