Clam poaching

Not to be mistaken with gentle simmering shellfish this is the midnight ransacking of remote beach bounty.

Although it is not illegal to harvest shellfish for personal consumption, strict food safety regulations make it an offence for molluscs to be gathered from unclassified fisheries to be sold for profit.

New regulations

The Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA) was set up after 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned at Morecombe Bay and following the prosecution of another gang using Romanian immigrants on Skye and another using Chinese workers on the Dee Estuary.

Clamming restrictions

The regulations introduced include minimum catch sizes for clams, defined periods when clam digging is allowed and the kind of equipment permissible. Claming in some areas is forbidden entirely.

The Ecologist has revealed that gangs of poachers, run by gang masters, regularly target wild shellfish stocks on English, Welsh and Scottish beaches. Workers in transit vans park on low tide beaches at night dig for the lucrative molluscs and keep them in chill boxes before delivering the catch to waiting traders selling to restaurants, pubs, caterers, markets and wholesalers.

Harmful bacteria

Poole Harbour, in Dorset, has abundant stocks of shellfish in what is Britain’s largest natural harbour. There has been an escalation in illegal clam harvesting in recent years, with large quantities of clams dug from areas where the practice is illegal because the water there contains bacteria harmful to humans.


Harbour authorities have mounted a number of enforcement operations in recent years and brought several prosecutions but the Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (IFCA) said ‘We’ve nine officers and 1000 square miles [to police], all year around. Protection officers have been threatened, buildings attacked and patrol boats sabotaged during efforts to combat the problem, with parts of the harbour regarded as being off limits for enforcement officers without police protection‘.


Gangs can harvest 100 kilos, or even a tonne a day and clam merchants have paid up to £1000 per tonne in the past.

Major fish traders on the south coast are suspected of accepting clams on a ‘no questions asked’ basis. Others are believed to ‘order’ shellfish and lay on the appropriate transport and chilling equipment.


In north Wales and the north of England – enforcement bodies say shellfish is an increasing income source for organised criminals and the authorities know the gangs involved — it’s hard to hide a convoy of 4x4s on a low tide beach.

In the Dee Estuary, Merseyside and the Wirral illegal harvesting is a growing problem. In Lytham gang workers even had to be rescued by emergency services after getting into difficulties. In Scotland there have been prosecutions for illegal clam harvesting on the Isle of Sky.

10 ton haul

‘We’ve had 80 people out there, with 4×4’s and quads,’ a Mersey Port Health Authority representative said. ‘We get reports of between 10 and 15 tonnes being carted off the beach at a time.’

During one audacious session in August 2010, more than 50 workers in a convey of 4x4s took away 10 tonnes of cockles from Wirral.

In Teeside, gangs of Chinese migrants have regularly been digging cockles from beaches in Hartlepool Marina and surrounding areas. Much of this illegal shellfish is believed to be sold ‘through the back door’ to local hotels and restaurants.

Clam seizures

One vendor at London‘s world famous Billingsgate Market, which sells to London’s top restaurants, was earlier this year found to have, on four occasions, taken delivery of clams harvested from unclassified Littlehampton and Rustington shellfish beds.

The authorities observed the poaching, the transit and the sale of the clams all the way to Billingsgate. 

One environmental health officer involved in the case said ‘They were doing this to put cash in their pocket, it’s a bit like the scrap metal taken from railway lines’.

You’re nicked

The agency has brought 12 prosecutions, suspended 15 licenses and seized 20 tonnes of illegal cockles in one recent year alone.

Health warnings

Shellfish are frequently associated with instances of food poisoning, especially so when eaten raw or undercooked, as molluscs filter seawater to feed and, if the waters are dirty, the molluscs ingest viruses and bacteria that can be harmful to humans.

Tut tut Heston

In 2009, the Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant, owned by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, had to close after more than 450 customers became ill with norovirus. Raw oysters and clams were later identified by the Health Protection Agency as being the main source of the contamination.


Brussels insists waters used by the fishing industry for commercial shellfish harvesting and shellfish cultivation are regularly tested for bacteria and viruses. Argyll and Bute environmental health department is responsible for this information around the Treshnish Isles, Gometra, Ulva and Staffa.

So, when wild camping on a remote uninhabited wilderness island beach far from the mainland, remember the clams you caught were inspected by a little clipboard toting man behind a desk in Brussels – for your safety.

Burg, the wild side of Mull

To visit Burg on the Ardmeanach Peninsula is to experience one of Scotland’s most wild and remote stretches of wilderness coastline.

With fossils of tree stumps on the beach, Iron Age farm ruins, a basalt column cave, deserted croft townships, waterfalls and shieling huts, Burg has much to reveal to those willing to stretch their legs on the 6 mile walk to get there.

Of course arriving by kayak is a lot easier. Octane expedition groups cross Loch Na Keal from Ulva to explore the area via island rock hopping stop offs at Little Colonsay and Inch Kenneth.

Horizon battleships

Views out to sea from the cliffs at Burg and from the top of Bearraich are phenomenal. The islands of Iona, Ulva, the Dutchman’s Cap, Staffa, the Treshnish Isles and Coll and Tiree can all be seen like a fleet of battleships gathering on the horizon.

The headland of the Ardmeanach Peninsula really is the edge of wilderness – the road stops 6 miles back at Tiroran and, traveling on foot, the route follows a long path running parallel to the shore. The route passes an Iron Age fort Dun Scobuill, the ruined townships of Salachry and Culliemore facing Loch Scridian and the pilgrim route to Iona a cross the Ross of Mull, Bronze Age burial cairns and abandoned shieling huts, used in summer months by crofters grazing their flocks on higher ground.

Fossilised tree

However, perhaps most remarkable, is the fossilised tree standing in its whole entirety vertical on the facade to a cliff face. Standing forty foot high, the conifer tree was engulfed in molten lava some 50 million years ago with its shape preserved to be first recorded by Scotland’s pioneering cartographer, John MacCulloch.

Cream tea vacuum

The path passes Dun Bhuirg, the remains of an Iron Age farming community, and after this point there are few signs of man, prehistoric or otherwise. The area, wonderfully free of ‘access’, ‘amenities’, ‘souvenirs’ and ‘visitor centres’, is reserved for those prepared to invest the time to get there. For those who do, the rewards are high.

Eagles high

The huge white tailed eagle or sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) lives here and soars from great heights over the grassy headland looking for small mammals, seabirds and carrion. Sometimes it keeps low over the water and takes fish from the surface whilst in flight.

In silhouette it is hard to distinguish from a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) except for the shorter tail, longer neck and shallower wing beats. The golden eagle, also seen around Burg, seems more graceful and delicate in flight with deeper and slower wing beats but surprisingly the white tailed eagle has a wider wingspan (240cm) than the golden eagle (220cm).

If the bird is soaring and the wings are flat it is likely to be a white tailed eagle, if the wings are raised when soaring it is probably a goldie. Likewise if it’s screeching it is probably a white tail as golden eagles are quieter. In better light adults are easier to tell apart as the white tail of the sea eagle is apparent when close. However, a juvenile golden eagle has a tail of the same so it is all rather complicated.

The golden eagle can in turn be mistaken for the buzzard (Buteo buteo), although the latter is almost a metre shorter between wingtips, it is difficult to gauge scale without knowing distance.


The white tailed eagle was recently re-introduced to the British Isles with stock from Scandinavia, previously being a visitor to the British coast from Iceland and Scandinavia with our naturalised population having been wiped out by gamekeepers and farmers. The process has been a success and there are now 36 breeding pairs (compared with 442 pairs of golden eagles).

Despite Mull being also known as eagle island, the white tail has some catching up to do.

The postcard is dead — long live selfie

We no longer wish you were here.

The trend has taken its toll on J Salmon, Britain’s oldest postcard publisher, with the announcement that it will cease trading after having been in family hands since it was founded in 1880 – UK postcard sales have dropped from 30 million to just 5 million in the last two decades.


An individual I is less likely to scrawl ‘wish you were here’ on a postcard to any particular You. The collective We and the aggregate You communicate incessantly, of course. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all that. But it’s just not the same.


Where a dear friend liked to receive touristic sights on a postcard they now receive the selfie – a photo of the same but with an obscuring mutt. Additionally, the quietly considered address of the dear friend has been superseded with that of a global platform digital soap box – click, save, post and mass-broadcast.

Yes! 76 likes. That’s 76 people who wish they were here. My life is good.

About turn

It used to be ‘wish you were here’ – now it seems the other way round. A total reversal of intentions, totally self centered – totally selfie.

This island from which I write has gone against the grain – not only has it published its own set of postcards but it now also has its own official stamps. My favourite postcard is a view across the bay taken during a midsummer midnight full moon and has a silverlight quality of stillness and calm.

The card is always well-received and sits on people’s fridges for years when a social media post is forgotten the next day.

Campfire cooking – blueberry orange muffins

After a day catching lobster for the pot this simple campfire pudding almost cooks itself and, for entertainment value, these babies are bulletproof.

Don’t beat yourself up over the instant nature of this pudding — after all it’s not often one gets to bake cakes around the campfire.


Muffin mix
– Blueberries
– Four empty half orange skins


  1. Squeeze four oranges, keep peeled halves and put juice aside for breakfast
  2. Fill one emptied orange half with blueberry muffin mix
  3. Cover the filled orange half with the empty half and wrap in three layers of foil
  4. Place on hot embers
  5. Turn aluminum balls every minute, baking may take 10 minutes
  6. Check one after 8 minutes, return to heat until firm at the centre

When these blueberry orange muffins are ready they will emerge from the campfire like victorious steamed puddings that have just been Tangoed.

Unwrap and eat with a spoon.


Alone at sea

Aleksander Doba, trailblazing wilderness expeditioner and 67-year-old Polish adventurer, proved age is just a number by kayaking solo 6,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

Doba set off in October 2014 from Lisbon, shored in Florida six months later and, on his arrival, was greeted offshore by a flotilla of sea kayakers who joined him for his last leg in. It was the longest open-water kayaking expedition ever across the Atlantic and was voted by National Geographic as the 2015 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year.

Kayaking world first

The Polish explorer departed from Lisbon in 5 October 2013 with the plan to paddle 5,400 miles across the Atlantic‘s widest point to arrive in Florida mid-February 2014. By the time he had finished he had traveled a 7,716-mile transatlantic journey, in his 23-foot kayak called Olo. Unexpected weather and equipment failure forced Doba to add an extra 1,300 miles and two extra months onto his journey. No one had ever kayaked across open sea for this length of time or distance.

Fighting the elements

Doba averaged about 30 miles per day and, when the temperatures were too high, he paddled at night. Indeed, once he was out of sight of shore, he found paddling more comfortable naked.

Loopy lupe

Doba fought with 30-foot waves and wrestled winds and currents that pushed him in loops around Bermuda adding 40 days to the crossing. Three times, Doba paddled hundreds of miles, only to get pushed back by winds and currents, he beat off a shark with his paddle and he ate flying fish landing in his boat.

Maverick expeditioner

Not bad for a man who considers himself a tourist on the water and who didn’t start kayaking until the age of 34 – he did no training for the crossing.

Campfire cooking – cinnamon breakfast buns

Sitting on wilderness white sands with a hot cup of coffee in the morning as the sun rises over Ben More, these piping hot sweet buns, filled with exotic aroma, remind me how wonderful the Scottish Hebridean coastline is.

The following recipe feeds 6 people.

Dough Ingredients

– 4½ cups flour
– 2 tbsp baking powder
– 1 tsp salt
– ¼ cup sugar
– ½ cup butter
– ½ cup milk powder
– 1½ cups of water

Filling Ingredients

– 2 tbsp butter
– ½ cup brown sugar
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– ¾ cup nuts
– ¾ cup raisins


If you are out in the wild you will need to build a campfire large enough to create large embers for your Dutch Oven.

Making the dough

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar
  2. Use a fork to work the butter into the mixture until the consistency is crumb like
  3. Add milk powder, water and egg powder, stir and combine. Consistency should be pliable but firm, not sticky. Add more water or flour if necessary.
  4. Place mixture on a floured surface (use the bottom of a kayak hull if necessary) and knead gently until smooth.


  1. Use a wine, beer or water bottle to roll the dough into a ½ inch (1 cm) thick rectangle
  2. Spread butter across the dough, leaving 1 inch (2cm) bare at one end
  3. Sprinkle remaining ingredients evenly across the dough, leaving 1 inch (2cm) bare at one end
  4. Roll dough into a sausage toward the bare end and pinch the end into the side of the roll to seal
  5. Cut the roll into 1 inch thick pieces. Lay slices in a greased baking pan in Dutch Oven
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 mins, or until golden. Insert skewer, if clean when removed buns are cooked

Grilled codling with pistachio pesto

It’s always handy to have a pot of sauce in readiness for any fish caught and I choose to keep pistachio pesto – an expeditioner’s green–sauced flavour wonder punch.

Others include horseradish and aioli but this is perhaps my favourite.


– 1c pistachios, shelled
– 1c fresh basil
– 1/4c cilantro
– 2 garlic cloves
– zest of 1 lemon
– 3T grated parmesan cheese
– 1/4-1/2c olive oil
salt to taste

codling steaks
olive oil
salt and pepper
lemon wedges

Method for pesto

– Finely chop all the ingredients and add to a pestle, using just 1/4c olive oil to start
– Mortar to blend and drizzle olive oil until desired consistency is achieved
– Store in an airtight container in cool place until ready to serve

Method for codling

– Rub codling steaks with olive oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper
– Grill on one side, about 5 minutes, then flip and repeat*
– Top with Pistachio Pesto and serve over mashed potatoes or rice with lemon wedges

*Cook until there is nice color on the steaks and the fish is just about cooked through (opaque), being careful not to overcook and dry out. The fish should flake easily with a fork. The time it takes for your fish to cook will depend on the thickness of your steaks and the temperature of your grill

Octane offers gastro wilderness expeditions – employing Octane’s Eight* methods of sourcing wild food for the pot, we eat the world’s best food, ocean fresh**. 

*Octane’s Eight is our philosophy – we believe our travelling guests, being closest to the world’s wildest fresh foods, might quite like to eat the world’s wildest fresh foods. 1) We line fish, 2) we lobster pot, 3) we spear fish, 4) we sea forage, 5) we land forage, 6) we deer stalk, 7) we seed the sea, 8) we seed the land. 

**Ocean fresh – the term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught and eaten same-day.

See OCEAN FRESH in practice – with the post ‘Drive-by calamari’ – ocean fresh calamari caught, cooked and served in under an hour.