Ulva Beach Clean: Our weekend cleaning a remote Scottish Island

A few weeks ago, we travelled to the beautiful Isle of Ulva, located off the west coast of Mull, for our first beach cleaning event of 2022. Ulva had been identified as a particular marine litter hotspot due to the way in which the ocean currents bring lots of debris ashore, particularly along the islands south coast.

Only 8 people permanently live on Ulva, which is now under community ownership, so they needed some help with the task at hand. A core group of 11 volunteers spent the weekend on the island, with more volunteers joining each day to be involved in the clean up operation.

The beach clean

Over 3 days we successfully collected 75m³ of marine debris from various locations around the South side of the island. This involved collecting rubbish into bags which were then loaded onto boats and taken to Mull where we later organised the rubbish into recyclables and non-recyclables. Items that were in good condition such as buoys and fish boxes were set aside to be rehomed and reused, and we were joined for the weekend by Ally from Ocean Plastic Pots who took the rope and netting gathered to be recycled into plant pots.

We discovered that the rubbish collected was mainly cast offs from the fishing industry; various types of large plastic containers, ropes, netting, and buoys that have come loose. It has been estimated that between 500,000 to 1 million tons of ghost fishing gear, which refers to discarded nets, lines, ropes, buoys, and fenders, are discarded or lost in the ocean every year. This can happen for many reasons such as bad weather, items getting snagged underwater, conflict with other fishing gear, and intentional discard. It was heartening to find that most of the rubbish we collected was historic and had clearly been lost at sea or on the island for a number of years. We hope this means that once the island is cleaned it will be much easier for the residents to maintain as standards and procedures on boats have improved dramatically over the past decade, we expect less fishing gear to wash up.

Future Plans

Whilst this event was a wonderful achievement, there were other spots on the island that we didn’t have time to go and clean. We hope to return to Ulva either later this year or next spring with more volunteers and continue this important work.

Our next event will take place between 4th – 8th June and covers the entire coastline between Aberdeen and Berwick-upon-Tweed. For more information or to get involved you can email kate@caledonianhorticulture.co.uk or join our Facebook groups:

Aberdeen to Queensferry – https://www.facebook.com/groups/539666817449240/

Edinburgh to Berwick upon Tweed – https://www.facebook.com/groups/131176765647353/

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