In July 2011 Cape Farewell embarked on a month-long expedition by boat across the Scottish Islands, bringing the notion and experience of expedition home to the UK, with an exploration of island ecologies and cultures, and of the strategies for sustainable and resilient futures being implemented across the Scottish Isles. More ›

The Crew

The expedition crew of 40 includes island artists, storytellers, film makers, playwrights, architects, designers, musicians, community leaders, social scientists, ecologists, marine biologists, oceanographers, poets, acclaimed Gaelic singers and a chef.
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Video highlights

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Seaweed: A natural resource with potential

Laminaria Digitata Blatt Molis

At a conference held in Glasgow last week Welsh scientists revealed the use of a kelp species known as Laminaria digitata could provide an important alternative to biofuels grown on land, but the suitability of its chemical composition varies on a seasonal basis. Their study shows harvesting in July when carbohydrate levels in the kelp are at their highest would ensure optimal sugar release for biofuel production. Metals can inhibit the fermentation process into ethanol but their samples also confirm July is the month when metal content is lowest in kelp. Kelp can be converted to biofuels in different ways such as fermentation or anaerobic digestion producing ethanol and methane, or by pyrolysis, a method of heating the fuel without oxygen, which produces bio-oil. “Seaweed biofuel could be very important in future energy production,” says Dr. Jessica Adams, a lead researcher at Aberystwyth University, where the study was conducted. “What biofuels provide that other renewables such as wind power cannot is a storable energy source that we can use when the wind drops.”

A report, Mapping the intertidal seaweed resources of the Outer Hebrides, was published in June. It was commissioned by various agencies and the research undertaken by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the Hebridean Seaweed Company with a primary focus on knotted wrack Ascophyllum nodosum. Their report maps where this rockweed is to be found, in what quantities, and compares the figures to Scottish Seaweed Research Association findings in the 1940s. The total map-based estimates of the biomass of rockweed was estimated at 175,000 tonnes, but only 60,700 tonnes (36%) is accessible – less than 3km from landing sites. Most of the seaweed is found in Lewis (41%), followed by North Uist (22%), South Uist (19%), Harris (16%) and Barra having very little (2%). The report suggests that with more landing sites the harvest could increase to 90,000 tonnes – or 59% of the total. But scientists believe a more sustainable amount would be 15,000 tonnes, as areas have to be left for four years for the plants to grow. A ‘green gold’ rush could prove disastrous! Any large-scale collection of kelp, found in deeper water, could exacerbate coastal erosion, as the plants form natural storm barriers.

Throughout the course of this trip, participants will have the opportunity to learn more about seaweed. SAMS based just outside Oban are involved with the BioMara project that aims to determine the feasibility of producing biofuel from both macroalgae (seaweeds) and microalgae (single-celled plants).

On South Uist there are plans to build a large scale £20m processing plant in Lochboisdale to manufacture chemicals from indigenous seaweeds. Ayshire-based firm Marine Biopolymers and Strathclyde University are behind the proposal who say any new factory might generate £30-£50m in revenue and could create up to 60 permanent jobs. Two types of seaweed, understood to be kelp and bladder wrack, known locally as tangle and Asco, would be processed using a system claimed to be cheaper and four times faster than older traditional extraction methods. However, concerns have already been expressed about the scale of such an operation and how such an alginate plant would get rid of large amounts of effluent waste so as to avoid pollution or harm to salmon farms and shellfish.

On Lewis, the Hebridean Seaweed Company, set up in 2006 just outside Stornoway, has grown steadily and hopes to harvest about 7,000 tonnes this year for use in the animal feed supplement, soil enhancement, alginate, cosmetics and nutraceutical industries. The company is also a partner in two EC funded research programmes – HYFFI (Hydrocolloid Derivatives as Functional Food Ingredients) and SWAFAX (Seaweed derived anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants) – about which considerably more detail can be found on the Seaweed for Health site.

It would be great if one, or more, of the artists on this voyage could somehow ‘celebrate’ the natural wonders and potential bounty of seaweed to the Western Isles.

Author: Graeme Robertson


Joins the expedition for week 2 Graeme Robertson is Executive Director of Global Islands Network, a Scottish based charity whose main aim is to conduct and promote culturally appropriate, ecologically sound, economically sustainable and socially equitable development on islands worldwide.
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Sea Change Programme

Puffin from the Bird Yarns project, part of Cape Farewell's Sea Change programme.
Grown out of the Scottish Islands Expedition, Cape Farewell’s Sea Change is a four-year programme of research and making across Scotland’s western and northern isles. Sea Change involves over 30 UK and international artists and scientists, working collaboratively and independently to consider the relationships between people, places and resources in the context of climate change.... Read more ›

A timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be

Community Energy Scotland’s annual conference offered a timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be.  It was reported on some research into how different countries are taking forward the development of renewable energy. The study looks at several European countries including Scotland, as well as five states in America. The most striking feature... Read more ›

First there was an island – then there was a boat

Shiants 2
“First there was an island – then there was a boat”, so begins a poem by Shetland writer Laureen Johnston.  Since owning my first boat at the age of eleven, I have been an obsessive explorer of islands, the smaller and more remote the better.  Once, in the grip of a sudden attack of aquatic... Read more ›

‘On these isles’

Lawrence has a 7am coffee break after feeding cattle.
‘On these isles’ is a project by photographer Ed Smith, whom we had the great pleasure of meeting when visiting the Island of Eigg. Ed has spent large periods of time on Eigg and other Inner Hebridean isles capturing life there in pictures. Have a look at more of his images and this project at... Read more ›

A gaelic song

Mary Jane Lamond, Jo Royle and Julie Fowlis Video by Ruth Little

Cape Farewell – we know what to do, can art help us get on and do it?

The following is an excerpt from Sara Parkin’s article found on the Forum for the Future website. …I was fortunate enough to join the crew for one week of a four week tour of Scottish Islands, starting with Skye and Canna before crossing the Minch to Mingulay, Barra and South Uist. The weather was kind,... Read more ›

Islands and Visions

Eigg Barbecue on Song of the Whale
There is a sea view when travelling from Eigg to Mallaig where you have a 360° vision of the Small Isles, Skye, the mountains of Scotland, Mull and, far into the distance, the Outer Hebrides. At 6 am yesterday the grey of the sea bled into the numerous blues of the mountains all dramatised by... Read more ›

Annie Cattrell and Jo Shapcott in conversation about week 4 of the expedition

Annie 1
JS Annie, what is it about islands? AC I like the fact that there’s a larger proportion of sea than land mass visible. There appears to be a completeness and self-sufficiency about the individual islands even though they are all distinctly different. There seems to be a big distinction between uninhabited and inhabited islands –... Read more ›


Photo by Sion Parkinson
(1) On the crossing from Ullapool to Stornaway on the Calmac, I wrote myself a list of rules, a set of behaviours that would concentrate my efforts, or assuage any guilt from any feelings of impotence, in my seven days aboard the ship. (1.1) Rules: (1.1.1) Take photographs, more than you need to, get in... Read more ›


Cotton Grass marking  Dwelling Rona
It was my birthday when I went to Rònaidh first. A place I wanted to see since I was little but I had always missed the boat. It is about forty miles north of my house near the Butt of Lewis. I went on the sixth of August aged thirty eight on the yacht ‘Song... Read more ›

Mary Arnold-Forster

Skye architect Mary shows the house of Fred Taylor she designed and reflects on the progress on Eigg and other green based aspirations for the islands architecture and energy supply.   Video shot by David Buckland     Sketches by Mary Arnold-Forster

Farewell and Ahoy: Log of a Voyage

Photo by Mary Smith
“Back in the kitchen.  A new group has joined Song of the Whale. There is an overlap of crew, Cape Farewell folk, and the artists and scientists who will sail together this coming week. They are planning to sail to North Rona, the Shiants and the coasts of Skye. But I’ve left the ship though... Read more ›