The division of Britain, not into highland and lowland, but into highland, upland and lowland, is a significant one in considering rural population. The true highland areas, the North-West Highlands and Islands, the SouthWest Highlands and the Grampians, much of the Southern Uplands of Scotland, most of the mountains of the Lake District and of central Wales have large tracts virtually uninhabited. The greater part of the area is rough pasture, the forest-planted land is only a very small proportion of the whole and still less is under crops and grass. People live in groups of crofts or on small scattered farms rather than in villages and sheep farming dominates the economy. These areas have not only a thin population, very unevenly distributed but also a falling population. All the counties of highland Scotland, with two exceptions, show a loss of population rapid at the beginning of the century, slowed or halted during the two world wars and the years of industrial depression in the thirties, but accelerating again in the last decade. Birth-rates are relatively high and death-rates in the younger age-groups low, but migration to the industrial areas of Scotland, and still more to England and overseas, more than offsets the natural increase. Long-continued emigration, since it is the younger men and especially women who go, brings in time a decrease in the rate of natural increase. The decline of population is not of course universal or everywhere the same. The building of the dams or power-houses of the hydro-electric schemes, the draining and planting of Forestry Commission land, the making or improvement of roads, brings in workers, many temporarily, a few permanently, to certain areas. The worth of these highland areas should not be measured in terms of the density of population alone, nor the rate of decrease be taken as necessarily a sign of declining usefulness.
They may be more valuable for purposes other than agricultural, and their economic health may well improve with a decrease in population. Areas poorly farmed may be better used as great forests, or solely as gathering grounds for water for hydro-electric enterprises or city supplies, or even as playgrounds for city populations. None the less, declining population in these remote areas poses problems. People may emigrate because the isolation is too great and the social and economic amenities too few, roads too poor, markets, shops and schools too distant, water supplies inadequate, electric power and light wanting. Crofts and farms are then abandoned. But the fewer the people in an area the more difficult does it become to keep schools going, to induce postmen and delivery vans to make their rounds, the more uneconomic to improve roads, bring piped water and electric cables. There are a few who seek solitude in which to live, and a few more who enjoy it as a respite on holiday, but they are, and will probably increasingly be, the minority.