Shetland Notes 4: Learning

A big aim of mine is to inspire young people to creatively tackle the massive environmental issue of plastic pollution in our marine and coastal environments.

Pupils in Shetland each year take part in the great Da Voar Redd Up spring litter pick and so know only too well the size of the problem and how much effort it takes to collect and carry hundreds of bags of litter from remote beaches.  Last week 70 Scalloway primary pupils cleaned Burick Beach a mile west of the school they collected 363 bags of bruck (rubbish) off the beach approximately 100m long.

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Jane Outram (environmental officer for the Shetland Amenity Trust) & myself have now begun to deliver three educational workshops across Shetland. Each workshop begins with an observational session on a beach near to the school. The outside learning element of the day long workshops fitting well with many of the schools, as writ on the wall at Nesting Primary School

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We are criss-crossing the isles to deliver 3 different workshops devised for different ages across the Primary and Higher School years with the aim of looking at how we can tackle the litter before it arrives on our beaches, so Shetland’s  children’s children won’t have to collect hundreds of bags of rubbish each year.

school workshop locations (2)

We have had an amazing response over 14 schools will be taking part, including the outer isles. Pupils taking part will also complete a questionnaire developed and written by researchers Lynette Robertson, Agnes Patuano and Reyhaneh Mozaffar so we can assess the benefit of our creative approach to investigating  beach litter and how we can help to reduce plastics in the environment. So far we have delivered a training session to members of Shetland Environmental Education Partnerships (ShEEP) an environmental project which will continue to help schools deliver the workshops on in future years.

LAP Edu Pack 2   LAP Edu Pack 3

Our first ‘Close Examination’ into the micro plastics of our beaches was carried out by lower high pupils of Aith School, who after taking a selection of particle samples from their local beach, used simple separation techniques to discover the variety of forms that plastic particles take. Using electronic magnification identification of the types and possible sources of the particles was discussed.

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Using projected images of  drawings of sand hoppers, the smallest organisms known to ingestion micro fibres, we began to experiment with ways of visually making the links between the ingestion of  micro plastics by marine organisms, the related hazards particularly to birds and mammals. The pupils and biology and art teachers now plan to explore this connection further through graphics.  I look forward to seeing the work!

Year 7 pupils enthusiastically took up the roles of a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) team, on the western end of Burick Beach to collect evidence to carry out a ‘Return to Sender’ workshop. Back in the art room our team eagerly and thoroughlyscrutinised their evidence to build up a detailed product profile.

DSCF9913   DSCF9923   DSCF9919 evidence board

Each Crime Scene Investigation team set about interrogating the litter items to learnas much as possible about the type of material it was made from,who manufacturered the product, the retailer involved, plus  recycling symbols and anti-littering information etc.


With this information pupils are now composing highly visual letters, FaceBook messages and Tweets to be sent shortly to manufacturers/retailers to ask for their help in reducing packaging, encouraging recycling and investing in  research into biodegradable products to help them keep their beach free of their products. Follow the blog to see their work and manufacturers responses

A cross age group of Outer Isle School pupils from Foula, Fetlar, the Skerries and Fair Isle visiting mainland Shetland searched for ‘Future Fossils’ amongst the Voxter shoreline stones. The children took part in 2 full sessions collecting and examining rock samples,  and then excitedly broke open the fossil pebbles to reveal a variety of common objects found on shorelines all around Shetland.

observation drawing rocks & FF Voxter magnifying  Voxter timeline Voxter

Later they took time to carefully work out how long litter items such as plastic bottle tops, gun wads, balloons and ropes might last into the future and considered this in context of the time line of the world, Shetlands geology and their own existence having put their names and birth dates onto the line.  A powerful days learning outside, together. I look forward to meeting all of these children in the interactive laboratory that I am designing for the exhibition at Da Gadderie.

Special interactive school event at the museum on Thursday 27th October

Many thanks to Awards for All , Zero Waste Scotland and North Link Ferries for enabling this educational part of the project to  be devised and facilitated .

Shetland Notes 3: Tracking

  100th arrival of Statsraad Lehmkuhl at Lerwick Harbour

This week I have been fortunate to witness the arrival and departure of numerous yachts from all around the world tied up to the pier and pontoon in Lerwick old harbour. On Thursday the Harbour Authority gave a special welcome to The  Stratsraad Lehmkuhl  the 1914 barque rigged training ship on its 100th arrival, it was accompanied by 16 smaller tall ships and yachts all of which tied up for the night. This event and the the daily arrivals of cargo ships, trawlers, ferries and regular crusie liners from across the world served to remind me of Shetlands global connectivity at 60 degrees North.

Yesterday I was introduced to the wonders of online vessel tracking software  www.vesseltracker   and  . I am now happily learning to identify the boats in harbour, anchored out in the channels and disappearing on the horizons and  find out where they are from and going to.

My wish is that we could track the litter  as efficiently, so we could see where it enters the oceans and who is responsible locally & globally. Once our litter enters the tidal flows it’s on a journey that will last as long as the material. Gun wads  (the plastic containers that hold the shot in a gun cartridg) is a case in point found all around Scotland. But the origin can be from near or far depending where you are. For instance on the west coast of the Highlands it is generally recognised that the gun wads littering the beaches are predominantly from local shoots, the wads being washed into the burns and into the sea.

On Shetland where almost no shooting takes place it is thought that the gun wads may be from the east coast of USA and Canada where  seal culls take place every year, the Atlantic tidal currents regularly bring hundreds of identifiable US plastic Fish box tags to the same beaches where the gun wads are picked up. The wads could also be from seal culls taking place much nearer, Iceland, Norway and Finland all have annual shoots. closer perhaps mainland Scotland (deer and claypigeon shoots)l large numbers of seals

our contribrition to the ocean conveyor belt

The wads could also be from seal culls taking place much nearer, Iceland, Norway and Finland all have annual shoots some could also arrive from the Scottish mainland (deer and clay pigeon shoots) large numbers of seals, Gun wads are made of HDPE one of the slowest biodegrading plastics it is estimated upwards from 400years.

Gun wads are made of HDPE one of the slowest biodegrading plastics it is estimated upwards from 400years possibly a thousand. The threat to marine life is well established and easy to understand when looking at the underwater litter line shots of the gun-wads taken off Isle Martin which visually shows how marine mammals can easily mistake the wads for squid.

White-sided Dolpins. Photo by Mark Burges

What we drop matters wherever we are. Recent  Bruck (litter) washed up onto Shetland shores includes a MacDonalds balloon (nearest stores Bergan and Aberdeen) and what we have dropped across Shetland this week will no doubt will be on its journey to an isle nearby or far away on the next high tide tonight. Heres hoping the annual Redd Up litter clean up has picked up all the gun wads off !



Shetland Notes 2: Perspective

I am excited to at last be making my animation idea come to life with film maker JJ Jamieson here in Shetland.  Originally conceived on Isle Martin 2 years ago the animation will be an integral part of my exhibition ‘Neo-Terra’ at Da Gadderie (Shetland’s museum & archive) in the autumn


With such perspectives Shetland is the perfect place to be creating a film about a newly discovered archipelago.

srrounded by coastlines

With a sea/land interfaces all around. I am constantly stopping on route to take seascape and coastline shots to add to my  reference shots of the Summer Isles in Ross-shire, recorded there last month . All of these shots are  helping me to construct my island sets.

animation prep

Preparation of the sets is taking place at my temporary workspace appropriately at a recycling unit  Enviroglass a Shetland Amenity Trust enterprise, where glass bottles are crushed and used as aggregate to make concrete products

best filming shot  rendering shots

The plan is to make 2 min long animated film using footage from both the Summer Isles and Shetland. Over Ninety percent of the materials being used are recycled materials, the majority of which have been collected from the beaches here and in Ross-shire.