Be part of the biggest ever Scotland-wide beach litter pick!

Date posted: 17 July 2018

The Marine Conservation Society seeks thousands of volunteers for its 25th annual clean-up

The UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), is looking for thousands of volunteers to clean up Scotland’s beaches as part of its 25th anniversary Great British Beach Clean event (14th-17th September).

Being by the sea makes us feel better, and the Great British Beach Clean isn’t just a good day out for people who love, or live near, the coast – it’s great for wildlife and the beach too!

The Great British Beach Clean, now in its 25th year, not only spruces up hundreds of beaches around the coast, but volunteers also record the litter they find, and it’s this aspect that has really helped MCS change policy and behaviours over the last quarter of a century.

The 5p carrier bag charge, a marine litter strategy, a ban on microbeads in wash-off products, a commitment to a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, consultations on banning plastic cotton bud sticks, reduction in the use of plastic straws and the banning of lantern and balloon releases – all have come about in Scotland following compelling evidence from decades of MCS beach cleans.

Last year 1588 volunteers in Scotland took part in the Great British Beach Clean, cleaning and surveying 111 separate beaches in just four days. A staggering 491.4 pieces of litter were found for every 100 metres cleaned in Scotland, which represented a 7% rise on the amount of beach litter recorded during the 2016 event.

Beach cleans take place from Cumbrae to Cramond, Montrose to Mull, Oban to Orkney and all places in between. Across the entire UK last year 339 events were held for the Great British Beach Clean, which also incorporates the Great Channel Islands Beach Clean and the Great Northern Irish Beach Clean.

Beach litter has steadily risen over the 24 years since MCS began recording it. However, there was some good news last year because the number of single-use plastic bags found on UK beaches almost halved between 2015 and 2016. MCS says this was almost certainly due to the charges at the checkout in place in all four

countries and shows the impact that policy and behaviour change can have on beach litter.

In 2017, ‘on the go’ items made up 17% of all litter found on Scotland’s beaches and 64% of all litter that comes from the public. MCS categorises cardboard cups, plastic cutlery, foil wrappers, straws, sandwich packets, lolly sticks, plastic bottles, drinks cans, glass bottles, plastic cups, lids and stirrers as ‘on the go’. The charity says the figures highlight the nation’s lazy habits when it comes to littering. The amount of litter suggests we’re treating the outdoors as a big dustbin, happy to dump at will rather than keep hold of our litter until we find a bin.

Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland Conservation Officer, says taking part in the Great British Beach Clean really can make a difference: “It’s thanks to the data our amazing volunteers have collected that we were able to give the Scottish Government the evidence it needed to take action on plastic bags, the evidence it needed to implement a Marine Litter Strategy, the evidence to commit to implementing a deposit return system for bottles and cans and to consult on banning plastic cotton bud sticks!

“The list is long and powerful but the fight to stop the plastic tide has only just started and we need everyone to take part now more than ever. We need the evidence from these surveys to highlight not just to government but to industry and ourselves what action we all need to take next for the sake of Scotland’s seas.”

Cleaning and surveying a beach only takes a couple of hours at most. Each beach has a coordinator, who explains how to fill in a simple data form, and then it’s just a case of grabbing a litter picker and a bin bag and filling it up with rubbish!

“Beach litter is a serious environmental problem,” says Catherine Gemmell. “But the solution is in our hands. We want the 25th Great British Beach Clean weekend to be the biggest ever both here in Scotland and across the UK. The BBC’s Blue Planet II has given the UK public a real understanding of the pollution crisis facing our oceans and people really want to make a difference. The more volunteers we have, the better it’ll be for our seas. We hope to see you on the beach!”

Join The Great British Beach Clean and be part of the biggest and most influential fight against marine litter in the UK.

Sign up to a clean near you at or call 01989 566017.


Editors’ notes:

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is the UK charity dedicated to protecting our seas, shores and wildlife. MCS campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable fisheries, and protection of marine life. Through education, community involvement and collaboration, MCS raises awareness of the many threats that face our seas and promotes individual, industry and government action to protect the marine environment. MCS provides information and guidance on many aspects of marine conservation and produces the annual Good Beach Guide and the Good Fish Guide as well as involving thousands of volunteers in projects and surveys such as MCS Beachwatch. Since April 2000, MCS has been running a dedicated Scotland Conservation Programme from our office in Edinburgh.

MCS Beachwatch is MCS’ coastal environmental initiative, supporting local individuals, groups and communities in caring for their local shoreline. MCS Great British Beach Clean is our annual flagship event, now in its 25th year, and it occurs on the third weekend of every September. It represents the UK’s input to the global International Coastal Cleanup (representing 152 countries and locations), which occurs over the same weekend in September, providing a world-wide snapshot of marine litter.

Players of People’s Postcode Lottery support the Marine Conservation Society beach litter programme.

• People’s Postcode Lottery is a charity lottery. Players play with their postcodes to win cash prizes, while raising money for charities and good causes across Great Britain and globally.

• A minimum of 30% goes directly to charities and players have raised £205.1 Million for good causes across the country.

Actions you can take

  1. Browse Scotland's Marine Atlas
  2. Find out more about Scottish Wildlife

Did you know?…

MCS established its Scotland office and programme in 2000 in Edinburgh

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’

Scotland has 10% of Europe’s coastline