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30 Aug 2019

Cleaning Canna

Written by Mel Newbould
Conservation Volunteers hard at work beach clearing, along the coast of Canna.
Conservation Volunteers hard at work beach clearing, along the coast of Canna. (Image: Mel Newbould)
At number 83 on our 100 Ways list, we’ve been cleaning up Canna with the help of our Conservation Volunteers. Mel Newbould, who helped with the recent beach clean, tells us about her experience.

‘I Canna believe my luck!’ I exclaimed upon securing a last-minute place on the Trust’s Conservation Volunteers’ (CVs) long weekend to Canna – the most westerly of the Small Isles, off the south-west coast of Skye. I’d visited the island two years ago and had fallen in love with its quaint beauty and disconnection from modern life. I longed to go back and was overjoyed by this last-minute opportunity to join a small contingent of CVs on a special weekend away.

A view of Canna from a boat, with a saltire flag flying from the prow.
A view of Canna from the boat. Image: Mel Newbould

The weekend was a reward originally offered to leaders and drivers of the Trust’s CV groups – Glasgow, Grampian, Highland, Lothian and Tayside – and was supposed to take place in September 2018, but had to be postponed due to adverse weather. We were lucky to avoid that this time round, with glorious sunshine for our journey from Mallaig, and only a few showers of rain during our stay. The mist came down on the Sunday, robbing us of our spectacular view of Rùm, then our view of Sanday, and eventually becoming thick enough to obscure most of Canna on our last morning on the island. It burned off again for our journey home, where we were treated to a few displays from some dolphins alongside the ferry, and those with binoculars were spotting minke whale.

Group photo of the Conservation Volunteers on the Isle of Canna with the sea in the background.
Mel Newbould (third from the left) with the rest of the Conservation Volunteers on Canna. Image: Colin Spiers

Our mission during our stay was to undertake some beach clearing in the Tarbert area of the island, and what a task it was! We filled 4 tonne bags of rope, 7 fish pallets of plastic pipes, bhoys and other plastic paraphernalia, and 137 animal feed bags worth of plastic bottles, toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, combs, glow sticks, lighters, inhalers, shoes (including a pair of high heels!) – the list goes on ... 

At times it seemed like an insurmountable task – a depressing episode of Time Team, sifting through the remnants of the Plastic Age. We helped the rangers, Gillian and Mike, shift around 8 tonnes of rubbish from a relatively short stretch of beach, filling a sizeable skip, which usually takes the 18 residents of Canna around 3 months to fill!

Bags filled with plastic waste and rope lie on the grass.
Animal feed bags filled with plastic waste. Image: Mel Newbould

Sir David Attenborough warned us in Blue Planet II that ‘every year some 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean.’ Witnessing just a tiny fraction of this on a short stretch of beach, on an island measuring only 5 miles by 1 mile, definitely gave us conservation volunteers something to think about.

Conservation volunteers picking up rubbish along the coast of Canna.
Conservation volunteers, hard at work picking up rubbish along the coast of Canna. Image: Mel Newbould

Canna is a wildlife wonderland, home to 20,000 breeding seabirds, including puffins and white-tailed and golden eagles. Its nearby waters are renowned as a great location to spot basking sharks, dolphins and minke whales. The Canna Ranger Service are working tirelessly to help keep this little island a haven for wildlife and the island has many a Get Drastic With Plastic station, reminding visitors that Plastic is a Drag, so please Fill a Bag – definitely a message to take home! I was glad to have played my part in helping to keep this little island beautiful, and really enjoyed my return visit to the second smallest Small Isle. I’m sure I’ll be back, for ye Canna beat it!