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 Scotland's population was yesterday officially estimated at its highest for a quarter of a century. The main reason for the rise? Migration. The main source of the newcomers? England.

Net "in" migration - from all sources - is now at its highest since records begin in the early 1950s, said Duncan Macniven, Scotland's registrar-general, in his official annual report on the nation's population. But the number of people moving to Scotland from the rest of the UK far outstrips migrants with a higher profile, like tens of thousands of Poles and other eastern Europeans who have made their home here since British borders were opened up to them in 2004.

Orkney is at the head of this demograhic curve ball.  In many of the outer islands you are more likely to hear southern vowels than the expected Orcadian lilt. Fully 736 people are thought to have moved to the islands in 2006-2007. Half of those were from other parts of Scotland. Most of the rest were from England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Just 45 were officially categorised as "overseas" migrants.

The result: net migration to Orkney of 135, more than cancelling out a modest birth rate and continuing emigration. Orkney's population rose half a percent in the year.


Talking Stones

A major archaeological investigation is getting under way this week  at one of Western Europe's most impressive prehistoric sites. The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles, but little is known about it.

A month-long programme of investigations will be undertaken by a 15-strong team. The last important archaeological studies took place there in the 1970s. Historic Scotland said very little was actually known about the site, including its exact age and purpose.

A scheduled ancient monument, the stone circle and henge of the Ring of Brodgar is part of 'The Heart of Neolithic Orkney' World Heritage Site, inscribed by UNESCO in 1999. The project will involve the re-excavation and extension of trenches dug in 1973. Geophysical surveys will also be undertaken to investigate the location of standing stones.

Dr Jane Downes of the Archaeology Department, Orkney College, UHI, and Dr Colin Richards of the University of Manchester are the project directors. Dr Downes said: "Because so little is known about the Ring of Brodgar, a series of assumptions have taken the place of archaeological data.

"The interpretation of what is arguably the most spectacular stone circle in Scotland is therefore incomplete and unclear." Dr Richards added: "At present, even the number of stones in the original circle is uncertain. The position of at least 40 can be identified but there are spaces for 20 more."

Woody Woodpecker

It may not be one of the Great Trees of Britain but Kirkwall and St Ola Community councillors have recommended that the council go ahead and put a stabilising pole at Albert Street’s Big Tree — with measures to ensure youths can't climb it.

Chairman, Spencer Rosie, said the tree had to be protected or taken away, as it was no longer safe in its current state.

It was felt by some members that taking the tree away completely, or replacing it with another, would have to go out to public consultation.

After considerable discussion, members agreed that a “steadying column”, be driven adjacent to the trunk with a fastening to the tree.

More More ! Awards

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness is one of two Scottish buildings among the 16 winners of the Royal Institute of British Architects National Awards, which were announced in London on Friday night.

According to the judges, the “extraordinary sensitivity” of the Pier Arts Centre has been achieved by architects Reiach and Hall by extending the original gallery building through adding a new zinc and glass building which can be viewed from across the harbour.

The Stirling Prize shortlist will be drawn from the 16 RIBA National Award winners, and the RIBA European Award winners which are eligible for the prize. The shortlist will be announced on Thursday 17 July.

Traffic warden reinstated - by popular demand

A Scottish traffic warden has been reinstated - after a campaign to save him by local residents and motorists.

James Dewar, 59, was the only traffic warden in the port of Stromness on Orkney until he was told his services were no longer required.

The local police force had increased its presence in the town and its constables were due to take over his duties, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Dewar, who is employed during the summer when tourists double the population of the historic town, keeps the traffic moving in one of Britain's narrowest high streets.

He has done the job for 14 years and is regarded as a friend by many of the residents. He also helps children get home safely after school, and offers advice to tourists.

"To us he's a friend," said Sarah Taylor, who headed the campaign to keep Mr Dewar.

"Anywhere else people would be surprised that we want to keep our traffic warden, but he does an invaluable job in Stromness and he's a great asset to the town."

Mr Dewar, who runs a small croft outside Stromness with his wife Jenny, looking after sheep, goats and hens, said: "For a traffic warden to be wanted is unusual to say the least.

"I'm deeply honoured that the people of Stromness wanted to keep me as their traffic warden. I'm so grateful for their support."

Chief Insp David Miller, of Northern Constabulary, said he could remain in Stromness this summer and the force would consider expanding his duties next year.