Tucked well off the beaten track in the top corner of the country, Oldshoremore beach’s turquoise waters and pale golden sands have earned it praise as one of the most beautiful in the land.

Sheltered by rugged rocks that jut out into the calm waters and fringed by sandy dunes, its location 10 miles south of Cape Wrath in Sutherland means it should be a pristine haven away from the woes of the world.

However, a recent beach clean has shed light on the desperate scale of litter pollution that is placing it and Scotland’s other precious sandy bays and coastal beauty spots in jeopardy.

Included in the 39 bags stuffed full of rubbish that volunteers plucked from the Oldshoremore beach sands earlier this month was a plastic washing up liquid bottle in almost spotless condition, dating from 1988.

A similar beach clean operation at neighbouring Polin beach, also recognised as being among the country’s finest of sandy bays, saw litter collectors remove 18 bags of rubbish and larger pieces of waste which included old fish boxes, bundles of rope and plastic oil drums.

The litter problem at the previously largely unspoiled beaches is believed to have been exacerbated by wet and windy weather battering the west coast during the second half of winter, leaving marine waste scattered over large areas of coastline on a scale locals say they have never before seen.

Carrie Weager, conservation officer for the John Muir Trust which manages the Sandwood estate in North West Sutherland, said the amount of rubbish collected at Oldshoremore took shocked litter pickers by surprise.

“The amount of stuff collected from Oldshoremore was insane; people have not seen it like that for years – if ever.

“Towards the end of winter we saw a few heavy seas and stormy weather.
“It shows how much is out there.”

She added: “Beaches that people called pristine only a few months ago, such as Polin and Oldshoremore, have been badly affected.

“Added to this, erosion of the sand dunes at Oldshoremore has destroyed the steps giving people easy access to the beach and making it more difficult to remove large pieces of debris.”

Beach cleaners who arrived to tidy litter from Oldshoremore’s sands were confronted with “more debris than most can remember seeing at any time previously,” she continued.

“People who walk the beach regularly have been upset to see it in this condition, and individuals have been removing what they can whenever they visit.”

Along with the 39 bags of rubbish removed from the beach, there were five bundles of rope and various sections of plastic pipe.

Ms Weager added: “Along with debris from the fishing industry, domestic rubbish removed included lots of cotton bud sticks, bottles, plastic cutlery and cups, polystyrene, toys, lighters, and myriad unidentifiable plastic fragments.

“One well-preserved washing up bottle from 1988, most likely uncovered as the dunes were eroded, served to demonstrate the longevity of plastic even in the harshest environments.

“Most concerning of all was the amount of microplastic – tiny fragments of broken plastic and nurdles (pellets used in plastic manufacturing) – jammed into rock crevices, buried in the sand, and packed into every pile of seaweed. Without an efficient solution for dealing with this kind of debris, it would take weeks of careful sifting to begin to make a real impact on it.”

Earlier this year a bottle of Japanese bleach was found washed up on Kildonan beach in South Uist, raising suspicions that it had travelled 5,500 miles across the ocean.

Litter related to the Fifa World Cup held in Mexico in 1986 was found during a beach clean at Balnakeil near Durness in Sutherland two years ago.

Ms Weager added: “This problem is set to get worse in the future as increasing amounts of plastic break down into smaller and smaller fragments.”

Despite the success of the recent beach clean ups, a lot of debris is said to remain at the two beauty spots. However, hopes for further clean-up operations are now on hold due to the current coronavirus situation.

Oldmoreshore  and Polin beaches sit a few miles north of Kinlochbervie and to the south of Cape Wrath, mainland Scotland’s most north westerly point. They are regularly highlighted as being among the country’s best and most beautiful beaches thanks to their crystal-clear water and shimmering golden sands.

However waste and litter is becoming an increasing problem for beaches in the area. Last year solo rower Kiko Matthews was part of a team that cleaned Scourie More Beach, 10 miles south of Kinlochbervie and found it blighted by 20 tons of plastic and litter.

The waste included ropes, fishing nets and fish farm pipes, with litter found to have been buried for so long that it has become lodged beneath large boulders and in surrounding soil and grass.

Plans for the beach to undergo a major deep clean are currently on hold until after the current health crisis.

Earlier this week, results of a Marine Scotland survey carried out by YouGov showed nearly one-third of Scots believe the health of Scotland’s seas has worsened in the last year. The research showed 60 per cent were worried about bags littering the ocean, and 67% about plastic bottles.