Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the plastic pollution issues facing our RSPB reserve of Grassholm, home to 36,000 pairs of breeding gannets - see here for a report from our 2017 mission. We were delighted when the 1st Johnston Scout Group approached us to say they wanted to cover the issue for their entry to the Young Reporters For The Environment competition; an international competition being hosted by Keep Wales Tidy as part of the Litter Less Campaign

Without further ado I will leave you in the capable hands of the 1st Johnston Scout Group who we are very pleased to welcome as our Guest Bloggers


RSPB guest Blog by 1st Johnston Scout Group: The Nesting Nightmare

When we heard about the struggle the gannets on Grassholm are having with marine litter, we decided to learn more about this for our entry into the Young Reporters for the Environment competition.We didn’t know much about the gannets before we started this project, but feel strongly that people should know what is happening because it reflects the battle with marine litter right across the world.

Imagine travelling the distance that the gannets do – often thousands of miles – to have their baby chick, only for that chick to be tangled up in plastic and possibly die because of all the litter in the sea.

We decided to put together an exhibition about this, which was in Milford Haven library for three days. Over that time, after school, some of us went along and spoke to library visitors, encouraging them to look at our exhibition and complete our survey. This was a really good way of raising awareness of what is happening. Nearly half the people completing our survey didn’t know about the problem, but they do now.


We also interviewed local fishermen, people who had been out on cargo ships, and even local fishmongers to understand what they thought about it all. 149 people completed our survey which asked lots of questions about marine litter, such as why they thought so much ended up in the sea, and what could be done about it. We looked at the answers and put them all into an infographic: 

Most of the people were really concerned about what is happening, and feel that education will make the biggest difference in changing things. We learnt about where the marine litter around Grassholm comes from. Some of it is from local fishing activities but a lot of it arrives from places as far away as North and South America, Canada, and Africa. We wonder if people from these places know that their rubbish is turning up on our coastline and if they would care if they could see how the gannets are struggling to survive when tangled in plastic.

Why should we care?

The Northern Gannets are protected in the UK. Surveys show numbers increasing. Some people think the problem around Grassholm is tiny compared to what’s happening in the world’s oceans and things like plastic getting into the human food chain. Perhaps we shouldn’t be worrying too much about the gannets?  

We think that the dead and injured gannets on Grassholm flags up exactly what’s happening all over the world – showing us that what we do can damage wildlife and sea creatures not just in our local environment, but in other parts of the world.  Maybe if we don’t see this happening, then we don’t care?

When cheap, strong plastic was invented, who thought about it taking thousands of years or more to degrade, that it would be killing our wildlife?

Be part of the solution
Part of our entry for the YRE competition was to look at possible solutions to the problem.   We can already see that programmes like Blue Planet are helping us think more about how plastic is filling our oceans, and people are starting to complain and take action about this. The RSPB visit Grassholm every year to help free trapped birds and there are other things that could be done too, such as:

  • Putting litter containers on fishing boats, trawlers, cargo ships, so that anything they have on board or pick up can go back to shore to be recycled properly.
  • Doing a clean-up to get rid of the litter floating on the surface before the gannets start arriving on the island.
  • Teaching children from a young age about different materials, how to use less, reuse and recycle, and to campaign for ‘look after our planet’ to be part of every school’s work.
  • Do local beach cleans.

 How will we know if we’re making a difference?

We will see less plastic in the gannet’s nests because there will be less floating in the sea. Fewer birds will be trapped and dying on the island too.

The situation for the gannets will only get worse unless we change our ways – thinking carefully about whether we need to buy single-use plastics or products wrapped up in plastic packaging. We need to dispose of all plastics properly too.

 If attitudes and actions don’t change, it will be ‘too little too late’ – not just for the gannets of Grassholm, but for the whole planet.

 1st Johnston Scout Group (final YRE report written is available to download)