View the original article here. This post was was originally published on this site

Big beach clean


UK big beach clean


  • From Cornwall to the Isle of Skye, ‘citizen activists’ helping to clean the plastic rubbish from our shores

Any trip to the seaside will highlight one of the biggest issues affecting the health of our shores and marine environments: plastic pollution. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, by weight. The Blue Planet effect – publicised through David Attenborough’s television series – alongside campaigning by charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has brought the crisis to the forefront of our minds. And it is now increasingly common to see “citizen activists” cleaning up our foreshores.

Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage


  • Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, returns from a morning’s surf in St Agnes, Cornwall

SAS began life in 1990 as a single-issue campaign group founded by surfers from the villages of St Agnes and Porthtowan on the north coast of Cornwall who were troubled by the amount of untreated sewage being pumped into the sea. Lesley Kazan-Pinfield, a founding member of SAS , recalls how “concerned people called a meeting in St Agnes church hall and the place was packed out. People knew what the problem was locally, even if it was not recognised nationally. We decided to get together and see what could be done.”

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of SAS, describes surfers as the “canaries in the coal mines” when it comes to the health of our coastlines and marine environments.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of SAS


  • ‘SAS was formed because surfers were sick of getting sick when they went into the sea’

Tagholm says that “sewage pollution was chronic back in the 1980s and 90s”, and SAS was formed “because surfers were sick of getting sick when they went into the sea”.

He adds: “SAS was a very visible face of some of the campaigns in the 90s. Legislation was passed that forced water companies to invest more in treating raw sewage and stop the continuous discharge of effluents around the coastline. We’ve got much cleaner waters as a result of it”.

In the intervening 29 years, SAS has grown into one of the country’s leading marine conservation and campaigning charities. Tagholm describes the community as “the biggest network of marine conservation volunteers in the UK”. The organisation now has global reach and its influence stretches from the oceanfront to the corridors of power at Westminster. In 2014, as a result of a 55,000-strong petition organised by SAS, the first ever all-party parliamentary group to focus on marine conservation was formed in parliament. In 2018, SAS was one of seven charities to be nominated to receive donations in lieu of wedding presents for the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.


For the first years we were dismissed as a bunch of surfers and layabouts. Now we are seriously punching above our weight, we are at the table and we are listened to

Kazan-Pinfield says of the charity’s growing influence: “For the first years we were dismissed as a bunch of surfers and layabouts, but we took it all on because it was important for the planet, as well as our own – and our families’ – health. Now we are seriously punching above our weight, we are at the table and we are listened to.”

Tagholm says: “When our members surf, when they swim or walk on the beaches they see plastic pollution,” and over the past decade SAS has become synonymous with the fightback. Through its Plastic Free Coastlines project, SAS campaigns for increased awareness of the scale and quantity of plastic in our oceans and for a significant reduction to the 8 million tons that are estimated to enter our seas each year. The 300,000 regular supporters who form the backbone of SAS refer to their movement as “Generation Sea”.

Big beach clean


Big beach clean


Big beach clean


Big beach clean


  • Clockwise from top left: Tagholm: ‘When our members surf, swim or walk on the beaches, they see plastic pollution’; rubbish on Perranporth beach, Cornwall; a small fraction of the waste collected on Skye in a three-hour clean; a resident drags a tonne bag of plastic collected along the Skye coast

Generation Sea aims to be a “people’s voice for the ocean”, demanding government and business take responsibility for the life cycle of the products that routinely wash up on our shores.

“In the 1990s, when we were campaigning on sewage, the solution wasn’t to tell people to use their toilets less or to mop up the sewage – that would be ridiculous. The solution was that industry had to be accountable for the mess it was pumping into the ocean and had to put the right treatment processes in to protect the environment,” says Tagholm.

SAS organises its network of 180 regional representatives from Cornwall to Orkney. It provides volunteers with the tools to set up beach cleans and “audit” the flotsam found, to collect evidence on business’s worst polluters. In 2018, over the course of more than 1,200 organised beach cleans, volunteers removed in excess of 100 tons of plastic from UK shores.

Big beach clean


  • Ardtreck Point on the Isle of Skye had not been cleaned for decades due to it’s relative inaccessibility

This year, the Big Spring Beach Clean will have a focus on the quantity of single-use plastics found – bottles, containers etc – in order to strengthen the case for a deposit return system that would reduce their prevalence.

But, according to SAS campaigns director Ben Hewitt: “Islands bear the brunt of our global plastic crisis, accumulating drifting debris on their beaches and coastlines. They are not high-density populations and it’s fairly obvious it’s not coming from there; it is washing up due to the currents around their islands.”

Big beach clean


Big beach clean


Big beach clean


  • ‘Islands bear the brunt of our global plastic crisis, accumulating drifting debris on their beaches’. On the Isle of Skye, two SAS representatives crowdfunded a boat that allows them to reach previously inaccessible points on the island

In an attempt to combat the problem on the Isle of Skye, two SAS regional representatives, Gill Houlsby and Tom Coe, have successfully crowdfunded the purchase of a boat that allows them to reach previously inaccessible points of the island. Houlsby, who noticed the problem while working as boat crew out on the water, says: “Skye has an enormous coastline and getting access to coves and beaches to dispose of the rubbish can be a huge challenge.

Donations for the boat came from both SAS and fellow islanders tired of the rising tide of plastic on their 450-mile coastline. “We had amazing support from local folk, local business and people that had a connection to Skye from coming on holiday here. People are connected to the landscape here and have that willingness to protect it,” says Houlsby.

During the first beach clean using the RIB, an entire skip was filled with decades of commercial and consumer waste from a 100-metre stretch of coast around the lighthouse at Ardtreck Point.

“I’ve been to beach cleans around the country and you can get hundreds of volunteers. Here, we only have a small number of volunteers but we can still fill a skip, and do so on a regular basis. There is lots of discussion about where the rubbish comes from and I couldn’t say for sure – we are just so exposed to the wild weather and the Atlantic Ocean up here,” says Houlsby.

Big Beach clean


In order to coordinate the work being done by island members such as Houlsby and Coe, SAS has this year launched the Cold Water Island project. This connects the nine island communities – from Orkney to the Channel Islands – to assess how they can effectively reduce and combat the pollution that mounts on their shores. Zdenka Mlynarikova, Cold Water Island community leader on Shetland, is optimistic about the islanders’ power to inspire change. “I believe every single piece of plastic picked up is a step forward,” she says. “The community in Shetland is so strong, I’ve witnessed many times when someone is struggling, people just come together and help, and I believe we could do the same for our seas.”

Big beach clean


  • Kirstie Edwards and her daughter painstakingly sieve and wash sand to remove micro plastics from the tideline on Poldhu beach, Cornwall

Today SAS is calling on all of us, wherever we live, to help our oceans. Tagholm says: “People can always get involved, whether it is as part of an organised beach clean or whether they pick up a few bits of plastic and get rid of them through their kerbside recycling scheme.”

Big Beach clean


Kirstie Edwards, an SAS Plastic-Free Community Leader in Falmouth, says: “People are just doing it when they are walking the dogs, when they are out and about with their kids and they are going to events like ours … but if they stopped, it would be a huge problem.

“We’ve got so many divisions in the country at the moment but this transcends that … this puts everyone back together under one roof who basically cares about where they live. That’s the bottom line – we all love the place we live and we all want to look after it.”

The Big Spring Beach Clean is from 6-14 April. Details of where you can find your local beach, river, mountain or city clean can be found at sas.org.uk