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(What to do on) a dreich morning on the Firth of Clyde

A blog post by Liz Leonard

We launched our award-winning Upstream Battle campaign in October 2018 to raise awareness, gather data and inspire action to tackle marine litter from source to sea. Crown Estate Scotland has been a funder of the campaign since its launch, allowing us to support our Anchor Groups up and down the Clyde, and its tributaries, to improve litter levels in their communities, and others downstream. Liz Leonard, a board member from Crown Estate Scotland joined us for a litter pick in September alongside volunteers from Friends of Dumbarton Foreshore. Here she shares her thoughts.

After the fantastic Summer we’d just had, I had high hopes for sun as we gathered on the shore of the Firth of Clyde, just under Dumbarton Castle. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas but, armed with waterproofs and, in my right hand, one of those arm’s length litter pickers with a crab like claw, and in my left, a large black bin bag, I was ready to do my bit for “Upstream Battle”.  I was there with colleagues from Crown Estate Scotland to celebrate our involvement in Keep Scotland Beautiful’s marine litter campaign.

I don’t know whether it’s because my star sign is Pisces, but I’ve always felt an affinity with water, whether that’s a river, a loch or the sea: it’s my “happy place”.  As a child, there was nothing I liked better than standing with my tiny fishing net on the edge of a rock pool, intent on catching a starfish or a crab. I also vividly remember watching Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet film in 2018 which showed just how devastating plastic pollution is to our oceans and what it is doing to marine life, not just now, but for future generations.

What I didn’t know then was that a huge 80% of that marine litter starts life on land. Just think of that – 80% of that litter is dropped by us! But the great thing about “Upstream Battle” is that it is inspiring local people, like you and me, to give just a few hours regularly to get togged up and go and see what is there and how much we can clear. That September morning, I was staggered at how many bags we filled – 12 - after only a couple of hours. The local coordinator told me that the highest percentage of what they’d collected from the Clyde further upstream was cotton buds & wet wipes. Our “treasure trove” that morning was dominated by shards of blue, green & clear glass, and even whole bottles. Just when I thought I couldn’t find anymore, I’d go over a section of sand I thought I’d cleared and find yet more. This is a stretch of riverbank which has a public path next to it and, as I kept filling bag after bag, I thought of how dangerous this was to local children and dog walkers with their pets. With climate change and environmental challenges surrounding us, I’ve often felt overwhelmed, but this was something I could do which genuinely made a difference.

It’s also made me a lot more conscious about the amount of plastic waste we produce in our own homes daily. I now use eco-friendly cleaning products, so that the water draining from my washing machine and sink does not add to existing pollution and I’m refilling plastic containers to cut down the number of single use items I throw away. As the saying goes, “Old habits die hard” but gradually I’m changing mine, through making that connection between what we do as humans and the effects of that on this beautiful planet we live in. Thank you “Upstream Battle”.

Crown Estate Scotland manage areas of Scotland’s coasts and seas and want to ensure they can be enjoyed by everyone, not just the people who live, work and visit them now, but the future generations to come. They are continuing to support the campaign by helping to fund Upstream Battle which branched out to include the Tay in August 2021.

If you’ve been surprised that litter on land can have such a huge effect on our oceans or you want to know more about Upstream Battles' findings you can read the report published with activities and data and more on our Upstream Battle Citizen Science page. And why not have your say on litter and respond to the Scottish Government’s Marine Litter Strategy Consultation which is open until 22 March 2022.

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