Setting sail: all aboard the partnership

A blog post by Heather McLaughlin

Heather McLaughlin
Campaigns Coordinator – Litter and LEQ

Posted 27/11/2019

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It’s not often you get the chance to attend events like the International Coastal Clean Up Symposium, hosted by Ocean Conservancy, in Oslo, Norway. It’s even less often that you have capacity and resources to go.


Ocean Conservancy are working to protect the oceans from the world’s greatest global challenges. They work with partners to provide science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the communities and wildlife that depend on it.


I’ve been the lead on Keep Scotland Beautiful’s Clean Up Scotland campaign since 2017 and have worked on expanding the projects under this banner whilst incorporating increased prevention and behaviour change messaging. In 2019 so far, we’ve had 280 ‘marine’ clean ups (those registered next to a canal, river or beach) across Scotland, with our Spring Clean 2019 event seeing a 90% increase in marine clean ups. These events saw 8,892 people attend.

At Keep Scotland Beautiful, we can contribute data collected by our volunteers and supporters during clean ups to build a comprehensive picture of the scale of environmental problems at play.


As individuals working on campaigns, we often don’t realise how valuable and important it can be for us to meet to share experiences (both negative and positive) and form friendships with one another. After all, we’re all working towards the same, shared goals and often need each other’s support to achieve them. I returned from Oslo inspired by the conversations and people I met whilst there.

On the first day we introduced ourselves and our organisations. There were over 20 countries represented in the room and we were one of the largest organisations present.

I hadn’t appreciated how lucky we were that we have such motivated partners, from active community groups to our business and local authority partners, and how much support we receive to work toward achieving our goals of a clean, green and sustainable Scotland.

The delegates in the room were keen to hear about our Upstream Battle campaign and how, in Scotland, we’re already focusing our efforts in raising awareness of the pathway of litter from source to sea – something that others are eager to tap into.

Meeting other coordinators of similar campaigns from overseas, where issues and cultures differ, was a great opportunity to understand how others are setting and achieving their own goals in different contexts. From repurposing fishing nets (which make up 70% of the weight of macroplastic in our seas) to deep sea dives to clean our ocean beds, it was incredible to hear about their activities.

Additionally, people shared the problems they face on their coastlines – from tourists ‘stealing’ sand from the shores to finding some of Scotland’s litter on Norwegian beaches. It brought home how important it is that we work together to try and improve our seas.

Sharing information internationally helps us understand the detail and scale of the problems we are tackling. Next year is Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, and through the Clean Up Scotland campaign we can boost our data collection and Clean Up events along Scotland’s beautiful coastline to tackle the litter in our seas. It’s important that all countries are contributing data they have to the Ocean Conservancy’s international database on what they are finding on our coastline so that, together, we can target interventions and legislative change.

The Symposium was a great example of how working together can propel positive ideas into action. Partnership is a key aspect of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, an international action plan outlining a positive vision for the future. We actively support and implement the goals within our work, using effective partnerships to realise their outcomes. Meeting coordinators of similar campaigns from overseas, where issues and cultures differ, was a great opportunity to reflect on the brilliant work already being done, whilst reminding ourselves how collaboration can enable us to tackle global environmental problems in the future.

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