Dedicated hero makes Stevenston beach a million times better

One of our key ambitions at Keep Scotland Beautiful with our Clean Up Scotland campaign is to bring communities together to generate pride in their local area to preserve natural beauty for generations to come. Someone who has embodied that ambition is ‘The Nation’s Favourite Litter Picker’ Ian Cassidy, who has helped transform Stevenston beach in North Ayrshire since he started cleaning there in 2013, and has now picked his one millionth piece of beach litter.

Ian, who was recognised as a Clean Up Hero by Keep Scotland Beautiful in 2015, realised he would need to get everyone involved to tackle the litter problem and, in 2015, established a litter picking group.

For him, getting as many groups involved in the beach clean as possible is “absolutely essential”. Instilling pride in the community takes more than one person and Ian brought schools, businesses, and community groups together to tackle the issue.

“Back in 2017 I jokingly called myself ‘The Nation’s Favourite Litter Picker’,” Ian said. “That persona has evolved and 2018 saw the introduction of ‘The Nation’s Favourite Litter Picker’ awards scheme, which includes a medal, wrist band and certificate.

“That recognition award has really hit the spot with the younger generation, and it is remarkable how motivated that generation becomes, gathering as much litter as possible with the eye firmly on the prize. My favourite response from one primary school child was an excited proclamation stating: ‘Wow! I have never had a medal before!’”

Ian has also had help from North Ayrshire Council who purchased Clean Up equipment from Clean Up Scotland partner Helping Hand.

Picking one million pieces of litter does not happen by itself and Ian admits it is easy to become disheartened at the scale of such a problem.

He said: “My main motivation to keep going is the end result. A pristine beach that is both clean and safe for wildlife and visitors. It is always in the back of my mind that if I walked away from this it would take very little time before the beach reverted back to the horrific starting position in 2015.

“My continuous presence on the beach is a constant reminder of the need for and the importance of this never-ending task, but the moral and practical support from my fellow volunteers does much to keep me going.”

It is clear this problem is not going to just disappear. In 2015, 2,255 sacks of rubbish were lifted from the beach. Ian’s recording runs from mid-March to mid-March and, so far, the team has lifted 661 sacks this year – a figure Ian is pleased with but warns “anything can happen at this time of year” as storms can wash items up any time.

Ian said: “November 2017 was my first one million milestone from all areas litter picked, but the first one million items of litter removed from Stevenston beach alone ­- while it is regrettable in the first instance - it is a source of personal pride that I can say that I made Stevenston beach a million times better. Turning around the fortunes of this beach has engendered the civic pride that I envisaged and continues to open up many opportunities for this now-prosperous beach.”

30 January 2019

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