Give it a go: beach cleaning

Our coasts are being invaded and it’s happening at a beach near you. People have started to fight back. Will you join them?

Litter washed up on a beach

Photo: Shutterstock

Impact on wildlife 

Coastal pollution is a real and ongoing threat, and is increasing all around our shores. Plastic is the biggest pollutant. Millions of pieces that we can see. Unknown millions that we can’t see, or can’t reach. 

‘Plastic doesn’t degrade,’ says Harriet Robins from the Marine Conservation Society. ‘It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces which can be ingested by wildlife and enter the food chain, before ending up on our plates.’ And if animals don’t eat the plastic, there’s a danger they’ll become entangled in it.

The worst offenders* 

  • 143 pieces of small plastic 
  • 33 bottles or pieces of glass 
  • 43 cigarette stubs
  • 33 fishing string/cord

* The average number of items per 100m of beach found during the Great British Beach Clean in September 2019.

What you can do about it 

Taking your rubbish home after a day on the beach can make a big difference. But you can have a bigger impact by joining an organised beach clean, such as Beachwatch, the Marine Conservation Society’s national clean-up programme. 

The Prendergast family attended a Beachwatch event at Durley Chine in Poole last summer. Mum Rebecca, whose children persuaded her to take them along, says: ‘If we’ve saved just one bird or fish from eating any of this, we’ve made a difference today.’ 

Getting to the root cause 

When you take part in a beach clean you’ll be asked to tally up everything you find. This provides valuable data that helps put measures in place to stop litter getting onto the beach in the first place. Data provided by the Marine Conservation Society since 1994 helped focus attention on the scourge of plastic bags. There are now half the number of bags on our beaches than there were in 2011.

As well as Beachwatch, organisations like Surfers against Sewage, the National Trust, and Litter Free Coast and Sea run their own beach cleans. Most events take place between April and September. 

The Great British Beach Clean takes place across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands every September. Find an event near you

Beach clean volunteers Lois and Paul, collecting the data that will shape future beach clean campaigns

Photo: RNLI/Rob Westcott

Beach clean volunteers Lois and Paul, collecting the data that will shape future beach clean campaigns

Plan your own 

Once you’ve been bitten by the clean beach bug you might want to organise your own. ‘It’s easy to do through work or with friends on social media,’ says Amanda Onur, who’s organised five Beachwatch events. 

There are a few hoops to jump through when organising your own. Go to the Marine Conservation Society or Surfers Against Sewage websites for essential guidance. You will also need to get permission from the beach owner and don’t forget to check the tides to avoid getting cut off.

Five steps to a cleaner beach

  1. Check online for a beach clean event near you. 
  2. Sign up with your friends and family. 
  3. On the day, take a reusable water bottle and sturdy shoes. You might want to take a camera for a before and after picture. 
  4. Be safe on the beach. You’ll get a safety briefing and gloves. On a lifeguarded beach, come and talk to our friendly lifeguards about safety. Plus take plenty of drinking water, sunscreen and a hat. 
  5. Congratulations on completing your first beach clean. Now you can start planning your next!

You can help save lives at sea with a donation today. From kit to crew training to kids’ education, you’ll be making a real difference to our volunteers – and the people they save.

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