A BEACH in north-west Scotland has 20 tonnes of plastic, making it one of the most polluted per square metre, say clean-up campaigners.

Record-breaking Atlantic solo rower Kiko Matthews was part of the team that tackled Scouriemore as part of her KikPlastic beach clean-up cycle tour.

Ms Matthews linked-up with Durness-based group Plastic@Bay to carry out beach cleans in north-west Sutherland.

The 38-year-old, who broke the female cross-Atlantic solo rowing record last year, is cycling 4,473 miles round the UK coastline, taking part in more than 70 beach cleans along the way.

She left London on May 7 and estimates she will cycle an average 60 miles per day for nearly three months to complete the challenge.

But at Scouriemore she was left shocked at the scale of the rubbish.

Dr Julien Moreau of Plastic@Bay said: “It has accumulated over many years. The scale of it was staggering.

“We identified the beach as deeply polluted, removing a massive 112kg (17.5 stones) in just 90 minutes.

“We collected the usual ropes, fishing nets and fish farm pipes, the scourge of the north-west coast.

“This beach has decades of plastic pollution, approximately 20 tonnes, which has been there for so long it is now buried under large beach peddles and boulders, and embedded in the surrounding soil and grass.”

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The following day the team removed 15lbs of microplastics from stunning Balnakeil Beach at Durness and a 46lb fishing rope.

“Kiko and her crew were shocked at the devastating state of Scouriemore, and have offered to highlight the issue of discarded fishing nets, rope and components,” said Dr Moreau.

“We plan to return next spring to remove the rest of the waste. It was just overwhelming.”

Ms Matthews said: “The challenge isn’t just about cleaning up our beaches, it aims to bring communities together and is a great excuse to get outside with nature and do something positive for the planet and our health and wellbeing, all at once.”

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People can sign up to sponsor or take part in a beach clean, run a beach clean, cycle or follow the KikPlastic journey at www.kikomatthews.com/kik-plastic or on social media @kikomatthews.

Balnakeil Beach also has what is believed to be Scotland’s first official “plastic ranger”.

Mother-of-one Hannah Smith has been taken on to patrol the beach to keep it as free as possible of plastic.

The farm manager’s wife has been employed by Plastic@Bay after receiving funding from power company SSE.

Mrs Smith, 32 from Islay, moved with husband David, 29, and son Angus, five, to the Sutherland village a few months ago.

She has now begun regular weekly patrols of Balnakeil Beach and others in the Durness area, cleaning and surveying plastic pollution.

Mrs Smith is also involved in some citizen science projects, such as the Big Microplastic Survey with Portsmouth University and international Pellet Watch with Tokyo University.

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Part of her role is to talk with the local community and schools about plastic pollution in the area, the work of Plastic@Bay and plastic alternatives.

Warning that some of the world’s most spectacular environments are at risk, she said: “Visitors come to Balnakeil and other beaches in the area and are full of awe – and quite rightly so.

“They think they are pristine, but they don’t look closely and see what’s under their feet. There is plenty of plastic, particularly micro plastic.

“We have some of the best beaches in the world and we are covering them with plastic. It’s very sad.

“We all need to care more about the environment and I am just trying to play my small part.

“Education is also vital in helping people understand what we are doing.

“People look at our beaches and don’t see what is underneath.

“We all need to care more about what we are doing to our planet."