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      North & West Lewis News

Volunteers from Scottish salmon farms cleared away more than 23 tonnes of litter from Highlands and islands beaches last year as part of efforts to keep the areas they live and work clean.

And this includes no less than nine tonnes off beaches and shorelines near Miavaig and three tonnes from around Gravir, both on the Isle of Lewis, while work was also done on beaches elsewhere on the islands, as well as Harris, Barra and both North and South Uist.

Salmon farmers take part in regular beach cleans throughout the year to ensure beaches and coastlines are free from litter and aquaculture debris.

While some of the beach litter was related to aquaculture, the vast majority was not, and had either been washed up on the shore or left behind by tourists and other visitors.

Among the items discovered were a car licence plate, engine belt, windscreen and steering wheel, as well as a barbecue, discarded shoes and a variety of children’s toys.

They also cleared away large quantities of wet wipes, which are often wrongly flushed down the toilet by homeowners despite containing plastic and are not being biodegradable.

Volunteers from salmon producers, often working in partnership with local groups, proactively clear away litter every year, with the data compiled for 2023 not covering all farms and therefore likely to be a significant underestimate of the total amount removed.

Figures covering five firms – Mowi Scotland, Scottish Sea Farms, Bakkafrost Scotland, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland and Loch Duart – showed that staff cleared away 23.6 tonnes of litter, the equivalent weight of around 18 Volkswagen Golf cars.

During 2023 staff from the five companies spent a total of 661 hours clearing litter, volunteering the equivalent of 83 working days.

The beaches they covered ranged from Orkney to Rum, Muck and Gigha.

They also visited beaches and harbours on Scotland’s north-west coast as well as cleaning up parts of Loch Shiel, Loch Garry, Loch Arkaig and Loch Leven.

Dealing with litter is an ongoing operation for salmon producers. In February, Mowi Scotland was praised by Highland Council for helping to clear more than 300 tyres illegally dumped down a steep bank from the A82 onto the shores of Loch Ness.

Mowi provided both the people and the specialist vessels and vehicles to access the shoreline and deal with the fly-tipping, which took place at a lay-by near Drumnadrochit at the end of January.

Salmon farmers have the people and boats to access some of Scotland’s most remote beachline so are uniquely placed to make a contribution to the challenge of marine litter.

As well as voluntarily taking part in beach cleans, in 2020 salmon farmers made a sustainability charter commitment to avoid marine debris coming from their own farms and to recover any reported items. Members of the public can report aquaculture debris via a marine debris hotline.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said:  “While the efforts of the volunteers who took part in these clean-ups are to be applauded, the sheer amount of discarded litter and washed-up waste they found on local beaches is truly shocking.

“The vast majority of this could have been disposed of in a responsible way, but if it isn’t then it can spend decades lying on our beaches or circulating in the world’s oceans instead.

“Our salmon farmers are lucky to live and work in some of Scotland’s most stunning coastal areas, and are happy to play their part in regular beach cleans to help keep the shores clean for everyone to enjoy.

“The Scottish salmon sector is dedicated to protecting our shared marine environment, and our members will continue with their proactive beach cleans in 2024 and beyond.”