Stopping litter from source to sea along the River Tay

Last week saw the final event of our Source to Sea Spring Clean on the Tay, where we completed six litter picks, at three locations, in just one week.

Supported by funding from Crown Estate Scotland, we were able to work with three local outdoor providers, all of whom are local Anchor Groups for our Upstream Battle campaign, to provide places for members of the public to take part in a water and land-based litter pick, to remove litter from the river and banks. 

Over the course of events we removed more than 100kg of litter from the River Tay, which would otherwise have made its way downstream and into the sea.  

Starting the journey upstream, in Aberfeldy on Monday, staff and volunteers from our most northerly Anchor Group - Beyond Adventure - canoed from the town centre back to the base, stopping at litter ‘hotspots’ on the way, whilst another litter pick took place on the adjacent riverside footpath. Six bags of litter were collected from this short section, with accumulation apparent around the accessible river beaches. Much of the litter found by the canoeists was plastic, mainly confectionary wrappers and crisp packets, however, the find of the day was a tyre – a relict of a swing, judging by the rope trailing off it. This section of the River Tay provides habitats for an array of species, including beavers and otters, and the litter trapped in the vegetation poses a danger to the wildlife.

Melanie, one of the volunteers, said: “This was a great way to spend a couple of hours in the beautiful Perthshire countryside, whilst making a better environment for the abundant wildlife we have seen in this area. By taking away litter at source before it reached the sea, we are not just protecting the animals in the rivers, but also those in the sea.”  

On Wednesday we were at Willowgate Activity Centre in Perth, an active Anchor Group in the Perth area, having regularly organised kayak litter-picks since 2019. Despite the awful weather, there was a great turn-out for the activities, with nine participants on the water and five on land and we were delighted to see lots of families and young people involved.

Emily Hamilton-Peach, Operation Manager at Willowgate Activity Centre, explained how raising awareness amongst this audience is key in addressing the issue of source to sea litter. “It’s really important for children and local people to know what happens to litter around Perth," she said. "Anything dropped here, will make it’s way into the River Tay and eventually into the Sea. That’s why the Upstream Battle campaign is so important.”  

Again, single-use packaging was the highest contributor, with plastic drinks bottles being the most common littered item found on both water and land. Although the most interesting items were the two (non-matching!) shoes.  

By Friday, nearly 65 miles (104km) from where we started at the source, we made it to the the sea at Broughty Ferry on the Firth of Tay. Ancrum Outdoor Centre are the newest Anchor Group to join Upstream Battle on the Tay and will be working with schools and local youth organisations to raise awareness of the environmental impact of litter in the Dundee area.

The litter pick took place around the harbour and esplanade, near to popular attractions such as the castle. During high tides, litter which has made its way down the River Tay, or blown from the esplanade walkway, collects in these areas. With high sea walls and strong tidal flow, it makes it difficult to clean up, resulting in most of it then being washed out to sea.

Utilising two safety boats, participants armed with extra-long pickers, retrieved the litter from within the harbour and a nearby beach. The change in materials collected during the picks was evident at Broughty Ferry, with a significant increase in sanitary items and wet wipes while industrial waste (such as packaging wrap and polystyrene) was also common. A total of ten bags were filled, the most of any of the locations, despite the vastness of the area in comparison to those upstream – a tangible reminder of the importance of reducing source to sea litter.

If you're interested in supporting the campaign, why not help us collect data on litter that could be traveling from source to sea.

12 April 2023

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