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Lucky to live here

A blog post by Georgina Massouraki

Georgina Massouraki
Campaigns Officer

Posted 11/01/2021

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A summer beach campaign for 2020

Back in April, at the start of lockdown, we set out to develop a summer bathing water quality campaign -an undertaking that felt both absurdly optimistic and laden with hope in the circumstances of the time. I had barely visited the six beaches that were due to be targeted by My Beach Your Beach 2020, but I took a tour on Google street view and duly got to work.

This year's beaches:

Lockdown campaigning

The first challenge was practical. Normally, what brings a campaign to life is the activity on the ground: beach cleans, community events, chatting to people, surveying, taking photographs, getting a sense for things; chance encounters and conversations that provide inspiration and opportunities for connection; trying things out. But now we were in lockdown. At the time we could barely leave the house, let alone visit the beach and mingle. Whether there would even be a campaign was still up in the air until almost the last minute.

Then there was the mood to consider. Everyone was adapting to drastic, difficult changes to their daily lives, filled with wariness and uncertainty. People found themselves with time to fill, looking for distractions or perhaps a chance to take up that new hobby finally, whilst also navigating the ever-shifting landscape of new restrictions and rules.

But there was also something else. I saw it in my own community, with neighbours banding together, getting in touch and looking out for each other. We all suddenly had more time to connect. Daily commutes and weekend socialising were replaced with walks in the park. As the spring came round, the sound of traffic gave way to birdsong. My local greenspace became a haven, and I found myself discovering new paths and routes, visiting new crags and crannies, in search of a change of scenery from the walls of my small flat.

This, I decided, was what this campaign was really about – what environmentalism has always been about for me: nature is amazing and, if you can just tune in, there is so much beauty, serenity and joy to be found in that connection. Surely, anyone lucky enough to live near the beach would now, more than ever, want to take care of this precious resource.

 

And so, the 2020 edition of ‘My Beach, Your Beach’ started to take shape. Looking beyond the issues and calls to action around water quality, we would focus instead on making the case for why they are important in the first place, through learning, exploration and appreciation. If ever there was a time to value, connect and care for the beach, this was it.

Now in its third year, the campaign has always been successful at giving people the nudge to take a little more care, take their picnic litter away, pick up after their pooch. This year, our main ‘channels’ for these messages would be online. And, if the campaign was to be received well, it needed to be positive and uplifting.

We launched in the middle of July, as easing restrictions allowed for a bathing season to officially commence. Campaign materials were installed at all sites with help from our partners and, online, we started out by asking locals a simple question: how well do you know your beach? The quiz looked beyond the beach as a designated bathing water, to explore the landscape, wildlife and local heritage, history and culture. To our delight, the quiz was a great success, with people who normally may not have engaged with the campaign visiting our web pages to learn more about their local beach and by extension about the campaign too.

We also invited people celebrate: how #LuckyToLiveHere, right near the beach? People responded in resounding agreement and our online galleries filled up with images of the things they value most: the views, the space, the serenity, the walks, big skies and small details, time with friends and family in the fresh air. A lifeline in times of lockdown and worry.

We even managed to run our annual #DoggyAmbassador competition, with photos submitted online. It's always a treat to engage with so many beach-loving doggos and their responsible owners and a great chance to remind everyone to ‘bag it and bin it’ too.

Indeed, with this platform of positivity and engagement in place, we could then start to unfold conversations about the water quality and the habits on and near the beach that can affect it. Even I -an avid beach lover- had not realised before this campaign what an impact dog and gull poo can have on water quality. Nor did I quite understand how blockages in pipes and drains could lead to serious water contamination by causing overflows and flooding. This is the point of My Beach, Your Beach: to raise awareness and encourage everyone to take better care.

Lessons for the future

In the end, even though we didn’t get out to the beaches until the very end of the summer, we still managed to reach a significant number of people, with nearly 80% of those surveyed saying they’d seen the campaign and would like to see more of it in the future.

Campaigning remotely meant that we found new ways of using social media to target and connect to new audiences. Of course, nothing beats activity on the ground and its absence was felt not just in terms of campaign engagement, but also in building the vital local relationships that normally underpin a campaign like this; local authorities, beach managers or of course the amazing local community groups at each site, who work tirelessly to take care of their places all year round. Doing a beach clean together is better than a thousand emails. We look forward to hopefully getting out in person next year, but at the same time are excited to integrate some of what we learned about campaigning online, to deliver a more blended and ultimately stronger approach.

Another positive outcome of this year’s campaign was the more beach-specific content that we developed in a bid to engage people online. Leading with celebration and inviting locals to help shape the campaign with contributions and feedback proved to be a great foundation for engaging people with the core campaign messages around bathing water quality too. Going forward we will look to bring this approach offline as well -what better place to celebrate the beach than right there, on the shore!

Finally, travel restrictions meant that we explored new ways of monitoring impact -a crucial part of any campaign. Although we did make it out in September for a snapshot litter survey at each site, we had hoped to harness the power of locals on the ground for this, by using our new citizen science resource. Although we did not get much uptake this year, we still think it is a great way not only to gather data -more than we could ever hope to gather on our own- but also for people to engage with and help tackle their local litter issues

Litter counts are a fun day out (we think so anyway!) and essential for building an accurate picture of what is going on at each site. Hopefully by next summer we will be in a better position to make citizen science an integral part of the campaign.

Now, over the coming months we will be getting into gear to develop next year’s campaign. In doing so, we will take these lessons forward, refreshing our messaging and collateral, developing new activities and engagement opportunities and planning for collaboration with local stakeholders, from community groups to businesses and schools. Look out for the Young Reporter – Beach Edition programme and have a stab at our citizen science litter count -your data inputs from across Scotland are valuable all year round.  We don’t know what the next bathing season will bring, but no matter what we look forward to working with beach lovers, be it locals or visitors, to learn, explore and celebrate our beaches and make sure that the sand and sea are kept clean for everyone to enjoy.

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