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The Big River Irvine Riverbank Clean

A blog post by Jennifer Pless

On World Rivers Day (24 September) we are delighted to publish an inspiring blog from Jennifer Pless Chairperson of Irvine Clean Up Crew, a community clean up hub which volunteered to support our Source to Sea week as part of our Upstream Battle campaign this September.   The importance of keeping our rivers litter free to protect nature and our seas is clear. #SDG14

The Big River Irvine Riverbank Clean

The car tyre floating by, carried on the incoming tide, summed up the problem we were trying to address.

Like many of Scotland’s rivers, the river Irvine suffers from litter and flytipping pollution. With 80% of marine litter coming from inland sources it is important that more is done to tackle litter at source, to stop it ending up in our waterways and eventually entering our seas.

As the river meanders inland away from Irvine’s picturesque harbourside, the land becomes less frequented by people. The effect of people, however, was clear to see. Trollies, traffic cones, car tyres, fridges, balls, toys, cans, and thousands of plastic & glass bottles were scattered amongst the driftwood and vegetation. A litter sink created by waste being pushed downstream on river currents and pushed back upstream on the tide.

Irvine Clean Up Crew visited the area in early spring and decided to act. There were some things to consider. With lots of birds calling the area home, we needed to give the ground-nesting birds time to fledge before working on their land. We needed to speak to the private landowners, firstly for permission to be there, and also, to ask them to provide a means for disposal of what we collected. We also needed a plan for how we were going to get the rubbish safely away from the riverbank. We reached out to the Rubbish Paddlers and Irvine Sea Cadets who were keen to help, having been involved in previous riverbank clean-up activity. Volunteers would litter-pick the riverbank and they would transport the rubbish, via the river, to the slipway at the Scottish Maritime Museum, where a skip would be waiting.  

With plans in place, for the first days of September, and volunteers recruited, we were excited and apprehensive about what we would find. It turned out that we found a lot. You could stand in the one spot and fill a bag. You would think you’d cleared an area, then hear plastic crunching under your feet. We powered through and by the end of day one we had amassed a lot of “stuff” ready for removal following day.

Day two and the volunteers on the riverbank continued to collect more rubbish. As the tide started to rise, help arrived via the river. With canoes, paddle boards and boats the river support was a beautiful sight. The team at the museum slipway waited eagerly for the first loads to arrive and were buoyed up by the enthusiasm shown by everyone who was there to help. The Sea Cadet boys were spectacular. No worries about getting mucky or having wet feet, they skilfully loaded and unloaded tyres and other rubbish and rowed with conviction up and down the river all day.

Load after load arrived and by the end of the day the skip was full. We were also full. Full of gratitude for the enthusiasm shown by everyone who came to help. Full of pride for the difference we’d made. Full of joy and inspiration at how good being outside with caring people can make you feel. It is a high that we will feel for some time to come.

It may have been a short section of one river that we made better, but it highlights the staggering problem with litter in our waterways. It shows how urgent it is that we not only clean up our rivers, but also rethink our consumption habits. Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Source to Sea action week ran from 8 - 15 September and we were proud to play our part.

Irvine Clean Up Crew wants to thank everyone involved. The Rubbish Paddlers, Irvine Sea Cadets, the Scottish Maritime Museum, Coastwatch Irvine, the businesses who used their volunteer days, RSPB, NPL Estates Ltd and Irvine Camera Club who came and documented it all so beautifully.

Oh…and we rescued the tyre before it became one more piece of litter on our riverbank.

You can follow the adventures of, or join in with Irvine Clean Up Crew by finding out more on social @irvinebeach

Volunteers removing litter from shoreline
Volunteers with skip load of waste

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