I have taken part in two fantastic beach clean-ups this year and just wanted to share some of my thoughts on what I learnt from them. We are grateful to SC Johnson whose generous sponsorship made these fantastic events possible.

I am also grateful to Matt from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) who ran both events for us. The first was at South Gare on 18 January and the second was at North Gare on 23 February. In both cases, over 70 people turned up.

Photo credit: Mark Stokeld

I had expected to have been handed a rubbish sack and a pair of litter pickers and to have been dispatched to pick up as much litter as I could in the allotted time. However, Matt explained that the MCS’s focus was on collecting data about the types and numbers of items found on the beaches.  All this data is entered into a national database and helps to identify where this litter is coming from. Once you know that you can then target the sources and try and do something about it.

Matt set up a 100m long survey area on each of the beaches and we were all tasked with picking up the litter and handing it to Matt to record. So, what did we learn from all of this:

  • We learnt about nurdles. The tiny little pieces of plastic that are the raw material for all plastic products. These escape from various manufacturing plants and end up in the sea. Perfect sizes to be eaten by a variety of marine life.
  • We discovered that, in heavy rain conditions, our sewerage system overflows and discharges into the sea. This explains the cotton buds, tampon applicators, wet wipes and sanitary towels that were found. The fact that this costs everyone who pays water rates to remove from the system (in the best-case scenario) or all ends up in the sea (worst case scenario) should be better know by the users of toilets. Matt was keen to emphasise the 3 Ps rule… “only pee, paper and poo should go down the loo!” We are planning to put up some posters at Saltholme to make this exact point.
  • It is the tiny bits that do the damage. It may look impressive dragging tyres and shopping trollies off a beach, but these are unlikely to be eaten by anything for quite some time. The smaller bits are the ones to worry about. These are the bits that work their way through the food chain and, in many cases, can block up the guts of animals causing malnutrition and death. The jellyfish-eating turtles who die because they have eaten large numbers of floating plastic bags was a case in point.
  • Matt also shared pictures of various marine creatures that had become entangled in plastic waste. These included a Grey Seal with a dog Frisbee cutting into its neck and various birds caught up in discarded plastic fishing twine.
  • The mystery of why people think it is a good idea to take a biodegradable substance (dog poo) and put it into a non-biodegradable dog-poo bag before dropping it on to a beach remains unsolved. At South Gare there had been a collective decision to pile them all up at the bottom of the steps. Although far from ideal, it is slightly better than other sites where everyone throws their bags into a Hawthorn bush!

Photo Credit: Mark Stokeld

We have two more events in the diary. Sunday 10 May at Salterns and Friday 12 June at Hartlepool Headland. Watch out for further details via Facebook and Twitter. #SeaShoreGuardians

RSPB and SC Johnson are working together to take action on the issue of marine plastics through a programme reaching over 300,000 people in 2019 and 2020. This work is possible due to their generous support.


Chris Francis

Senior Site Manager

RSPB Saltholme