Shetland Notes 1: Docked

IMG_1280Firmly docked in Shetland I am now happily tied up with the Littoral Art Project for the next 2 months.   Many  Many thanks to North Link Ferries for their support and a smooth crossing on MV Hrossey.






Greeted by a wintery day – I am glad to be back and  to begin making an animation film with JJ Jamieson and to lead educational workshops in partnership with Shetland Amenity Trust to schools and organisations across the islands. We will be investigating the longevity of plastic and ways to creatively help to reduce the waste that’s picked up off beaches every year. This week is the annual Da Voar Redd Up the UK’s biggest spring clean up, the beach clean event that I took part in last year with Scalloway  School

Burwick beach WS before DSCF9507 IMG_1293

On route to spend my first few nights on the West side of the mainland I stop to check out a beautiful beach Sand Sound, perfectly named.  On arriving I see the Redd Up bags mounded up with random objects on top car bumper with nets thrown over and meet nearby resident Mike Barnett collecting litter along the beach. Like thousand’s of other Redd Up volunteers this week he has been well at work picking up and bagging every type of beach litter.   You can see the great work that community members have achieved if you go to the Dunna Chuck Bruck   As Mike bows down picking up pieces of cord and rope in the  wind, he voices what many  volunteers over the past 4 years have said to me about litter picking ‘It becomes so addictive , especially when you know if you leave a piece by next year it will be broken down into 4 pieces then the next 8 pieces …..and on’


This is a common addiction I sharealong with most beach cleaners i.e. the compulsion to keep going, picking up piece after piece even when you’re tired and its freezing cold and snowing like today! The compulsion is that the more you pick up the cleaner you leave it, which is of course true BUT sadly we know only too well it’s only a temporary fix.  The gratifying ‘high’ only lasts until the next spring tides

My aim in creating this project and travelling to communities on the frontline of the issue is to inspire us to find ways to reduce the waste in the system and to be more sustainable which inturn allows us to negate the need for this addiction.

Keep tabs on the Littoral story  by clicking  the follow button on this page and confirm with Word Press when prompted. Please pass the link on to as many people as possible and if in Shetland get in touch if you find any plastic rocks ‘Plastiglomerates’ like the ones below  as I am collecting them to use in my work and am happy to pick them up.

IMG_4456  Plastic Rock  Burn beach melted rope plastic rock reveal copy

In the meantime well done to everyone who has/is taking part in the Redd Up here in Shetland and all spring MCS Beach Clean events  around the UK !

Invitation to Encounter Deep Time

Over the last 6 months I have  attended a fascinating and challenging series of  workshops and keynotes lectures organised by the Edinburgh Environmental Humanities Network  entitled

Unexpected Encounters with Deep Time

This week I am delighted to be joining the first workshop panel on Haunted Futures where I will share my encounter with Deep Time within the littoral zones of the Scottish coastline over the last 3 years and the haunting affect the experience has had on me as an artist , educationalist and activist

I intend to share imagery from my recent expedition trip to Isle Martin that reveals the ghostly presence of the Plastiglomerates, ‘rocks’ made from burning our discarded plastic waste and how camoflauged within the beach substrates they chillingly link  us  to distant geological times  both in the past and future.

plastic rock reveal copy

The workshop is free and open but it is essential to book through Eventbrite, I hope you might be able to join us

Unexpected Encounters with Deep Time: Haunting
9-5pm, Wednesday, 20th April 2016
Project Room, 50 George Square, University of Edinburgh

Please register for this event via this link:



Expedition – Isle Martin

25th March: Travel to the NW coast: As I joined the Edinburgh ring road with thousands of other travellers queuing to leave Edinburgh on Good Friday the overhead digital roadway sign lit up with


The irony made me smile as I slowly edged across the Firth of Forth to begin the first leg of journey to North West Highlands GeoPark where I will base myself over the next few weeks to collect plastic rocks ‘Plastiglomerates’ from  beaches I have surveyed over the last 3 years.GeoPark samples from research trip

The plastic rocks I am hunting have been formed primarily over the last few decades and are still being ‘made’ today by people burning plastic litter that regularly builds up into vast mounds particularly on exposed westward facing beaches along our coastline. A sample of the burnt melted version of such litter ‘plastic rocks’ sits on my dashboard along with other rocks from our beaches .



My aim is to catalogue, map and collect these ‘rocks’ with which I will create an art installation to visualize the increasing volume of plastic pollution on our beaches and its projected longevity.

I took my time over a few days to slowly make my way north, to enjoy the increasing height and mass of the landscape that the A9 cuts through and to consider the depth of time that the geological sequences have taken place over. So many laybys along the way provide wonderful viewpoints and opportunities to re-acquaint myself with the changing rocks at each location. Sadly, at every stop there is always plastic litter

I put such thoughts to the back of my mind as I arrive in beautiful Ullapool. A small town and port which now I feel at home in, after living here many times over the last 3 years and having got to know and make friends with many people having worked with local schools and lead workshops at An Talla Solais (Ullapool Arts Centre) and Ullapool Museum. This project and I rely on so much support from a wide group of friends and organisations in the area. For this trip in particular I have to thank Isle Martin Community Trust for letting me stay on Isle Martin and John MacIntyre (JM) for loaning me his dinghy and providing a ferry for my heavy kit.

Expedition Log

28th March: Rowed to Isle Martin from Ardmair slipway. Re-tracing many trips I made in 2014 when I was in residence here, arrived just as the light was fading over the harbour houses

  rowing across 1  Arrival at dusk cropped

29th March: bright sunny morning

Set up my base in the Old Mill House above the harbour connected up a small solar panel to charge the 12V battery to enable me to recharge laptop, phone and all important cameras.

Beach –pleased to see the beach is so much cleaner than 2014 when  two teams of volunteers from Ullapool High School and Ullapool residents rowed out to help  tow hundreds of plastic items off the island on World Environment Day.  In total ???? Kg s of litter was removed then since then volunteers of IMT have kept up removing new litter and the beach looks much cleaner!

IM clean beach   notation system

Looking a long the beach I wondered whether I would in fact find many Plastiglomerates may be I had collected most of them on my previous research residency here. After reacquainting myself with spotting the well camouflaged ‘rocks’ often pale grey in colour and lodged between the grey cobbles I organised my search by dividing the length of the beach into  4 sections approximately 25m in length and into zones 5 m wide.

Within a few hours had filled containers with  over a hundred plastic rocks of various sizes from along the first 25m section of strand line

29th MArch IM collecting PR's       begining to collect

30th March:   bright, sunny/cloudy westerly cold breeze, heavy showers mid day, clear evening

Equipment: set up solar panel & battery

Beach: collected and recorded ‘rocks’ in the lower zones of section 1 & 2, began recording rocks that still had some identifiable element of the object in them, their previous  manufactured forms.

Part melted object cap 1 part melted object cord

Equipment : Problem with charging laptop and phone from 12V battery – after much angst and colourful language decided I had to go back to the mainland for replacement inverter & tech support. Consolation –  fabulous sunset over the Summer Isles and clear views of constellation from Ullapool campsite. Frost  down to the beach

31st March: hitched a lift back to the island with two friends John & Jan plus her dog  Drift

Beach : Headed straight to the beach and began collecting ‘rocks’ in the sun and showers.

dramatic afternoon light

Happy to share this beautiful beach and changing light with two Isle Martin Trust members who share my concerns for the environment.

Jan a great naturalist lent a hand hunting for ‘Plastigomerates’ while we discussed the dramatic light changes over the loch and identifying birds flying into the bay.

Making our way along the steep section of the beach discussing the geology of the North West Jan lends me her hammer and we begin to investigate what’s beneath the top layer of pebbles, depressingly in this section plastic cementing large areas of cobbles together.  I decide to record the obvious locations of burning .

looking for rocks   uncovering rocks

1st April Clear:  grey but even light

Mill House: catch up on making notes

Equipment: unfortunately now have problems with accessing Word Press. So this Expedition log will have to be posted retrospectively when I’m back on the mainland next week, as I need to make the most of the my time on the island to finish collecting rocks and most importantly begin filming the back drop images of the loch for my animation.

simple filming set up 1   test shot IM beach 1  test shot IM beach 2  watching & waiting patiently

Beach: set up and carried out a series of test shots at different locations along the beach, began to realise how difficult filming on a cobble beach is especially near the tide line. My aim is to get a series of point of views looking west throughout the day with patient companion waiting above the strandline. Now know why feature films take so much equipment, people and time! Returned to Mill house to down load rushes and compose and send questions to JJ Jamieson (animation/film partner)

Mill House: tried again to access website, NO Success! Deep breathing and realisation of how much preparation testing is needed for even simple expedition trips to run smoothly.

Beach: Continued to collect ‘rocks’ and record particular specimens to illustrate the forms they take then return to the workshop set up in the Macleod House  to sit and make close observations. Specifically on the haunting nature of these rocks. Repetitive words run through my note taking, disguised, camouflaged, predominantly grey, solid, fragile, veined.

plastic rock disguise copy    plastic rock reveal copy

2nd April: sunny, bright, westerly winds

Equipment: set up solar panel to make the most of the sunlight

Beach: shoot more background footage trying to keep remember to avoid filming boats, birds and ironically some one’s bin liner with plastic litter in. Annoyingly close but just out of reach.

Mill House: made the most the sun, sat sorting and counting the first trays of plastic rocks from the beach. Decided to categorise and count the rocks by size to allow comparisons later.

Plastic rocks section1 Zone 1 - Copy 

In total I had collected 160 plastic rocks in the Section 1 of the beach located at the south end of the beach, the majority of which where the smallest size ie less than 5cm.





3rd April: Dreich and still after strong easterly winds and rain over night

Beach: continued to collect ‘rocks’ on the 4th northly section and began to carry the full containers of ‘rocks back to the Macleod House/workshop. Spent a couple of hours sorting, sizing and counting. Many more rocks in this section. A total of 276. Again most were the very small size rocks.  Looked up from counting to see my friends arriving with Sunday lunch provisions and enthusiasm for a few hours ‘rock’ hunting! Working together we searched the grass line of this last section, which receives the most direct impact of any southerly winds, so we picked tens of small ‘rocks’ from the grass and another toy commando to observe while making my animation model!

another comando grid referencing

Waved Sara & John off in the afternoon and headed back to counting the buckets of ‘rocks’, totaling  204  in Section 3

4th April: forecast set fair for the morning

Beach: set up on the camera and tripod on the tide line to try again for elusive shots of the loch I had in mind. Struggling again on the rocks finally took shots with the camera/iphone held on to a boulder with the Tack I nornally use for sticking notes to the wall. Amazingly it held steady and allowed me to get the angle I wanted below the plastic rocks I had positioned.

simple filming set up 1  test shot IM beach 1  test shot IM beach 2  watching & waiting patiently

Oyster catchers and grey legged geese calling and Cal (my faithful companion) sat patiently waiting at the back of the beach while I film up until the rain arrives at 13.09 precisely. Tried working under an umbrella before retreating for food, shelter, and final counting session.

Mill House: spent my final night on this expedition to Isle Martin, reflecting on my experience.

  • Appreciation of the natural beauty of this small Summer Isle, the potential that it holds ecologically and socially in the area
  • Shock at total number of rocks I found 1,147 and the indications that there is much more under the successive layers of cobbles on the beach
  • Understanding the importance of rigorous technical checking of equipment before working remotely off Grid
  • Realisation of how each day’s work is crucially dependent on the weather
  • Gratitude to all my friends in the area who have lent a hand collecting and ferrying replacement kit to me

    final PR map notes 1 copy   final PR map notes copy   final PR map notes 2

5th April: grey, low clouds with light rain

Isle Martin: morning spent packing Mill House base up, and boxing up all 1,147 Plastiglomerate ready for transporting back to the mainland for me to use to make artwork. Heavy work shifting kit down to the pontoon and onto JM’s boat. Thankfully JM assisting and only having a short row with the kit from the mooring to slipway at Ardmair.

PR s packed Box 2

ISle Martin from Cula na Craig

Now back on the mainland and happy at last to post my Expedition Log and to begin to process my findings as I move north to continue to film more views of the Summer Isles, pausing briefly at Cul na Craig to see a new perspective of Isle Martin, the islands northern cliffs.