I began this project in response to the horrifying amounts of litter that I found along  a strandline in the area two years ago. Ten months on from starting this investigation in Ross-Shire, I am now analysing a new strandline thankfully this line is less inundated with litter. Though what is here still saddens me.

To enable me to map the litter items on this beach and I set out my own temporary lines at 10 m intervals crossing the 100m strandline. I walk each of the lines notating the items I can see along the lines to give me a more detailed idea of what tends to be found where in the ‘littoral zone’ , a valuable collection of data I want to work with in weeks to come.

setting up the investigation  threading litter lines
Having recorded the positions of the items I am now engaged in collecting and sorting the litter, and beginning to make my ‘litter lines’. Each specific type of material being linked together e.g. prawn boxes sewn together using packaging straps, plastic bottles linked together with fishing cord. At the moment I have 8 different lines underway.
I want the ‘litter lines’ to draw out what is happening along our strandlines, each line graphically illustrating what’s found on our beaches and the quantity of the items found.

Litter line summary flattened

‘Everything tells a tale if you can see it’  Philip Pullman



Thoughts on an Island

Even before you  land on Isle Martin you sense this is a very special place, nestled in Loch Kinaird, Oyster catchers calling out the news of your arrival to the  swallows, geese and larks. As I set about my residency on the island I am aware that  the community owned Isle Martin Trust are beginning to assess what might happen here over the coming years to  make the most of this island

contemplating island living

Contemplating Island living – Ullapool High School Pupils

As I go about my investigation here  I am noting down my thoughts about the island  and I used  some of the time that Ullapool High School  pupils where here last week  to find out what they already knew about the Isle Martin and to do some blue sky island thinking together with their teachers about what the possibilities are.

Pupils tinking about Isle Martin  Puil thughts on Isle Martin Pupil thughts on Isle Martin 2 pupils thoughts 2

Ideas for Isle Martin

The word maps show our combined ideas and observations of what the practical challenges  are , namely access to and from the island in rough weather, a good water supply and my all consuming challenge of the moment having a source of power.

arriving UHS Arriving small  rowing for water power
Thankfully for this evening the newly borrowed 12V battery is helping me to be able to write this post. Thanks to John & Sandy.


Catch up – a week on an island

rowing across 1

After much anticipation waiting for the weather to improve, Sunday 18th saw a glassy calm loch before me in the late afternoon. Utter delight. Vital kit was packed into project dinghy and Johns’ support boat and we set off. The mile row across gave me time to absorb the stillness of the water and my happiness at making the final step to Isle Martin, a place I have observed from so many angles and have been acquiring information about.

row over map   kit to take rowing across 2 cal on look out

My notebook recalls the quiet, bird calls and the sheltered feeling that the harbour hamlet has. The keys the Trust gave me allow access to the Mill House where I am now resident, with the use of the Trusts information room in the Boat House for a studio. My days on the island are divided between the two buildings and the beach according to the weather and light

Mon: orientating myself, observing the beach from the raised beach, enjoying the sound of calling Oyster Catchers [calm, grey]
Tues: am steep climb looking for the water tank/ springs to turn water for the houses, no luck [sunny , hot] pm on the beach making notes setting up transect points on the beach for surveying[fog descends , followed by heavy rain and thunder] set up working in the Boat House testing out ways of stringing/lacing the litter together
Weds: am searched for water tank, fell in the bog but found a water tank only it serves a different building, [torrential rain] Set up Boat house with maps and information for High School visit. Beginning a map notebook

IM anticipation map IM fold up map

Thurs: High school visit [strong easterly wind] good engaging day,  hitched a lift to the mainland to buy supplies and a Dongle so as to be able to get internet connection.

Fri: Hitched a lift back to Isle Martin. Excited as I watched the laptop charge downloaded images but then charging stopped….. severe disappointment
Sat: am[clear, sunny] set about floating the first test litter lines in the harbour pm row across to Ardmair moorings to test computer battery connections.  Row back with another 12V battery [sunny, westerly wind, tide coming in] Tough going. Elated at making it!
Sun: laptop still not charging very frustrated[strong easterly winds all day] rowing not possible. Make notes about observations of litter line tests
Mon: Help arrives! Cables, battery and connectors tested non-functioning connector, duly cut off and strong new connectors fitted. Thanks to my wonderful support team ‘John’.  pm continued surveying the beach transect points. More details of key points to follow now I am back on line!
Many thanks to :
Isle Martin Trust for the access to the buildings and isle
John McIntyre for the loan of his Dinghy, a 12V battery, many cables and patience and persistence in making sure I have the power to keep the blog going
Ullapool Harbour Trust for ferrying the pupils to and from the Isle



Unexpected find

Friday: With the westerly winds  set strong for the next few days, I decided to make the most of my time on the mainland by doing a day’s investigation on a remote beach opposite Isle Martin re-nound for collecting litter as it faces due west. The walk in to Dun Canna beach is along the Coigach ‘Postie Path’ which is a fabulously dramatic craggy path which links Strathcanaird to Achiltibuie and for me a chance to view Isle Martin yet another perspective .

Dun Canna Beach  wind blown bag caught inland

About ½ mile from the beach I began to encounter caught plastic objects crates, bags , bottles all being blown along the burn that meets the beach and began to think how beach litter clean ups need to extend above the strand line, to uncover the camouflaged objects.
The beach is extensive over 800m long and from a distance devoid of any massive litter objects. A closer look at the standline and it is strewn with litter, I decide to continue my 10m video documentation and to survey and clean 1metre square of the line – purposefully a less cluttered section.

Dun Canna CU  1 Sq M full  1 sq M  cleaned  collecting litter

The square contained:
28 plastic bottle caps, 67 pieces of net/cord 14 pieces of plastic, 11 pieces of rope, 5 pieces of plastic strap, 1 piece of shrimp box
Collecting the pieces together plus other litter objects I filled my net bag up and prepared to walk back to the van when I turned and caught sight of what I like to think is one of my missing oranges? I wonder if so, from which launch location?

could it be a Littoral Orange

For the origin of the Orange Back Story click here

Expedition preparations

Ullapool Museum has been a great place to research information about  Isle Martin in  between installing my ‘Future Fossil Collection’   (which is now up and running and I am hoping to be able to post a review soon) Isle Martin’s bird reserve records and documents on the Summer Isles have given me a quick over view of the history and wildlife which I am familiarising myself with when I have a quiet minute in the van. Local knowledge as always is proving invaluable.

looking out to Isle MArtin  Isle MArtin from Rhu

The lists and notes are multiplying  and  piles of materials & tools are being put together in the van (as far as possible)  in preparation for my residency on  on Isle Martin where I will carry out  my next beach investigation and to make my floating litter lines/rafts which will be towed  back to the mainland. Some at least I hope for recycling – we shall see. With the help of John MacIntyre local ecologist, engineer and boatman extraordinaire, I was able to make my first landing on the island last Friday to assess the beach I will be mapping the litter on and eventually cleaning .

John & Cal first landing on Isle Martin Back Beach the beach
Landing on the floating pontoon was easy and a great relief for Cal, though I’m sure by the end of the three weeks she will be a true sea-dog as we will have to make the crossing a few times.  Camas a’ Bhuailidh or Back beach is reached easily after a short walk from the harbour. For analysing beach litter it is unfortunately/fortunately perfect approximately 100m long and faces SW collecting litter easily from the prevailing winds and tides. As the island isn’t habited any more and their have been few visitors over the past few years the majority of the litter I note will be washed up, an unusual and  interesting factor. A quick recce along the strandline echoed many of the beach litter lists though much less carpeted with cut net pieces.
We shall see….I am hoping to paddle out to the island at the end of the week weather permitting.  Ullapool High School pupils will join me for a days mapping and constructing on Thursday 22nd.   Many thanks to the Isle Martin Trust for allowing me to lake my Littoral Art Project to the Island and to Kevin Peach and Ullapool Habour Trust for agreeing to ferry the pupils to the Isle and back.



Strandline words

In keeping with practice of  the literary figures in town this weekend here for the annual Ullapool Book Festival I am taking time to revisit my notebooks and assess the words that I write while walking the strandlines. Today’s notes from Ardmair beach are almost an item for item copy of  notes made on  numerous beaches in the area.

As the rain falls down on the van I begin chanting  my way down the list which is becoming a repetitive strandline mantra……………..ROPE plastic ……… cap PLASTIC …… toothbrush PLASTIC…….. Crate PLASTIC ….. Bottle PLASTIC …….. cord PLASTIC …….Toy Plastic………….wheel PLASTIC …..BOX plastic……wrapper Plastic…..PLAstic sack…Ball PLASTIC….until I notice that Plastic is effectively a standard prefix for just about any object I use. Now in some kind of stupor I begin to play word games with my most used 7 letters.

words from a strandline

As the rain eases I shake myself out from the power of  ‘PLASTIC’ and  I begin to review the statistics I am beginning to amass on the material.

  • Over 90% of litter we removed from Altandu beach last Saturday was plastic ie over 20Kg per m
  • The British plastics industry makes 2.5 million tonnes a year
  • If the average weight of plastic litter found on beaches is 20kg per 100m that equates to 6.3 million tonnes of plastic lying on our beaches.

Please add any information you have on Plastic by leaving a comment. Thank you




People Power

Its late afternoon and I am sat in my post van overlooking the summer isles on a dull but wonderful day, the soft white light illuminating a monochrome sandstone beach, I am elated that the only bright green area of the beach is actually a colony of seaweed rather than a ‘colony’ of washed up cut plastic netting.

clean beach  IMG_2113

Altandu beach is the beach that 18 months ago shocked me into taking my work into a new direction and which is now changing my life style, as I begin to work and live (for part of the year) out of a post van along the Scottish coastline. Its late afternoon and I am sat in my post van overlooking the summer isles on a dull but wonderful day, the soft white light illuminating a monochrome sandstone beach, I am elated that the only bright green area of the beach is actually a colony of seaweed rather than a ‘colony’ of washed up cut plastic netting.

Altandhu beach faces West and is the depository of all the NW & SW storms , which can rage for days , it is stunningly ruggedly beautiful. Catriona and David the landowners and landlords of the Am Fuaran Bar have created  Port a Bhaigh campsite one of the most well equipped campsites in the Highlands, which draws people to it for a base to sea kayak, mountaineer, walk and convene with the environment. Yesterday the beach became a hive of intense activity with a group of people working over 3 hours picking up the washed up litter that has collected over the last 4 years since the last intensive beach clean.

beginning to pick litter  3hrs in

The event was organised by two passionate lovers of the area Karin and Willem Meyer who like me have been aware of the mounting rubbish at Altandu over the last few years. Their call for help brought in 20 volunteers throughout the afternoon, each person working in their own way some heading for big pipes, boxes , tangled masses of ropes others painstaking picking out hundreds of small pieces of rope and nets cut on trawlers and washed overboard.

Comments from the volunteers (mostly campers) varied alternately from exclaiming about the never ending pieces of cord and rope within a small area to the great satisfaction at seeing bags filling up. A good feeling but a familiar chilling message especially when counting and weighing  the bags.

volunteers IMG_2096
110 bags were filled and 2 trailer loads of heavy rope, wire and piping was collected from approximately 300m of the beach we cleaned. This morning my weighing session revealed that we had collected approximately 320kg per 100m.  A chilling statistic especially when knowing that over 90% of this litter came specifically from the trawlers fishing in the area and wider area of the Minch .

trailer load IMG_2103
While it will take years to change the practices on boats that are responsible for beach litter in the area, through instigating tighter legislation and employing more enforcement officers (there is only one at present for the whole coastline of Scotland) the power of volunteers is heartening . A keen group of us last night and this morning mulled over what we can do to help keep this beach clean and I suggested an idea to make and install a ‘measuring cylinder’ which beach users could deposit small pieces of rubbish collected on the beaches, inspired by the fishing line bins I have seen along the Dorset coast. The campsite owners are happy to install the ‘measuring cylinder’. So over the next few weeks I will be sketching out the idea, with the hope of raising money to make the first prototype to install here later in the summer.
Watch this space!



Relocating a Timeline

My installation at the museum continues to grow and develop daily and on Thursday the children from Achiltibuie Primary School brought their Timeline to the Museum. Unraveled the Timeline now stretches a good 10 metres along the back of the central pews of Ullapool Museum ( a Telford Church), the line itself is made up of lengths of washed up rope. We re-positioned the stones we found on the beaches in relation to the beginning of the world and to then checking their own positions on the line according to their birth dates we then hung the objects we found on the beach last autumn at the points in time that they might disintegrate and disappear if left on the beach.

timeline unravelled   using the space   refernce draws  whole group
Together we recalled the investigation process they undertook with me last year surveying quantifying and analysing who was responsible for different items, all of which will form part of the project folder on view in the Museum next week. In the short time we had the children worked hard to reacquaint themselves with the meaning and significance of the of the Timeline they had brought with them coiled up in a bag and how they might explain the Littoral Art Project investigation process to a group of children from the Ullapool Primary School children. They made full use of the installation in their presentation to the delight of myself and the teachers and by the end of the afternoon their was a great sense of achievement from all. With Museum staff complimenting us on how wonderful it was to hear such excitement in the Museum and to have such an unusual exhibit to offer visitors .

presentation  explaining fossils
The idea is that the Ullapool Primary School will now come back to the museum to examine the Fossil Collection themselves and to use the investigative space to examine and consider the beach litter and its consequences. Who knows they might come up with ideas which might help in future!