Entering our third decade with a splash

A blog post by Tom Brock

Tom Brock
Chair, Board of Charity Trustees

Posted 23/01/2020

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Our coasts and waters – key to keeping Scotland beautiful

Almost everyone can remember when they were young visiting the coast, a loch, canal, river or burn – running in and out of the freezing water, building dams with water smoothed pebbles, or walking along towpaths or river walkways on cold blustery days.

For those who live, work and visit this country, Scotland’s beauty is something that never fails to inspire. And much of what makes Scotland so spectacular is framed by its waters – castles precariously perched on cliff tops like Tantallon and Dunnottar, lighthouses guiding mariners safely through our seas, sky scraping mountains rising from iconic lochs, birds wheeling above fishing boats, canals reminding us of our industrial heritage and great rivers providing a focus to our bustling cities.

It is water that helps keep Scotland beautiful. A Scotland which our charity aims to conserve and celebrate – work we’ve been doing as a registered Scottish charity for 20 years.

Across the world we have seen countries declare climate and wildlife emergencies and pledge to take international action through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. There is a commitment to end poverty, hunger, inequality and to protect the environment like never before. But as we enter a new decade, there needs to be a real urgency for genuine action to tackle the threat to our planet and our people.

And so, with 2020 being the Year of Coasts and Waters, we will be making stronger links between our work, the Global Goals and the watery theme to identify ways we can support people to conserve and celebrate our natural environment and wildlife, our historic environment and our cultural heritage.

Natural Environment and Wildlife

Scotland has almost 12,000 miles of coastline, an astounding 800 islands and an amazing 31,000 freshwater lochs. So, wherever you are in Scotland, water isn’t far away. And, where there is water, there is life.

We know that our marine and aquatic environments are clogging up with litter, particularly plastic litter, and that our precious wildlife is suffering. Just recently, a sperm whale died after stranding on the Isle of Harris with a 100kg ‘litter ball’ in its stomach.

It is because of the impact that litter has on our wildlife and environment that we have focussed efforts to support communities across the country to remove it from the places they care about through our Clean Up Scotland campaign.

Last year we saw a 90% increase in litter picks registered with us near a river, canal or beach – helping to stop litter getting into the sea.

In addition to clean ups led by volunteers during 2020, we will be organising at least four big coastal and waterway clean up events. We’ll be encouraging communities to clean up around waterways as part of our Spring Clean 2020 in April and May. And, we’ll be recognising monthly heroes who are going above and beyond to protect our coasts and waters from the blight of litter.

This year, we also plan to build on the success of our award-winning Upstream Battle campaign in the Clyde river catchment to prevent land-based litter entering the sea.


Historic Environment and Cultural Heritage

In 2019, we were privileged to become the custodians of two canal-based heritage programmes, Canal College and Canal Cultural Heritage, previously undertaken by Scottish Waterways Trust.

With 137 miles of canals in Scotland – often providing tranquil green corridors between our thriving communities – the opportunities to visit, restore and appreciate the historic bridges and buildings, locks and towpaths are abundant. With many of these features being over 200 years old, they need constant care and our canal works programme in partnership with Scottish Canals supports volunteers to learn the skills needed to do just that.


Activities and Adventure

At the end of May, we will be announcing the annual winners of the Beach Awards – last year we presented 61 beaches with awards, and this year we are encouraging communities to put their local beaches forward. We want to make sure that we showcase and signpost people to the best managed sites for their adventures – whether that is St Andrews West Sands for a bit of history or kite surfing, or St Ninian’s Isle on Shetland for some wildlife watching, or the only freshwater, and highest beach in the UK, to be awarded at Loch Morlich. 

Following two successful years of our My Beach, Your Beach campaign, run in partnership with Scottish Government and SEPA, we hope to relaunch and expand this work to tackle litter, dog fouling, improve bathing water quality and help communities take ownership of the free ‘blue spaces’ so good for their health and wellbeing.

We work with over 200 community groups through our place improvement campaigns (It’s Your Neighbourhood and Beautiful Scotland) and this year we are encouraging entrants to help celebrate the Year of Coasts and Waters, alongside our charity’s 20th birthday. 


Food and Drink

Through Eco-Schools Scotland we support teachers and young people to learn about food that is good for us and good for the planet. 

Focusing on the food which we can grow and access locally in Scotland, we can all make sure what we eat isn't harming the environment. And with so much wonderful seafood harvested from our productive seas – more than two-thirds of the world's langoustines are landed here in Scotland – this year is a great year to be trying out new Scottish food. We can help you celebrate this, by supporting you to host a One Planet Picnic – which is a fun way to get to know great sustainable foods, and the places and people local to you – while reducing food waste.


Whatever 2020 brings you, whatever adventures you chose to experience, water will never be far away. We will be supporting people, young and old, to respect and look after our country’s environment and our wider planet this year.

We ask that you join us and play your part in keeping Scotland’s coasts and waters beautiful this year too.

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