FEARS of “bones and coffins” falling into the sea have been raised on the Outer Hebrides as an appeal has been launched to save a centuries-old cemetery.

A bid is underway to save the Bragar Cemetery on the north west coast of Lewis from coastal erosion and protect it from winter storms.

The site holds the remains of a 15th-century chapel and war graves for those killed in the 1919 Iolaire tragedy, when more than 200 people died as their ship was sunk on rocks while returning from the First World War.

Ivan Brown, development manager at Barvas Estate, which owns the site, said that there had been significant deterioration at the cemetery in recent months.

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He added there was a risk of “coffins and bones” washing into the sea if the site was not given proper protection.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Brown said: “The condition of the cliffs here over the past couple of years has got a lot worse given the storms. We had engineers here last November but after the storms of last winter, part of the land by the cemetery started to collapse.

"The erosion is working its way up. There are three layers. If the second layer goes, so will the top layer and the cemetery wall will come in.

"There are graves next to the cemetery wall. We could end up with coffins and bones washing into the sea, which of course we really don’t want to happen.”

£200,000 is required to bolster the surrounding land with rock armour to protect the graveyard, with the estate already helping to raise a significant portion of the sum.

The local community is now fundraising for the last £45,000, with donations coming from supporters as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Denmark – with some having relatives buried at the cemetery.

The Bragar Cemetery Committee’s Effie Macdonald said: “Given the coastal erosion, the cemetery is liable to fall into the sea. Right along the coast, you can see erosion. Ever since last year, there has been a big erosion right into the cemetery wall. It is a very important site and you can see the sea is eating into it.”

The estate has lodged planning permission with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for the proposed rock armour.

Donald Armstrong, of the civil engineering firm Wallace Stone in Stornoway, said: “The cemetery is fine but if you don’t deal with erosion at the shoreline it will continue. The site warrants protection work and the rock armour will absorb some of the energy of the waves.”