Fishing has declined in importance, but still employed 345 individuals in 2001, about 3.5% of the islands’ economically active population, the modern industry concentrating on herring, white fish, lobsters, crabs and other shellfish, and salmon fish farming.
A 2009 report indicated the traditional sectors of the economy export beef, cheese, whisky, beer, fish and other seafood. In recent years there has been growth in other areas including tourism, food and beverage manufacture, jewelery, knitwear, and other crafts production, construction and oil transportation through the Flotta oil terminal. Retailing accounts for 17.5% of total employment, and public services also play a significant role, employing a third of the islands’ workforce.
In 2007, of the 1,420 VAT registered enterprises 55% were in agriculture, forestry and fishing, 12% in manufacturing and construction, 12% in wholesale, retail and repairs, and 5% in hotels and restaurants. A further 5% were public service related. 55% of these businesses employ between 5 and 49 people.
The report expressed concern about the loss of business caused by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic: “blighting business activity, travel and tourism”. On 1 February 2021, a new plan (subsequent to previous funding schemes) from the Scottish government was announced. The Island Equivalent Payment Fund was designed to “provide the equivalent of Level 4 support to eligible businesses in Orkney and other island areas”.
Highland and Islands Airports operates the main airport in Orkney, Kirkwall Airport. Loganair provides services to the Scottish mainland (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness), as well as to Sumburgh Airport in Shetland.
Within Orkney, the council operates airports on most of the larger islands including Stronsay, Eday, North Ronaldsay, Westray, Papa Westray, Sanday, and Flotta. The shortest scheduled air service in the world, between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray, is scheduled at two minutes’ duration but can take less than one minute if the wind is in the right direction.
Ferries serve both to link Orkney to the rest of Scotland, and also to link together the various islands of the Orkney archipelago. Ferry services operate between Orkney and the Scottish mainland and Shetland on the following routes:
- Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope (operated by Pentland Ferries)
- John o’ Groats to Burwick on South Ronaldsay (seasonal passenger only service, operated by John o’ Groats Ferries)
- Lerwick to Kirkwall (operated by NorthLink Ferries)
- Aberdeen to Kirkwall (operated by NorthLink Ferries)
- Scrabster Harbour, Thurso to Stromness (operated by NorthLink Ferries)
Inter-island ferry services connect all the inhabited islands to Orkney Mainland, and are operated by Orkney Ferries, a company owned by Orkney Islands Council. The isles of Westray, Papa Westray (or Papay), North Ronaldsay, Sanday, Eday, Stronsay, and Shapinsay are served from Kirkwall harbor, while the northern end of Hoy and Graemsay are served from Stromness harbor, the Lyness end of Hoy and Flotta are served from Houton on the south of the mainland, and Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre are served from Tingwall, in the Rendall area of the Orkney mainland. As well as this, the MV Golden Mariana connects the village of Pierowall on Westray with Papa Westray – this provides a vital local service for schoolchildren on Papay as well as supplementing existing through sailings from Kirkwall.
Local buses around the Orkney Mainland, as well as across the Churchill Barriers to Burray and South Ronaldsay, are operated by Stagecoach in Orkney. The main route is the X1, connecting Stromness, Stenness for Maeshowe, Finstown, Kirkwall, St Mary’s, Burray, and St Margaret’s Hope. There are also buses from Kirkwall via Orphir (2), and from Stromness (5), to the ferry terminal at Houton (from which inter-island ferries operate to Hoy and Flotta, from Kirkwall to Kirkwall Airport (3 & 4), Tankerness and Deerness (3), from Kirkwall and Finstown to Tingwall (from which there are ferries to Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre), Evie and Birsay, from Stromness to Kirkwall via Skara Brae, Dounby, Harray and Finstown (7), the 8 (which does a circular route to and from Kirkwall and Finstown via Stromness and the West Mainland villages, such as Marwick, Quoyloo, Dounby and Stenness), and the X10, which connects the late-night call of the NorthLink ferry to and from Aberdeen and Lerwick, at Hatston Ferry Terminal, to Kirkwall, Finstown and Stromness.
Flag of Orkney:
The Flag of Orkney was the winner of a public flag consultation in February and March 2007. In the flag consultation the people of Orkney were asked for their preferred design from a short list of 5, all of which had been approved by the Court of the Lord Lyon. The chosen design was that of Duncan Tullock of Birsay, which polled 53% of the 200 votes cast by the public.