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9 Sep 2019

The importance of volunteers on Canna

Written by Michael Butler and Gillian Gibson, National Trust for Scotland rangers on Canna
An aerial view of a section of coastline on Canna
A job well done – the freshly cleaned beach at Tarbert
Over the past month we’ve had two volunteer groups come to Canna and lend a hand. This is a summary of what was done and how much difference the volunteers have made.

On the Isle of Canna we only have 18 members of the community, so it’s absolutely amazing when we get a team out to help us. We can do jobs in a day that would normally take us weeks.

This year we had two extremely helpful volunteer groups come out to lend us their time and skills. We had a Conservation Volunteer (CV) team come over a long weekend and a Thistle Camp (TC) that came out for a week.

One of the biggest problems we have on Canna is beach litter washing up on our shores. The CV group that visited us spent their long weekend helping us clear one of the parts of beach that was most covered in litter. In total we removed 137 bags (think 15 litre dog food bags) full of larger plastics and the same again in rope.

A group of people sort through rubbish on a stony beach, mostly at the high tide mark.
Conservation volunteers digging deep

The Thistle Camp were here a bit longer so the jobs varied a little more. The ferry was cancelled for their initial visit as we hit close to 50mph winds. They came a day later but we still managed to fit in four days worth of work!

Three men stand beside a pick-up truck parked by the beach on Canna. It is a wet day. One man is drinking from a mug. The back of the truck is open and inside a couple more people take shelter, stretching across the width of the truck.
Taking shelter!

Day 1: We finished off removing the remaining beach litter and rope from Tarbert beach. We took around 8 tonne sacks full of rope and 43 bags.

Day 2: We cleared a pebble beach known as Suilabheag on Sanday, the island attached via a road bridge to Canna. We took away around 52 bags of litter. We then moved onto a gully down near our puffin stack to separate the rubbish from the wood – the hope is to organise a day where we remove this rubbish, the vast majority of which is plastic. We also got out to the lighthouse at the far end of Sanday and carried out a shore watch where we spotted a large pod of common dolphins.

Day 3: We did some greatly needed path maintenance in the wood. Satty’s Path runs behind Canna House, going through the woods and ending at Coroghan. We carried out some path scraping to remove some of the soil, which had caused the path to slope, and also widened areas that would make it easier to walk along. We cut back some of the ferns and branches along the path and put down fresh chicken wire on the small bridge. This ended up being a good day of hard work in bad weather!

Eight people sit around a circular wooden picnic bench on Canna, enjoying mugs of tea and biscuits.
Enjoying a well-earned break

Day 4: The team had the day off and got to explore the island. Some headed over to the west end or our souterrains; others explored the café and its choice of drinks.

Day 5: The team spent the day working in the garden, carrying out tasks for the gardeners. These were tasks that needed many hands such as weeding, clearing the borders and fixing the guttering of the garden sheds.

The best thing about volunteering on Canna is that you’re not just helping the National Trust for Scotland but also a living remote Scottish community. We could not do these tasks without the help of teams such as our Conservation Volunteers and Thistle Camps, and cannot thank the teams enough for the hard work they all put in while on Canna.

Stay up to date with what’s happening on Canna by following @CannaRangersNTS on Twitter.

If you’re interested in helping the Trust with beach cleans, we have a few events taking place in September:

Junior Rangers - The Big Beach Clean

Beach Clean Balmacara Bay

Canna Beach Clean (Sept)