They are some of the most stunning islands in the world, mostly uninhabited and with no sign of people - except an unwelcome invasion of plastic

But now tonnes of rubbish have been removed from the Summer Isles in the north west Highlands.

Ropes, nets, pieces of metal and plastic were gathered in a clean-up led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

A boat, formerly used as a ferry on a crossing of the Cromarty Firth, was used to transport the waste to the mainland.

The Summer Isles are a group of small islands north west of Ullapool in Wester Ross.

In May a concerned group of nine women kayakers paid to combine a holiday in the waters of the north west coast of Scotland with collecting plastic from the shores of the Summer Isles - said to be the setting of The Wicker Man cult film.


Kayakers clean up isles’ plastic menace on shores of the Summer Isles

The eco-trip was so successful that the tour operator is planning more.

The plastic paddlers were led by Erin Bastian of Cornwall-based Evoke Adventure.

They teamed up with Kayak Summer Isles and over several days collected “tonnes of nets, crates, rope, buoys, toys and endless amounts of plastic bottles.”

Their collected rubbish was among that taken away by the SWT.

“We have been working on this for a couple of years and this really gave us the boost we needed. They cleared a number of beaches but couldn’t remove the bulk of the stuff as was too much for kayaks so we asked them to secure it at the high water line and give us a map of where it was,” said a spokesman for SWT.

“We ferried in and out and collected a real stash of horrible stuff, mainly ropes, netting and fish farm pipes - but even the odd welly and old Russian tin showing the years this has been building up.

“We got about 4 to 5 tons in, which is now on Ullapool Harbour awaiting removal to the dump. Sadly our recycling facilities are about non-existent up here so most of this will go to landfill for now. Not ideal but preferable to being on the beaches and in sea where it can entangle and kill wildlife, break down and enter the food chain, and also just make such a beautiful part of the world look literally rubbish.”

Ms Bastian, 30, from Falmouth in Cornwall, said the women who had joined her on the plastic pick up had come from all over the UK, including Wales, Brighton and London.

“I have seen more and more plastic in the sea in recent years and it is challenging to say the least particularly collecting it in hard to reach beaches. So I decided to do something about it,” she said.

“This trip combined adventure with activism and everybody felt good that they were doing something great for themselves as well as the environment. I am planning more of these types of expeditions in Scotland and elsewhere. We probably collected at least a ton of plastic on every single beach - on some more. It was horrendous - and a much bigger project than we envisaged.”

The Summer Isles are an archipelago lying in the mouth of Loch Broom.

The main isle Tanera Mor is the only one that is inhabited - by a few people - and issues its own postage stamps.

The 800-acre island’s population grows in summer with seasonal staff running self-catering holiday lets, the post office, cafe and sailing school. Around 5000 people visit the island annually, many on tourist boats from Ullapool and Achiltibuie.

The Summer Isles Post Office located on Tanera Mòr is notable for issuing its own postage stamps since 1970.

Tanera is the only Scottish island to operate a year-round private postal service.

A letter posted on Tanera must therefore bear two stamps: a Summer Isles stamp to carry it from Tanera to the mainland post office in Achiltibuie, and a Royal Mail stamp for the rest of its journey.

Tanera Mòr was the location that provided inspiration for Frank Fraser Darling’s book Island Farm.

The pagan-cult island of Summerisle featured in the film The Wicker Man is thought by some film critics to be set in the archipelago, although the movie itself was filmed in Galloway and Plockton.

The island is home to various protected species including the European otter, and it has flora unusual for the area because there are no sheep, rabbits or deer to feed on it.

Tanera Mor was bought in 2017 by English hedge fund tycoon Ian Wace for £1,695,000 - far less than the £2.5m asking price when it was originally put on the market in 2013.

Mr Wace, who has a reported net worth of £505m, is overseeing a four-year programme of improvements on Tanera Mor which could see it become an idyllic retreat capable of hosting up to 60 paying guests.

On the mainland, young eco warriors have been cleaning up their climate in a bid to eradicate plastic and other waste from the sea.


More than 60 Scottish beaches win environmental award

The Ullapool Sea Savers are a band of eight activists from the town’s primary and secondary schools who have committed to raising awareness of the challenges facing their local marine environment.

The group formed in September last year and since then has been campaigning tirelessly to raise awareness of environmental issues, as well as getting their hands dirty with regular beach cleans.

Working closely with the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas NW Highland group, the young people have successfully campaigned against the mechanical dredging of kelp, which absorbs carbon dioxide and homes many marine species.

Another local, Megan Ross, launched a campaign to stop smokers from discarding their cigarette butts on the street, beach and in the sea.

The 8-year-old’s hand-drawn posters with slogans such as “Don’t be shellfish” now hang in local bars - and have now been adopted by the local CalMac Ullapool to Stornoway ferry - after she discovered the devastating effects the cigarettes, butts and poisonous filters have on the environment.

Megan also launched portable pocket ashtrays so walkers would littering the hillsides.