BIRTHS in Scotland are at their lowest level since 1855 – and experts say Brexit might be to blame.

There were just 12,580 babies born from October through to the end of December. That number is down on the same period in 2017 and is 6% less than the average seen in the last five years.

It is also the smallest recorded since civil registration began more than 160 years ago.

National Records of Scotland (NRS), which monitors and analyses the countrywide figures, say the three months prior to October were also the quietest third quarter on its books.

Announcing the figures, the agency said it could not explain why births tumbled throughout 2018, but that Brexit could be putting potential parents off of adding to their families.

NRS said "economic uncertainty" had coincided with the start of the last significant fall in births, which happened in 2008 as the UK entered recession.

The body said: "There is no single reason for the fall in the number of births, but possible causes may include the postponement of childbearing until older ages, often meaning that women will have fewer children; and economic uncertainty influencing decisions around childbearing, particularly given that the beginning of the recent fall coincided with the financial crash a decade ago."

The latest data also shows 14,480 deaths were registered between October and December 2018, 5% lower than the same period the previous year.

There were 6,125 marriages registered in the final three months of 2018, up 2.5% on the previous year.

Of these, 230 were same sex marriages, 25 of which were changes from civil partnerships.

And 24 couples opted for civil partnerships during the period.

Paul Lowe, the Registrar General for Scotland, said: "Continuing the downward trend since 2008, births for the fourth quarter of 2018 has been at its lowest number recorded since civil registration began.

"This is the second record-low number of quarterly births in a row, with quarter three also falling to its lowest level in 2018.

"The number of deaths fell compared to the recent peak recorded in the fourth quarter of 2017, but was slightly higher than the average of the previous five years."

Scotland’s Migration Minister said the new figures highlight the importance of safeguarding the free movement of people and criticised the Tory government’s “hostile environment” policy.

“These latest statistics provide more evidence of the importance of migration to Scotland,” Ben Macpherson said.

“All of Scotland’s population growth over the next 25 years is projected to come from migration. The recent independent report by the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population found that – if the UK Government ends free movement – Scotland’s working age population could decline by up to 5%. Furthermore, if EU migration falls to half its current levels, National Records of Scotland indicate a potential 4.3% drop in the proportion of children by 2041.

“We have been consistently clear that free movement should be allowed to continue in Scotland. The UK Government’s proposals to restrict migration do not reflect Scotland’s values or the needs of our economy, our public services and our communities.”