Fishing for litter

PIC: KAREN MURRAY

This article first appeared on February 5, 2017 in the Sunday Post

By Nick Drainey

It’s a load of rubbish but for the fishing industry and consumers the discarded waste being piled up at harbours across Scotland is good news.

Fishing boats once dumped the junk they hauled up in their nets back overboard, including waterproof clothes, oil drums, machinery and even sleeping bags. But now they bag the refuse and take it back to port to be disposed of.

And the “Fishing For Litter” scheme has just reached the milestone of pulling 1,000 tonnes of potentially dangerous refuse from the seabed.

Jimmy Buchan, who starred in the BBC TV series Trawlermen, documenting the perilous work of fishermen, said: “When we first started it, we would maybe lift a tonne of rubbish in a trip but I know it is working because now we hardly fill the bottom of a bag. The good we have done means that we are having an environmentally positive effect – we are doing a great service to the marine environment.”

It has been estimated that marine litter costs the Scottish fishing industry around £10 million a year, the equivalent of five per cent of the total revenue of the affected boats, which can suffer damaged nets or propellers snagged with rubbish.

Mr Buchan, who trawls from Peterhead, said: “When you go fishing anything that gets into the net – a dumped sleeping bag is a classic – immediately closes up the meshes. When you are trawling the net is skipping along the sandy seabed and the silt goes through the net but because of this blockage it starts to build up rapidly and that changes the geometry of the net. A few buckets of sand is an extremely heavy weight tugging on the net and it stops you fishing.”

The Fishing For Litter project was introduced to Scottish waters by KIMO UK, an Aberdeenshire-based organisation linking local authorities around the coast of the North Sea, in 2005.

Special bags are given to skippers to store the rubbish before returning it to port. Despite the 1,000 tonne landmark being reached by more than 200 Scottish boats, the plan is going to continue to make the seas healthier fish stocks.

The situation Scotland’s fishing fleet found itself in dates back decades, according to Mr Buchan, 57. He said: “When I was a boy in Peterhead the town’s rubbish was dumped at sea. There was any area at the back the port where all the council carts tipped the rubbish over a wall and into the sea and the tide washed it away. So as a boy my perception was that the sea was a dumping ground.”

Mr Buchan said the coming of plastics changed things as previously the bulk of what had been dumped, such as paper and cardboard, broke down in the sea, unlike more modern materials. He added: “That practice was phased out but if you grow up thinking if you want to dump something you dump it over the side, when you go to sea that is the practice. If you multiply that by a thousand boats all of sudden you have turned your fishing ground into a dumping ground.

“It was becoming a problem so when this scheme opened I immediately thought it was fantastic. I wasn’t looking at becoming an environmentalist or a green person, I could see commercial viability if it started to get rubbish out of the sea. It is going to affect my fishing opportunities and therefore make me better.”

Mr Buchan says the fish which now come out of the sea are healthier as well because they are not swimming in as much plastic and other pollutants. He said: “Chefs who I supply are over the moon because they see that they are always getting quality fish. If we have a disturbed haul, with silt and mud, the quality of the fish we do catch is affected as well.”

The scheme has funding until 2020, which Mr Buchan said was “great”. “We don’t get paid for it, it is purely for the love of the job and the commercial benefit.”

KIMO Chair Cllr Raymond Christie said the scheme was working well and reaching the milestone of 1,000 tonnes was a “great achievement”. He said: “I would like to thank all of the crews and harbour staff who took part for their fantastic efforts to help protect our precious marine environment and shoreline.”

Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said the scheme supported the Scottish Government’s Marine Litter Strategy. She said: “Marine litter is a very serious issue both for Scottish seas and across the global oceans.  It is shown to harm wildlife and the natural environment whilst impacting on our marine industries through damage to subsea and coastal infrastructure, vessels and fishing gear.

“I would like to congratulate KIMO on their success in reaching this milestone. I would also like to take the opportunity to commend those fishermen who are participating and making a real difference in cleaning up Scotland’s seas.”

Stewart Stevenson, MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, added: “Our north-east coastline provides a livelihood for thousands of people, as well as providing a habitat for countless species of marine lifestyle.  Therefore, it’s our duty to protect it and I applaud our local fishermen for going above and beyond to remove as much litter from our waters.”

Watch the birdie



We’re running low on song thrushes according to the RSPB which is holding its Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend.

The survey makes us “citizen scientists” says chief executive Mike Clarke, which is a snazzy PR idea but maybe a little denigrating to those who have been through years and years of study and research.

For our children, and their friends, it doesn’t matter what you call them, they just want to spot as many birds as possible. And that is a good thing if it means the next generation are being enthused about wildlife.

The lack of song thrushes is bad news, especially in our garden where they are needed to take care of the ‘eat yer greens’ brigade of slugs and snails. But it is good that long tailed tits are on the up – a group of them in the hawthorn hedge next to my office can often make a wonderful cacophony.

As with all statistics to do with wildlife, however, remember that in localised areas the picture can be different – just ask a gamekeeper who has to put up with a large number of buzzards or a farmer whose land lies beneath growing numbers of sea eagles.

That is not to say a rise in numbers is bad but it surely should be the case that just as we manage a reintroduction we should also, sometimes, need to manage numbers when they rise. More on this in the coming weeks…

Wild words

Great to see my Scots Magazine colleagues Jim Crumley and Polly Pullar are appearing at the wonderful Further From literary festival in my home town of Linlithgow.

The great author Andrew Greig is also there, his wonderful descriptions of the landscapes of Scotland really are a must-read – particularly liked The Return of John MacNab.

It all takes place on Feb 10, 11 and 12. See flyer (above) for details.

Ten reasons to brave the cold in January

There are always reasons to avoid going outdoors when it is chilly, but very often the benefits of putting on your boots can outweigh them.

  1. The wind lashing in your face, maybe with a bit of hail in it just for that added extra sting, the clouds are grey and low, the outlook is unremittingly bleak  – but it’s great to be alive. There’s nothing like having your senses stimulated and tested by the Scottish winter weather to remind you you’re still on the planet.
  2. A walk will put you and yours in a better mood. Dark days, no cash, post-Christmas slump – little wonder divorce proceedings peak in January. Now I can’t promise a walk will save any marriages but I do know that getting out for a walk will iron out any grumps from both children and adults and I can say that from experience.
  3. A lack of leaves on the trees means views that are sometimes completely hidden can open up. Think of the Birks of Aberfeldy and the Hermitage and autumn comes to mind but in winter when the leaves have gone the raging torrents of water can be seen far more easily.
  4. It’s a great time to see winter visitors to our shores, such as the pink-footed geese at the Loch of Strathbeg in Buchan.
  5. A brisk walk means you’re justified in polishing off the rest of the Christmas Quality Street. It’s not gluttony, it’s refuelling.
  6. It’s not just good for the soul, it’s good for the body – scientists say that moving from warm house to warm car to warm office isn’t doing us any good. Our bodies need to cope with some changes in temperature to stay healthy.
  7. Even in the depths of winter, there are new signs of life – the purple blur on the birch trees, the snowdrops poking through the soil.
  8. New year, new place. Perfect time to seek out somewhere different while you’re all full of good resolutions and feelings of a new start. For me it is all about finding new walks for my columns in the Scots Magazine and Scotland on Sunday.
  9. This may sound terribly curmudgeonly and unsociable but a beach walk in winter is brilliant because of the lack of crowds. Yellowcraig beach in East Lothian is a good example – a sunny Saturday in the summer hols and it’s packed – still a lovely beach but it’s a whole different experience walking in the (relative) solitude of a January day.
  10. It’s a cheap way to get cracking on those New Year’s resolutions to stay fit – so long as you’ve got a good pair of walking shoes, you’re good to go and Scotland is your oyster

Philip Rankin – a pioneer to be honoured

This article first appeared on October 30, 2016 in the Sunday Post – Note: Mr Rankin sadly died on March 12, 2017 (see News post on March 16, 2017)

Philip Rankin (r) with mountain rescue pioneer Hamish MacInnes

By Nick Drainey

A campaign has been launched to honour the man who built Scotland’s first ski tow out of metal “acquired” from the 1950s Clyde shipyards, spawning an industry which has gone on to generate millions to the economy every year.

Philip Rankin – who is now approaching is 100th birthday – led a team of yard workers and members of the austere Scottish Ski Club to haul huge lumps of metal up a Glencoe mountain.

A campaign backed by skiers, climbers and public bodies has been launched to recognise his efforts 60 years ago to start what was Scotland’s first commercial ski centre in the snows of Glencoe.

Before the 1950s the only people who ventured into the Scottish mountains in winter were hardened climbers but Philip Rankin, a former Spitfire pilot who had been shot down and injured over the North Sea in World War Two, saw ski-ing as an exciting new sport.

In 1954, Mr Rankin, who had by now left his engineering job in Glasgow and moved to Ballachulish to concentrate on the venture, drew up plans. Members of the Scottish Ski Club, made up largely of doctors and lawyers, then joined forces with the Clan Mountaineering Club whose members came from the shipyards of the Clyde to build the tow in 1955 on the slopes of Meall a’ Bhùiridh.

Family friend Louisa Gardiner, who is behind the campaign, said the metal plate and steel cables needed for the tow came from Glasgow’s shipyards and “were ‘acquired’ and carried up the hill on the backs of these tough Clydesiders, all under Philip’s supervision.”

It was ready for use in February 1956 and its opening marked the creation of the first commercial ski centre in Scotland.

As he sits in his home surrounded by the mountains of Glencoe, Mr Rankin recalls the tough task of building the tow. He said: “It was absolutely crucifying work. In order to make sure we were on a good line we had to start at the top and worked out way down which meant everything had to be carried up the mountain – that took a lot of time, and sweat and tears.”

But 60 years on he said Glencoe is still leading the way. He said: “I think Glencoe has come out top of the pops – It is my baby and I am liable to boost it up but it is certainly the nearest approach to Alpine ski-ing what we have got in Scotland.”

Now, a Facebook campaign to give him some public recognition has been launched. Those behind it have entered him for a Scottish Rural Award but would also like to see greater awards, including the Queen’s honours.

Mrs Gardiner said: “I feel he has been so fundamental to ski-ing in Scotland. He is the most wonderful man … I would hope that he gets recognition for the amount of work he did and how it has influenced the ski industry and tourism. Showing there was another winter sport, other than climbing, really was down to him.”

Friend and neighbour Hamish MacInnes, who was developing mountain rescue techniques when Mr Rankin ran the ski centre, backed the calls for him to be recognised for his work. He said: “He was a real pioneer and he ought to be honoured more; Glenshee and all these places started after he had been going.”

Mr MacInnes, who used the chair lifts and tows to help transport search and rescue dogs up the mountains for training, said that at the time Mr Rankin had an excitable nature and didn’t suffer fools gladly. He said: “He kept getting complaints about not having any toilets up there and his quote to the press was: ‘We don’t people up here who are incompetent or incontinent.’”

Mr Rankin had suffered back injuries when his plane was shot down over the English Channel and on impact he was thrown out through the canopy. It was a Canadian doctor at Stoke Mandeville hospital who brought on a love of snowsports when suggested he could recover through exercise, particularly if he walked uphill in snowshoes.

As a result of this he eventually left his Helensburgh home and made his way to Glencoe to set up the ski centre. His wife Gudrun, an East German refugee who died in 2003, was ticket collector and book keeper while he used his engineering skills to operate the resort, which he did so until the 1990s, seeing the number of lifts and runs increase.

The current owner of Glencoe Mountain Resort said Scotland’s snowsports industry today is “deeply indebted to Philip Rankin”. Speaking on behalf of Ski-Scotland, Andy Meldrum added: “He was one of the individuals who had the vision to see that skiing could be a commercial operation in the Highlands, in particular on Meall a’ Bhùiridh where Glencoe opened for skiing just over sixty years ago.

“Since then four other resorts have opened – CairnGorm, Glenshee, The Lecht and Nevis Range. They, together with Glencoe, now generate around £30 million each year for the Scottish and UK economy, with much more of that spent in a wide range of local businesses than is spent at the ski resorts themselves. This revenue boost during winter and spring is hugely important to Scotland’s tourism. The whole country should therefore be grateful to Philip for his foresight and energy in making skiing happen at Glencoe so long ago.”

Scott Armstrong, VisitScotland Regional Partnerships Director, said the organisation would support any recognition for Mr Rankin. He said: “Philip Rankin’s impact on Glencoe, and skiing in Scotland more widely, has been immense and we would support any plans to recognise the legacy of his work.”

Mr Rankin’s reaction to the campaign was one word: “Fiddlesticks.” “It would be very nice to have it put on permanent record but it doesn’t bother me if I don’t get something. I am delighted to see Glencoe (ski centre) going well in the end – uncomfortably near the end at 99.6. It  is pleasing.”