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Looking after beaches

A blog post by Jamie Ormiston

Jamie Ormiston
Beaches and Parks Officer

Posted 15/07/2020

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Today (15 July) sees the lifting of restrictions on our tourism sector in Scotland. It is also the day that we launch our My Beach Your Beach activity at six key sites, and that we welcome a national anti-litter campaign from Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish Government to encourage visitors to do the right thing as they return to our beauty spots.

An exciting milestone for all those with businesses which rely on visitors as well as those desperate to explore our stunning countryside. Since our lives were flipped, turned upside down on 23 March people have seen this moment as the beginning of the end of what has been an extraordinary few months.

When restrictions were imposed the things that brought us joy away from our homes were swiftly locked up with no sign of when we’d be able to experience them again. Trips to the cinema, a pint with a pal, a pie at the football, a meander around a museum, a cut and colour, and a picnic on the beach had to now be experienced through social media, Zoom calls and reruns of dated BBC dramas. But we adapted and often came together as a community to ride it out.

But now things have started to change as we unlock our doors and peak out, bleary eyed into a dusty landscape. Slowly, restrictions are being lifted and we are able to see our friends and family again, see beyond a five-mile radius from our home.

But with restrictions lifting across the country, we face a whole new set of challenges. Imagine the scene; golden sands stretching off into the distance, the crash off waves, children laughing as they paddle in the shallows, a small fishing boat gliding silently beyond the break. Families shielding from the changeable Scottish weather behind a windbreak; laying out crustless cheese sandwiches, packets of crisps, mini scotch eggs, juicy strawberries and smooth rosy red apples. Perhaps there is a flask of tea or even a cheeky wee prosecco. There are definitely fizzy juice cans and bottles of water. A scene which has played out for many generations as the draw of our Scotland’s stunning beaches brings city and country people together for a grand day out.

But what happens when the crowd gets bigger? When the weather stabilises and for a few days we have blue skies and glorious sunshine, people are drawn out to the coast. One family accidently leaves their fizzy juice bottle behind. A group of friends next to them seeing this become a little bit more complacent about the crisp packet that has just been picked up by the wind and bounding merrily down the shore towards to water. The more the litter is left behind by someone else the less likely people are to pick up their own. But it’s ok, someone else will deal with that, won’t they? Councils have people to walk the beach everyday picking up the litter which is now being washed into the sea as the tide drags itself up the shore, don’t they?

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The ever-increasing cost of collecting and disposing of litter has meant local authorities are often unable to keep up with the demand. Our reliance of green and blue spaces during lockdown has meant huge numbers of people are spending their precious spare time breathing in the fresh air offered in our parks and beaches. Sitting in a restaurant, café or bar became impossible during lockdown so were replaced with take away pizzas and coffees to go. The strain on the litter bins provided became clear when photos emerged of parks in Glasgow and Edinburgh with piles of lose rubbish next overflowing bins. With resources being directed elsewhere councils were unable to empty these bins as often as they were needed.

Taking rubbish home was not on the agenda. Getting back in the car or catching the bus home was the priority. Local authorities and other managing organisations, already short staffed due to teams of people being furloughed, were overwhelmed. But, no matter how thin the resources are spread, staff have always managed to clear these areas. Not only clear the areas of litter but even actively manage and nurture these spaces so we can continue to enjoy them. With the help of enthusiastic community groups and individuals, beach and park managers dedicate their time to creating and maintaining spaces which we all take for granted. Working in the background, often without recognition, these people are the reason we can munch our cheese sandwiches on beautiful golden sands without the need to wade through mountains of plastic bottles first.

So, in a week when restrictions are lifted and you find yourself considering a trip to the country it is worth bearing in mind the hard work and effort that goes in to keeping your favourite outdoor space accessible for everyone. At Keep Scotland Beautiful we love to celebrate these achievements, along our coastline in particular, with Scotland’s Beach Awards. The awards not only guide people to the most accessible sites with the best facilities but they recognise the hard work that goes into maintaining them. It might be the hard work of a local authority, community council, volunteer group, charity or other managing organisation. It might be a combination of all of these. It might even be recognising the fact you, seeing pristine golden sands, took the wrappers from your picnic lunch and disposed of the responsibly. Scotland’s Beach Awards are for everyone. Celebrate your favourite beach by showing your appreciation for the people maintaining them and leave nothing behind.

The power of people is astonishing. It is people who can make just tiny changes to their habits to turn a potentially damaging situation into one of beauty and hope. It is people who, if take responsibility for their actions, can create a legacy for generations to come. A legacy we can all be proud of. It is only fair that we work together and maintain the spaces we love so future generations can also drink in the beauty of Scotland’s landscapes whilst enjoying a crustless cheese sandwich.

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