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Scotland isn't looking so beautiful. We can change that.

A blog post by Laura Watson

With the 2023 Spring Clean Scotland campaign launching on 17 March, Laura Watson, our Campaigns Officer, shares why she left a career studying and protecting marine mammals to join Keep Scotland Beautiful and how much getting involved in Spring Clean matters.

Laura, surveying for whales and dolphins, in New Quay, Wales with Sea Watch Foundation in 2017

Prior to joining Keep Scotland Beautiful in 2022 I spent the better part of the last decade travelling to various location across Britain and Europe for work. I spent my days on cliffs or boats with a pair of binoculars around my neck and an iPad in my hand. I was literally paid to spend the day at the beach or on the water looking for and studying marine life. It was the kind of life and work that many dream of but never live. So why did I leave?

Well, wherever I went the impact of humans was never far and for me litter is one of the most pervasive impacts of humans. It’s on our streets, our beaches and in our parks. If you climb a Munro, paddleboard a river or take a walk in the woods you will find it. For some they just need to look out their window. Each piece of litter is a sign that we are failing our country, our nature and ourselves by not looking after the place we call home. These days, despite the stunning views across our country, the fact is Scotland isn’t looking so beautiful. It pains me to admit that. I love this country. I love our cities and I love our wild places but the truth is we have a problem of our own making.

If you watched Planet Earth 2 or even the most recent episode of David Attenborough's Wild Isles then you witnessed the destruction that litter has had on nature. However, as a marine scientist my experience of the deadly consequences of litter hasn’t just been through a screen. I have witnessed the autopsy of giant whales washed up on a beach, their stomach full of plastic bags. I have seen animals lucky enough to be saved from entanglement and the bodies of those who weren’t. The impact of litter on nature has been devastating. Our impact.

That Orca who became entangled and washed up in Shetland - I had seen that very Orca with his pod just a few months before. In fact, his pod was the first wild Orca that I had ever seen. All these experiences, both first hand and through a screen, resulted in me stepping away from a life lived on the ocean towards a role where I could join a team whose one goal is to tackle this issue that can only be described as an emergency for both our society and nature.

27's pod featured on Wild Isles before they lost a member to entanglement

I now find myself in a position to support and join the amazing individuals and groups across Scotland who all share one goal: to clean up Scotland. Many of these people will be taking part in Spring Clean Scotland which is a time where we ask people to do their part and tackle litter.

Naysayers will argue that one campaign and one month isn’t going to solve the issue and they are regrettably right. We didn’t wake up one day and suddenly have a litter emergency. Scotland has had this problem for a long time and it will take time to fix. Not just cleaning up the mess we are now in but also encouraging and maintaining behaviour change so that we keep moving forward toward a cleaner and healthier environment for everyone.

For some they won’t see this issue as their issue. They will point at groups, organisations, businesses and even individuals as the cause. They will point out the failures of systems and may even list all the things they do that excuses them from getting involved. But this chat or even outright blame game doesn’t address the problem. The thousands of litter picking volunteers across Scotland are the ones addressing the problem. The innovative campaigns and trials run by numerous organisations and the scientists and data crunchers working hard to understand trends and impacts are the ones addressing the problem.

Spring Clean Scotland is not just a call to arms to collect litter. Spring Clean Scotland is about creating a sense of empowered ownership of our wild places and our not so wild places. If our current problem is the consequence of millions of individuals' acts of carelessness or even selfishness, then we can counter it will individual and collective acts of care.

I genuinely believe that if we work together and keep momentum we can turn the tide and save ourselves and nature from the emergency we caused.

You can get involved by joining an event in your local area. If you’re not sure where to look our Clean Up Scotland map is a good start. If nothing is happening near you then you could consider creating an event and our campaigns team can support with guidance. By litter picking and participating in our LitterLotto partnership you could even win some money.

However, I should note that I have learned in this job never to underestimate the solo picker. The difference one person can make would surprise you. I am almost one year into my time with #TeamKSBScot and I still am blown away by those solo pickers from across Scotland. Also, you don’t have to dedicate hours or set aside time specifically for litter picking. You could combine it with one of your regular outdoor activities such walking the dog or give plogging a try. Even 15 minutes of micro volunteering can have a huge impact. If everyone gave even 15 minutes of their time in Scotland this Spring Clean, then imagine the difference. Just 15 minutes each! So, what are you waiting for?

Spring Clean Scotland is happening now. Join us.

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