The northern tip of the Loch of Strathbeg reserve is one of its least-visited corners – yet in the few months I have been here, it’s quickly grown to be one of my favourites. From the village of St Combs, five miles of sand beach and towering dunes sweep south past the estuary to the lighthouse at Rattray Head.

It’s a beautiful beach, but like all beaches it suffers from an ever-growing tideline of plastic, tyres and other human discards. Not only does this rubbish scar its beauty, but it also threatens the wildlife which uses the beach throughout the year, including seabirds, seals and dolphins.

Earlier in the year, we found this freshly dead Great Northern Diver on the beach. With no obvious external injuries, there’s a good chance this bird – like so many seabirds - died from plastic ingestion. Studies suggest that currently about 90% of seabirds have eaten plastic and are likely to retain it in their gut, compared with just 5% in 1960.

And so, on Saturday 7th October, a team of RSPB volunteers joined forces with a group of energetic local volunteers from St Combs and further afield to clean the beach and try to help restore it to its natural state. In just a few hours, we collected a huge quantity of rubbish from the tideline and amongst the marram grass at the edge of the dunes.

As we expected, hundreds of metres of discarded rope and fishing net made up a large proportion of the waste…

…some of which was harder to extract from the beach than others. Warden Lorna Dow eventually emerged victorious in her battle with this rope octopus…

…while we collected car parts from a truck which was driven into the sea and abandoned earlier in the year (luckily we didn’t have to drag that one out!)

After three hours of tiring but rewarding work, our total haul comprised:

  • 6 bags of recyclable plastic
  • 26 bags of rubbish
  • 4 quad bike trailer loads of rope and net
  • 15 tyres
  • 5 buoys
  • 1 32l gas bottle
  • 1 pair fisherman’s trousers


A big thanks to all our enthusiastic volunteers on the day, to Doug Gooday from Aberdeenshire Ranger Service who helped to organise and promote the event, and to the Tufted Duck Hotel for providing car parking and toilet facilities.

If you’ve yet to experience this sometimes forgotten part of the reserve, then it’s well worth making time to visit. And if you do, then please don’t forget to put a bag in your pocket. If everyone who walked the beach collected just one bag of rubbish, then it would help to keep it a more welcoming place for people and for wildlife throughout the year!

James Butcher
North East Scotland Reserves Intern

(All photos: James Butcher)