Lockdown litter - a community view

A blog post by Susan Manson

Susan Manson

Posted 24/07/2020

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During lockdown, we have been contacted by many community groups and individuals from across Scotland who are frustrated by the litter in their local environment and want to do more to try and tackle this anti-social issue.

In this blog, we hear from Susan Manson, who writes about her frustration with litter and the steps she has taken to try and improve her local area.


When lockdown started the sun shone, the sky was blue, and it stopped raining for the first time in six months.  All over Scotland people took to walking, cycling and running around their local patch as part of their daily exercise.  In Dalkeith where I live, we have a choice of places to walk and cycle. At either end of the town of Dalkeith there is a large country estate.  Dalkeith Palace, now Dalkeith Country Park, and Newbattle Estate both with a network of paths.  In between are rights of way and old railway lines - a legacy of the mining industry.  So plenty of choice for exercising.  On local social media people enthused about the beauty of the local area and the walks they were discovering, in some cases walks not done since childhood days.

There was talk of new walking routes, a route connecting the new station to the town centre and a greener more pleasant place after lockdown.  More working from home, more time to spend walking and cycling locally.  Less commuting.

And then cracks began to show.  Casual litter appeared on roadside verges. The track beside our house, normally litter free, was scattered with crisp packets, drinks bottles and the like. We took to going for a walk with a bag and litter picker.  The end of our track where it meets the public road is a favourite place for fly tipping and so it was that just days into lockdown, trailer loads of old garden furniture, old garden sheds, dismantled kitchens and washing machines were abandoned at the roadside. 

But the most disappointing (for me), sad and troubling aspect was the litter that appeared once lockdown was eased.  Picnic spots, reservoirs, lochs were all left sullied by the most horrible litter from picnics, barbecues and overnight wild camping.  St Marys Loch in the Borders was one of these and a local individual has been single-handedly clearing a lot of this. 

Who are these people that suddenly seem to have abandoned normal codes of behaviour?  Visitors (a minority usually) have always left litter at St Marys Loch and other spots but never in such quantities in my experience.  I spent a part of my working life as a Countryside Ranger picking up litter in the Pentlands Hills but never saw anything as bad as reported from Loch Lomond or the Ochils. 

Before lockdown we saw students and pupils inspired by Greta Thunberg, leaving schools and universities to fight climate change.  Young people led campaigns to reduce single plastic use.  It is so disappointing that (some of) this generation have missed out on the message about protecting their local environment.  We don’t know yet the age and background of the people, but it is reasonable to assume they are at the younger end of the age range. Certainly, the mess left in the Meadows in Edinburgh was largely by younger groups. 

So the prospect of a nicer, pleasant and greener world after lockdown was perhaps naïve on my part.  My frustration at this ‘don’t care’ attitude is shared by many people and I don’t know the answer to addressing it.   But it is disappointing that after years of campaigns, countryside codes and education we don’t seem to have made much of a difference.

There are positive moves to build on communities’ need to look after their local patch.  In Dalkeith the Guerrilla Gardeners, in a tremendous weekly session, are removing litter and weeds from public places in the town.  One Dalkeith, a local community group is planting and maintaining local flower beds amongst many other activities.  I know this sort of activity is replicated across Scotland, but it seems we are not reaching the hard core ‘litterers’.

I wanted to do something and not just moan to anyone who would listen!  I decided to take action and contacted Keep Scotland Beautiful.  I had a useful chat and I have been reassured that there are as many out there who care, as there are who seem to be unaware of the damage they do and the anger they cause, just by throwing a piece of litter on the ground.  I’m motivated now, with the support on offer, to do a little more and join #TeamKSBScot to tackle the litter and waste issue in our country.


If you are also frustrated about litter and would like to help us keep Scotland beautiful, here are four simple ways to take action:

  1. Individually, with family or a small group carry out a litter pick - here is our litter picking guidance.
  2. Complete one or more litter surveys in your local community to gain an understanding of littering habits near you.
  3. Support your local It’s Your Neighbourhood group.
  4. Share our messages on social encouraging people to bin their litter or take it home and keep Scotland beautiful, or download a poster for your local community notice board.

Check out our Clean Up Scotland supporters pack for more information.

Thank you for your support!


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