As someone who loves to promote the beauty of Scotland, it is important to me that I do what I can to preserve that beauty for generations to come. As a travel blogger I feel a duty to set a good example by travelling responsibly and inspiring others to do the same.
I also try to use my platform to raise awareness of different conservation issues and often feature Instagram Stories showing the result of negative actions by some people in the outdoors who are damaging our beautiful environment. Recently I shared images from a walk on Bute showing the downside to all our recent sunny weather with discarded barbecues and camp fires. Needless to say whenever I share photos like this I get umpteen messages of outrage as the majority of people using the Scottish outdoors are responsible.
However there are ways even the most responsible of us are unintentionally harming the environment and hopefully this blog makes people think a bit more about what else we can all do to take care of Scotland and our planet.
I'm sure most of us are aware that marine pollution and plastic pollution in particular is one of the biggest environmental issues we are facing at the moment. Living on a Scottish island means that every day I witness the tidal trash that is deposited on the coast line and every day I feel dejected by it. Did you know Scotland has 10% of Europe's coastline, and 61% of the UK waters? This means we feel the impact of marine pollution even more than some of our neighbours.
Our surrounding seas are home to a third of the global population of grey seals; the world’s most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins; 23 other species of the world’s 82 whales and dolphins and 43% of all seabirds breeding in the EU. They also provide summer feeding grounds for the basking shark, which is the world’s second largest fish, and the endangered leatherback turtle.
I try to do my bit by going out and do little beach cleans and although sometimes it feels I'm making no difference I have to keep reminding myself that even small actions make a difference and the more people that carry out small actions, the greater difference it makes.
I also became aware of other Scottish content creators taking similar actions and thought it would be a good idea if we all got together to do a joint beach clean and also use our various platforms to raise awareness of the litter problem. Having worked with other content creators on group projects I know that we can make the biggest impact when we work together.
The idea of doing a joint beach clean received positive feedback from fellow bloggers so I investigated how we could best go about arranging one. This led to me meeting up with Catherine Gemmell, the Scottish Conservation Officer for the Marine Conservation Society UK which is the UKs leading marine charity. During our chat I quickly realised that although a beach clean would be a really positive thing to do, it was even more important for us to understand the various marine conservation and environment issues so we could properly educate others.
Fast forward several months, a lot of phone calls, e-mails and a good dose of stress and my idea of a beach clean for Scottish content creators had grown to a full day event!
I must say I take my hat off to anyone that organises an event like this as I now fully appreciate the huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes and I must give a special thanks to Nicola Holland from FunkyEllas Travel who was always there to help me out when the workload started piling up along with my stress levels :-)
Scotland is famed for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world but we tend to edit out the fact that we also have some pretty nasty beaches, including Ferrycraigs Beach in North Queensferry which was recently found to be the worst in the UK for nurdle pollution. For those that don't know, nurdles are very small pellets of plastic which serve as the raw material in the manufacture of plastic products. Spills and mishandling by industry can mean nurdles end up at sea and wash up on our beaches. Many are also consumed by marine animals and seabirds who mistake them for food.
Sitting at the foot of the iconic and well photographed Forth Bridges, I decided this was the perfect beach for our group to tackle and highlight the scale of the problem.
An amazing 40 caring Scottish content creators signed up for the event, some for the whole day and some just for the beach clean and thanks to the suggestion from Gemma Armit from Two Scots Abroad we created the hashtag #ShoreYouCare to document the day on social media.
The local DoubleTree by Hilton Edinburgh Queensferry Crossing are keen to support local community projects and they kindly provided space for the event which allowed me to arrange some expert speakers to give us a broader understanding of the local issues and the work being carried out by different organisations in the area.
Throughout the day we heard from Catherine Gemmell from the Marine Conservation Society, Alasdair Neilson from Fidra and Robbie Blyth from the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust.
The talks we had were hugely informative and I felt it was really important that if we were going to create awareness of the issues our marine environment is facing, we really needed to understand them ourselves to make sure we are putting the correct messages across.
If we had just done the beach clean, it would still have been a really positive thing but the extra information we learned during our talks added real value to the day and in many ways were even more important than the clean up as we left with an understanding of how we can contribute towards lasting changes rather than just a temporary fix.
When we actually arrived on the beach and started to collect the washed up rubbish, I think it is fair to say everyone was shocked at the scale of the marine pollution problem.
I actually think we could have been there for years picking nurdles up as the beach was literally covered in them and the pile we did manage to collect really did seem a drop in the ocean.
We also picked up 322 plastic cotton buds which can pass through sewage systems and on to our beaches. Never flush them down the toilet and even better switch to non-plastic cotton buds instead.
In total we collected 1238 items (not including the nurdles as there were too many to count!) from a small stretch of beach in just over an hour. We could easily have been there all day and still only recovered a fraction of the litter from the nearby shores. The really sad thing is over 25% of what we collected was from public sources, almost 70% was plastic/polystyrene and over 27% was sanitary waste. Without going in to detail there were some pretty nasty things picked up on a beach used by the public and a good chunk of it is down to us.
After working hard in the sun we popped over to South Queensferry for a relaxing boat cruise with Forth Boat Tours, who have been awarded a green tourism award and are doing their own bit to look after the landscape they promote.
During our trip we travelled along the Firth of Forth near to the beach we cleaned earlier, passing by seals and a multitude of seabirds including cute little puffins. The amount of litter on the beach must be a fraction of what is floating around in the water and I felt really bad that this is what mankind is doing to their environment.
The boat tour was really chilled out and it was the perfect opportunity for everyone in the group to get to know each other. As content creators we often build up good relationships online but rarely get the chance to meet in person so it was great to put faces to names.
I think this video created by Love Exploring Scotland really captures the highlights of the day. I also highly recommend searching on the hashtag #ShoreYouCare to discover all the other amazing content created around the event and to support all those that are doing their bit to look after the Scottish outdoors.
Did you know more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year? Half of it comes from disposable plastics that are only used once before being thrown away.
The big message I took away from the day is that positive change will only really come when plastic pollution is reduced at source and this is were we can all do better as we all need to try and reduce our plastic consumption as much as we can.
One way to do this is by signing up to the Marine Conservation Society's #GoPlasticFree challenge for July. I've signed up as the challenge is not about living plastic free as this is virtually impossible but it is about reducing our personal plastic footprint. By signing up I will have the incentive to see what changes I can make and I'm looking forward to getting ideas from others. I've already been recommended to swap my toothbrush for a bamboo one and buy 'Who Gives a Crap' toilet paper - yes it really is called that! I'll be documenting any changes I make on my Instagram stories during July and would love to hear your own ideas for going plastic free.
As we all know plastic pollution in our oceans is a global problem so you can join in wherever you are in the world,
Secondly we need to help collect data needed by organisations like the Marine Conservation Society UK and Fidra to lobby policy makers for long term change.
Beachwatch is the Marine Conservation Society's national beach cleaning and litter surveying programme. You can join or organise your own event and the data collected helps identify trends, sources and where to focus campaigns to stop litter from getting to the beach in the first place.
You can also take part in Fidra's 'Great Nurdle Hunt' to provide them detailed evidence of where they are coming from or how widespread the problem is.
If you live in Fife then consider volunteering with the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust to help their staff maintain the beautiful walkways and countryside for everyone to enjoy.
These are just some of the things we can all do that will help to reduce the environmental damage we are all responsible for, even if it has been unintentional.
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