Marine litter

Status: No overall trend discernible with few or no concerns*   

(Baxter et al, 2011)

*Following the Solway being ranked as one of the worst areas for marine litter by the aerial photographs from the Scottish Coastal Rubbish Aerial Photography (SCRAPbook) Project, it is suggested the status is downgraded to No overall trend discernible with many concerns  

Status: Stable situation since 2012

(United Kingdom Marine Monitoring & Assessment Strategy, n.d)


Marine litter is defined as:

“any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Marine litter consists of items that have been made or used by people and deliberately discarded into the sea or rivers or on beaches; brought indirectly to the sea with rivers, sewage, storm water or winds; accidentally lost, including material lost at sea in bad weather” (United Nations Environment Programme, n.d.)


Marine litter is a global issue which has received increasing awareness and action in recent years. It effects all marine areas in the world and highlights many issues with the way waste is managed, as well as cultural attitudes towards litter disposal and behaviour. Marine litter can be of staggeringly different sizes, from microplastics (less than 5mm) to huge items, and can include dangerous items such as glass, maritime distress flare, marine pyrotechnic, or pieces of military ordnance. Litter can also come from many sources and enter the marine environment through many means, potentially originating far from marine and coastal environments and/or travelling long distances once entering the marine environment.

Marine litter has significant environmental, social, and economic impacts which can accumulate and worsen over time. For example, in terms of plastics entering marine food webs, this issue has progressed over many years with microplastics now being consumed by humans through fish (The Independent, 2017).

Shocking statistics illustrate the significant threat posed by marine litter. Turtles are recorded infrequently in the Solway, but one stranded leatherback turtle found on the Galloway coast was given an autopsy, and it was discovered that its stomach contained;

‘1 white plastic bag,

1 black plastic bin liner,

3 transparent plastic bags,

1 green plastic bag, and

1 transparent plastic bag for chicken meat packaged by a US company.’
(Marine Conservation Society, 2008)

There is no clear solution to resolve the issue of marine litter. There needs to be a variety of new policies across a range of areas to try to combat marine litter and a change in public and industry attitudes to litter.  

The UK is committed to the eventual eradication of single use plastics, endorsing the Ocean Plastics Charter in 2018, an agreement outlining steps towards this goal.

Scotland’s Marine Assessment (2020) looked at marine litter on the seafloor, the monitoring of which is required under international agreement as well as domestic legislation. The data showed an apparent reduction in seafloor litter (sea-floor litter densities, items km-2) in the Irish Sea (Clyde and Solway) region between 2016 and 2018, inclusive. However, this data may be more representative of the Clyde, as shown in the relevant section of the assessment, there was limited, and in some years no observed presence or absence of litter in sea-floor trawls for the years 2012 to 2018 in the Solway (Moffat et al, 2020). The data which the assessment is based on includes; ‘counts of the number of pieces of marine litter, collected during trawls for sea-floor living fish…available from scientific expeditions carried out by the Scottish Government’s Marine Research Vessel (MRV) Scotia between 2012 and 2018 inclusive. These data are supplemented with similar data from the research vessels of other nations operating within a similar area’ (Moffat et al, 2020).


Please remember if you come across something on the coast you suspect may be a maritime distress flare, marine pyrotechnic, or a piece of military ordnance, do not touch it, move away from it, and dial ‘999’ or ‘112’ straight away and ask for the Coastguard.


Image; Mullock Bay. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine litter

Sources and types of marine litter and who is responsible

Finding the source of marine litter can be challenging as it can travel over long distances, travel over a long period of time without being detected, cross borders, and can accumulate over time before being deposited on coastlines, or being discovered in the marine space adjacent to land.

As it is where humans live, produce, use and dispose of waste, it is unsurprising that the vast majority of marine litter (widely accepter as around 80%) originates from land-based sources. This litter is very variable and can range from public careless litter such as plastic bottles and wrappers to sewage related litter such as nappies and wet wipes, and more.

Marine litter which originates in the marine area is either deliberately or accidentally disposed of items directly into the marine environment. This accounts for the remaining ~20% of marine litter. A common example of marine litter which has originated in the marine area is fishing waste such as rope or creels lost during the fishing process, or litter from marine recreation.

Identifying the origin of marine litter can be challenging given the variety of different sources. One piece of litter, for example a crisp packet on the coast, could come from land based littering or sea-based littering from vessels. This becomes even more challenging when the litter is broken down, at times beyond recognition of what the item is.

In UK waters around 70% of marine litter is plastic (Thompson, 2017), with the first recorded plastic bag found in the marine environment recorded in 1965 (BBC News, 2019). Other marine litter can be rubber, metal, wood, or glass, among others. Plastic has revolutionised how people live their lives today with uses and applications of plastic soaring throughout the past century. However, while it has many benefits, plastic takes hundreds of years to break down in the marine environment, and more is being added to the stock of plastic in oceans every day.

Plastic in the marine environment gradually breaks down into smaller fragmented pieces of plastic through mechanical action and photo-degradation. Plastics broken down into pieces smaller than 5mm are considered ‘microplastics’. Microplastics are also manufactured, being used in hygiene products such as exfoliators and are often called ‘microbeads‘. Microplastics are discussed in more detail below. The UK Government banned the production and sale of microplastics in cosmetic products in 2018 

When marine litter accumulates in one location it is known as a ‘litter sink’, these more likely to occur in shallow coastal areas, especially in more sheltered areas such as bays.

This is reflected in the Scottish Solway Firth where, due to the prevailing south-westerly winds and tidal regimes, litter congregation areas or ‘sinks’ are found in sheltered areas and bays. The Scottish side of the firth also has cliff and rocky shoreline in the west, where litter can get caught, tangled and accumulate. This cliff coastal character also makes awareness of litter sinks, collection and removal of litter more challenging. The English side of the Solway has a flatter estuarine landscape without the large cliffs and rocky bays seen on the Scottish coast, and therefore has less of a litter accumulation issue than the Scottish side of the Solway. The Cumbrian side of the Solway has cliffs out to the west at St Bees Head, but otherwise remains relatively flat, which helps reduces the potential for litter sinks.

Litter sinks can also occur in other habitats, but these tend to be in deep water so are not relevant to the Solway.


Who is responsible?

A difficult question to answer when discussing marine litter is ‘who is responsible for it?’ Is it the responsibility of the industry producing it, the consumer purchasing it, the company/individual/group throwing it away, the government regulating businesses? All of these groups and individuals have duties and responsibilities when it comes to marine litter and litter reduction. Personal, business, and corporate responsibility are all key to reducing marine litter.

In terms of the legal responsibility to clean up coastal litter this can be found in s.89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which details who under the ‘duty’ to keep land clear of litter. This was effectively summarised in 2016 by the Firth of Clyde Forum;

“The Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes ‘Duty’ bodies responsible for keeping beaches clear of litter and refuse. It also gives both local authorities and members of the public rights to take legal action to get areas cleaned up. ‘Duty’ bodies are organisations with a legal responsibility for keeping specified public places clear of litter and refuse. These bodies include local authorities and statutory undertakers such as landowners, and road and rail operators. The ‘Duty’ bodies are responsible for making sure that beaches under their control are kept free from litter and refuse, as far as is practicably possible and within reason.” (Firth of Clyde Forum, 2016).

There is also the s.89 accompanying Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse (Scotland) 2018, and Litter and refuse: code of practice statutory guidance in England. If a beach is designated as a ‘litter control area’ by a local authority then a duty is placed on the occupier to keep the land clear of litter (The Litter Control Areas Order 1991).


Image; Dragging litter from a ‘hard to reach’ Dumfries and Galloway coastal litter sink. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine litter

Environmental, social, and economic impacts of marine litter

Marine litter can have significant direct and indirect negative impacts. Litter includes different materials (plastic, wood, rubber, etc) and breaks down in different ways. Given the variety and size of what marine litter can constitute there are many ways in which is can negatively impact species, the environment and society. The functioning and resilience of ecosystems may also be reduced as a result of marine litter, negatively impacting the marine ecosystem services humans gain benefit from. Marine litter adds to the cumulative impacts on the marine environment of pollution, climate change, extractive uses, increasing marine activities, and development of marine spaces. It also appears that the volume of marine litter and its impacts are increasing.

The list below is based on the list of impacts from the ‘Marine Litter Issues, Impacts and Actions’ assessment from Marine Scotland (2011). As knowledge of marine litter impacts grows, along with the amount of marine litter within the marine environment it is likely that more impacts will be discovered and impacts will increase in severity.


Environmental Impacts

  • Species Entanglement
    • Injury
      external injuries can vary from minor to fatal and some cases are found where species have been entangled for long periods of time causing deep worn cuts. Even minor injuries can lead to infections and other issues.
    • Drowning
    • Starvation
    • Suffocation
    • Additional energy exertion
      being entangled in litter can cause the species to exert additional energy to move, this can lead to further issues such as reduced fitness and/or reduced ability to pursue and catch prey which in turn could lead to malnutrition or starvation.
    • Reduced manoeuvrability/ predator avoidance
    • Impaired functions such as reproductive functions
    • Restriction of entangled parts could reduce capacity to grow
  • Species Ingestion of plastic
    (directly ingesting plastic mistaken as food or consuming prey which has ingested plastic)
    can include consumption by marine mammals, fish, vertebrates, invertebrates, birds, etc. The OSPAR Ecological Quality Objectives project has found that in Scotland, 91% of dead northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) surveyed have plastics in their stomach. This is a growing issue, with estimates projecting that by 2050, 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic (UN News, 2017).

    • Toxins (plastic resin pellets can potentially become toxic inside marine species)
    • Blockage when trying to consume the litter, can lead to drowning
    • False Satiation (feeling full due to plastic sitting in the stomach, leading to starvation)
    • Internal injuries
    • Malnutrition
    • Impaired functions such as reproductive functions
  • Ghost fishing
    discarded or lost fishing equipment such as ropes and nets made of synthetic materials can catch fish and marine mammals when adrift as marine litter.
  • Secondary Pollutants
    • Breaking down of plastics to smaller sizes, eventually to the point of Microplastics (which enter food webs and are passed along through the web.
    • Microplastics also ‘concentrate organic pollutants such as PCBs, DDE and nonylphenols’ (Marine Scotland, 2011), entering and passing along food webs when consumed
    • Plastic breakdown releases chemicals which are potentially toxic
  • Invasive Non-native Species
    the transportation of marine litter over long distances provide a pathways in which non-native species can be transported. Gradual changes in conditions such as temperature on the journey helps the marine non-native species adapt and increase the chances of them becoming established and invasive. For more information on the damaging effects of marine invasive non-native species see the Solway Review section on Marine Invasive Non-Native Species.
  • Bethnic Habitat damage
    marine litter can cause extensive damage to the seafloor and ethnic habitats, damaging, breaking or smothering the features found there.
  • Overall reduced quality, resilience and capabilities of the ecosystem and therefore the ecosystem services provided.


Social Impacts

  • Risks to public health
    • Chemicals from litter
    • Litter may cause injuries (needles, glass, splinters)
    • Microplastics in the food we eat
  • Sewage Related Debris
    • Combined sewage overflows
      Two indicator organisms (Escherichia coli/ E.coli and intestinal enterococci) are monitored throughout bathing season in designated bathing waters in the UK with results made publicly available to help the public make informed decisions before bathing. Please see the bathing waters section for more information.

      • Sewage
      • Flushed sanitary, beauty and health products (nappies,
  • Entanglement of people in litter while swimming or walking
  • Navigational hazard to vessels (non-military) & Navigational hazards (military)
    • Blockages caused by litter
    • Damage
    • Collisions
    • Entanglement of vessel propeller
    • Navigational interference
  • Risks to the fishing industry
    • Damage and contamination to fish being caught through marine litter presence
    • Damage to fishing gear & snagging of gear (can cause capsize)
    • Unknowingly bringing aboard toxic substances
    • Removal of litter items mistakenly caught in nets taking up net space intended for catch and also taking time out of fishing time
  • Agriculture (marine litter washed ashore on the coast)
    • Damage to fencing and other property
    • Damage to infrastructure
    • Harm to live stock (injury or ingestion)
    • Implications of litter removal
  • Coastal Industries (marine litter washed ashore on the coast)
    • Blockages (intake pipes)
    • Damage
  • Coastal communities (marine litter washed ashore on the coast)
    • Damage to fencing and other property
    • Damage to infrastructure (damage to bins, access points, jetties, roads, paths, rail lines, etc)
  • Flood Defences (marine litter washed ashore on the coast)
    litter needs removed from defences in order for them to function effectively, this has cost implications
  • Recreational activities
    • Damage to equipment
    • Health and safety risks
    • Aesthetically unpleasant discouraging activities
  • Aesthetically unpleasant
    • Will mean less visitors, and therefore less economic contribution to the surrounding communities businesses
    • Local value of the area may reduce, which may mean less care for the area and surrounding area


Economic Impacts

Marine litter can directly and indirectly cause economic loss or cost, to individuals, businesses, and wider society due to its presence, collection, and removal. All of the impacts listed above can result in some form of financial impact. This can be through the need to take action to clean up and remove the litter, counteract its effects, repair resulting damage, and the loss of time and earnings to deal with it. Indirect costs are harder to identify but can also be substantial. There are also costs to the ecosystem services (benefits humans can derive from the healthy functioning of the marine environment (such as food, recreational activities, a sense of place, waste processing etc). Marine litter can interfere and reduce the functioning of the environment, and in turn reduce the socio-economic benefits. An approximate, underestimated, yearly, cost to Scotland of marine litter is £16.8 million (Marine Scotland, 2011). 


Image; Cairndoon Great British Beach Clean 2019, Gathered litter. © G. Reid/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine litter

Microplastics in the marine environment  

There are over 51 trillion microplastics particles in the sea (UN News, 2017). They can be found in the water column as well as floating on the water surfaceaccumulating in sediments and in coastal environments. Microplastics (smaller than 5mm in size) are either a result of larger pieces of plastic breaking down to smaller and smaller sizes until they become microplastics, or were already manufactured microplastics prior to entering the marine environment. Microplastics such as ‘microbeads’ used in cosmetics products, or Nurdles (small plastic pellets used in manufacturing larger plastic products) are common examples of manufactured microplastics.

Microplastics are consumed throughout marine food webs. They are even consumed by zooplankton, the small often microscopic organisms that, along with phytoplankton, are the basis of the marine food chain. Zooplankton are prey for a number of larger marine species such as fish, copepods, and jellyfish, which in turn are preyed on by other marine species. Microplastics can be passed along as a legacy from species preyed upon.

Chemicals from microbeads can leach out and be ingested by marine species. Microplastics can also absorb chemical pollutants, such as Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylenes (DDEs). In fact, one study found that PCBs and DDE accumulated in microplastic pellets in concentrations of over one million times that of the seawater surrounding them (Fidra, n.d.).

New laboratory research at Macquarie University suggests that the issue of microplastics goes as far as to harm bacteria; ‘exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria’ (Science News, 2019).

It is recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to adopt a precautionary approach to microplastics use and an eventual ban on their production and use. Both Scotland and England have banned the manufacturing and sale of rinse-off personal care products containing microbeads (The Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (Scotland) Regulations 2018 and The Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (England) Regulations 2017) to help reduce litter before it enters the marine environment.

In March 2021 a paper was published looking at sea surface plastics in Scottish waters which collected sea surface microplastics in Scottish waters over 6 years (Russel & Webster, 2021). The Solway was found to be one of the 3 areas in Scotland with the highest concentrations of sea surface microplastics, with a concentration range between 607– 91,128 microplastics km−2 sea surface. This paper also found that microplastics in Scotland’s seas are predominantly from the breakdown of larger plastic items, rather that manufactured microplastics. According to the paper ‘polymer composition of these fragments suggests that much of it may be due to the breakdown of consumer products such as bags, bottles and food containers’ (Russel & Webster, 2021). Although not looking at the Solway as a whole, focussed on the Solway Scottish Marine Region, results could be indicative of similar issues on the English side of the Firth.

Research about microplastics in the marine environment, how to reduce them, and their impacts is increasing along with awareness and education about this type of plastic pollution. However, as with other marine litter, microplastics are an issue where changes in disposal, use, manufacturing, and the culture around plastic use are all necessary in order to reduce their abundance in the marine environment.

In the Solway there is some data provided through the Great Nurdle Hunt on nurdle collections which have been conducted in the past, and the number of nurdles found. The Nurdle Map shows the nurdle hunts on both sides of the Solway, and globally. There are only two hunts recorded on the English side of the Firth, both without finding nurdles (one at Allonby and one at St Bees Head). On the Scottish side of the Firth this map has 16 recorded hunts, some finding no nurdles and others finding 1,000’s. This data will only show a fraction of the true issue of beach nurdles, and microplastics in general, around the Solway Firth.

Scotland’s Marine Assessment (2020) provided an assessment of microplastics in the sea surface of Scottish waters. Data is based on winter sampling seasons from 2013/14 – 2019/20 on CSEMP (Clean Seas Environmental Monitoring Programme) winter sampling cruises. Over this time period the Solway was sampled 21 times, but was not sampled every year. A figure is provided in the relevant section of the Marine Assessment showing ‘Sea surface microplastics (items km-2 sea surface) for individual sample sites for the years 2013/14 – 2019/20′, and illustrates that the Solway Marine Region had several low value results (1-5,000 microplastic items per km-2 sea surface). However, a sample taken off ~Rockcliffe had a significant volume of microplastics (70,000 – 95,000 items km-2) with a similarly located sample also finding very high volumes of microplastics in the sample (45,000 – 70,000 items km-2) (Moffat et al, 2020). The Solway has some of the highest concentrations of microplastics in Scotland from the data in this assessment (Moffat et al, 2020).


Image; Nurdles in a container. © J. Logan.

Marine litter

Action on marine litter

There are five aspects to consider when discussing marine litter, and how to tackle different types of litter (list adapted from Table 1, Veiga, et al, 2016);

Source Sector – who is the marine litter originating from, for example; the public, fisheries, aquaculture, shipping

Release – the way something has become litter, for example; cotton buds flushed down the toilet, rope from a vessel wearing away against a rock and parts breaking away

Origin – the originating area which can be identified for example; Local towns, local harbours, regional, distant

Pathway – how the litter is transported into the marine environment, the overall physical/ technical mechanism of how the plastic has entered the marine environment, for example; directly, sewage systems, washed down rivers, blown into the marine environment by winds.

Transport Mechanism – this is what the plastics travel within the marine environment, for example in the tides, wind, currents.


Efforts in the UK are across different agencies as there is no one single agency with overall responsibility in terms of tackling the issue of marine litter. Instead, there is advice and guidance on the reduction of marine litter offered through policies (both national and regional).

Litter removal around the UK is tackled by a wide ranging network of individuals, land-owners and managers, charities, non-governmental organisations, statutory bodies (local, regional, national), corporate bodies, community groups, voluntary organisations, and others. As already discussed, marine litter derives from a variety of origins, sourcing sectors, and pathways to entering the marine environment and there are a wide variety of ways marine litter is being dealt with.

Public awareness is an important aspect to tackle when trying to minimise the litter which reaches the marine environment. As consumers, the public has a responsibility to dispose of litter in the best way to reduce their individual contribution to the litter issue. In order to help with behaviour change education is very important. This includes promoting practices such as recycling, using sustainable alternatives to plastic and single use products, and appropriate disposal practices. Education and awareness campaigns are also very important to help reduce Sewage Related Debris (SRD) which ends up in the marine and coastal environment when combined sewers overflow during heavy rain or flooding events. Despite the overflows being from Scottish Water (Scotland) or United Utilities (North West England) combined sewage overflows, the debris has been flushed or washed down systems by the public and therefore education and awareness can help reduce this form of litter.

As illustrated by the list of beach cleaning groups and activities listed below, there is a huge drive of individuals, groups, organisations and charities to clean up beaches where marine litter is being washed up. These activities are often focussed on easily accessible coastal locations. However, as will be discussed in the SCRAPbook section, below, there are a number of ‘hard to reach‘ litter sinks in Dumfries and Galloway where the vast amounts of litter are often out of sight of the public and so overlooked.

There is a general perceived deterioration in marine litter, especially amongst communities directly affected by it, with growing concern over increasing microplastics.

There is some useful information about overall trends for coastal marine litter collected through the annual Great British Beach Clean event which is organised by the Marine Conservation Society, an event which saw beach cleans occur on 146 Scottish beaches, and 243 English beaches in 2019. The report for 2019 is available here, and shows that in 2019 there was a Scotland, England, and overall UK wide reduction in litter when compared to the event data from 2018.

National initiatives have been created to form strategic pathways to reducing litter from reaching marine and coastal environments, such as the Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland, and the Litter Strategy for England. On a regional and international scale there is also commitment to reducing marine litter from the ocean. This is important as marine litter can travel large distances and is a global issue to tackle. On a regional scale there is OSPAR’s Regional Action Plan for the Prevention and Management of Marine Litter in the North-East Atlantic. On an international scale the UK is part of the UN Clean Seas Campaign and joined the Global Partnership on Marine Litter and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

Marine Litter is another descriptor for achieving ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GEnvS), namely ‘Marine litter does not cause harm’. Achieving GEnvS is required as per the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) to provide more effective marine environment protection. This involves a circular process to create the UK’s Marine Strategy, which began with the UK Initial Assessment for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in 2012, followed by the Marine Strategy Part Two: UK Marine Monitoring Programmes in 2014, and the Marine Strategy Part Three: UK programme of measures in 2015 and followed by implementation. In terms of reaching GEnvS there are 11 ‘descriptors’ to help each member state interpret GEnvS and illustrate what a marine environment which has GEnvS looks like (Council Decision 2017/848 lays out the criteria and methodological standards on GEnvS of marine waters and specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment). This three stage process is repeated and updated with an updated Marine Strategy Part 1 Assessment published in 2019. Although there is significant public and policy focus on marine litter reduction and clean up the UK has not achieved GEnvS for marine litter (United Kingdom Marine Monitoring & Assessment Strategy, n.d). Indicators used to assess the status of marine litter are; floating litter, beach litter and seafloor litter.


 Image; Southerness Beach Clean Litter Collection Point. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine litter

Efforts in the Solway Firth

Marine litter collection and disposal is a huge task, and areas which have been cleaned may accumulate more marine litter quickly, depending on the conditions, so is an ongoing process. Work to help clean up marine litter is often carried out by volunteers, community groups and charities with many organisations attempting to raise awareness and educate the public on marine litter and ways in which to help ease the issue.

Different forms of marine litter require different efforts to clean it up. Nurdles, for example, can be collected by anyone, but it is very tedious and time consuming work to find and collect them. Other forms of marine litter, such as toxic substances or munitions require specialist knowledge and training to clean up, whereas larger items require specialist equipment for removal.

Given the variety of sources of marine litter, and ways in which it reaches the marine environment there are a range of strategies and actions currently available to help tackle the issue. Inland litter picks will also help reduce marine litter as they help reduce the land based litter which is blown or washed into the marine environment.

There are also global movements of promoting awareness and helping to reduce marine pollution using popular words and phrases such as ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, ‘Take three for the Sea’.

A selection of marine focussed initiatives in the Solway Firth include:

Initiative  Coordinating organisation  Scale  Remit  Status and funding source 
Beach cleans, surveys and campaigns 
International Coastal Clean up   Ocean Conservancy International Removal, survey, education Charity -memberships, donations and corporate sponsorship
The Great Global Nurdle Hunt Fidra International Clean Charity

2 minute beach clean, 2 minute street clean, 2 minute litter pick

The 2 Minute Foundation International (originated in the UK) Clean (there are no clean stations on either side of the Solway)/ campaign Charity
Marine Litter Monitoring Project  OSPAR North East Atlantic Survey 15 Governments and the EU
Beachwatch /

Great British Beach Clean

Marine Conservation Society UK Survey, clean Charity -membership, donations
Adopt-a-Beach  UK
Sewage and Sickness  Surfers Against Sewage UK Campaign, pressure group, clean Not-for-profit -membership, donations, merchandise sales, fund-raising events, sponsorship
Beach Cleans -Surfers Against Sewage UK Clean, Campaign, pressure group Not-for-profit -membership, donations, merchandise sales, fund-raising events, sponsorship
Scotland’s Beach Awards Keep Scotland Beautiful Scotland Award, survey Charity
Blue Flag Award  Keep Scotland Beautiful (on behalf of the Foundation for Environmental Education) UK Award, survey Charity
National Spring Clean  Keep Scotland Beautiful Scotland Annual clean Charity -initiative supported by Greggs and EAE
Great British Spring Clean Keep Britain Tidy UK Annual Clean Charity
The Seaside Awards England Award, awareness Charity
North West England Campaign, clean, education, awareness Charity
Scottish Coastal Rubbish Aerial Photography Project (SCRAPbook) Moray Firth Partnership, Marine Conservation Society Scotland Survey Campaign funded by Scottish Government
Cleaning up the Beaches of Dumfries and Galloway and Beyond  Dumfries and Galloway Eco Warriors Dumfries and Galloway Clean, education Voluntary organisation
Solway Firth Partnership  Solway Firth Partnership Scottish Solway Firth Clean, education Charity
Beach cleans – O N US Oceans Need Us  O N US South West Scotland South West Scotland Clean Voluntary Organisation
Beach cleans – Fix the Firth Fix the Firth English Solway Firth Clean Voluntary Organisation
currently there is 1 SeaBin, but Sellafield Ltd has provided funding for an additional 6 SeaBins by 2023
Whitehaven Harbour Youth Project Whitehaven Harbour In-water cleaning device Charity (SeaBin sponsored by Whitehaven Marina)
Don’t Let Go  Marine Conservation Society UK Education Charity -memberships, donations
No Butts on the Beach 
Go Plastic Bag Free 
Bag It and Bin It  Campaign steered by group UK Education Membership group –funded directly by members
Stop the Block United Utilities UK Education Public Limited Company


The Green Blue  British Marine Federation and Royal Yachting Association UK Education Funded by British Marine Federation, Royal Yachting Association, The Crown Estate and Scottish Natural Heritage
Marine Litter Removal 
Fishing For Litter  KIMO Scottish Waters (and South West England) Removal, education Local Authorities, International Environmental Organisation
Global Partnership Initiative on Marine Litter  United Nations Environment Programme (Hosted by) International Research 95% Voluntary Support

Voluntary open-ended partnership for; international agencies, governments, businesses, academia, local authorities and non-governmental organisations.

Marine Debris Programme  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration International Research, coordination, education, grants, cleans Funded via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Litter, and marine litter, are very important public issues and the increasing issues of plastic litter and microplastics has led to the introduction of legislation to help tackle the issues. Changes in legislation such as the introduction of Scotland’s deposit return scheme (The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020), the ban on manufacturing and sale of rinse-off personal care products containing microbeads in Scotland and England (The Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (Scotland) Regulations 2018 and The Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (England) Regulations 2017, respectively) help reduce litter before it enters the marine environment.

There is progress in the UK towards banning single use plastic products. Scotland has a ban on selling plastic stemmed cotton buds, and England banned the supply of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in October 2020 (the ban was delayed due to coronavirus). Scotland launched a consultation in 2020 on the ban of single use items in Scotland, including polystyrene food and beverage containers and single use plastic plates, straws, and cutlery.

The EU approved the ‘Single-Use Plastics Directive’ (Directive 2019/904) in 2019, providing targets for plastic consumption reductions (by 2026), the ban on plastic products which already have a sustainable alternative (mid 2021), and also increased responsibility on producers for litter clean up. This directive is applicable to the UK at present, but provisions can be amended for the EU exit transition period (Walker Morris, 2020).

Marine litter

The SCRAPbook Project

The Scottish Coastal Rubbish Aerial Photography Project (SCRAPbook) collaborated with pilots from the charity Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol, who took to the air to take images of marine litter on the Scottish coastline in 2018 and 2019.

Working with the Moray Firth Partnership and the Marine Conservation Society this unique third sector collaboration produced a brand-new dataset for Scotland to use in the fight against the growing plastic tide.

Images were taken during flights, and then positioning information was extracted from images submitted after Sky Watch flights and then the image was explored to collect key information from each image. The type of litter, coastal character, accessibility of the coast were all recorded where possible (along with various other information) and are key pieces of data for effective clean up and removal strategies to be planned and utilised. The other key piece of data gathered was litter intensity. Grading litter intensity from 0 to 5 was used to distinguish the different litter intensities, but it is worth noting that grading an image as zero does not necessarily mean there is no litter seen in that area of the coast. The images is unlikely to capture smaller scale litter (<10cm), litter may be covered by seaweed and other natural beach debris, and also the grading of zero includes places where litter is in negligible volumes of single items.

These aerial photographs have been used to create an online map which will help to inform targeted, efficient beach cleaning and on ground surveying. The dataset provides, for the first time, a comprehensive and quantifiable indicator for coastal litter in Scotland. A coalition of community, third sector, corporate groups, as well as individual volunteers from across Scotland are already using the online map to help coordinate beach cleans and litter surveys on the ground. The image data is available on the National Marine Plan Interactive, which can be viewed through the metadata page here. Many images are available on request.

This data has helped highlight the litter sinks on the west Dumfries and Galloway coastline. It has also has highlighted those ‘hard to reach‘ litter sinks. Hard to reach areas are parts of the coast where getting to the coast/ beach and/or removal of litter is complex and potentially dangerous. These beaches can be dangerous to attempt to reach, sometimes at the base of cliff or rock faces. Other sites are hard to reach due to limited accessibility, such as lack of public roads or tidal restraints. These areas may also be dangerous due to the coastal character such as large rocks which are difficult to navigate safely. The removal of the large quantities of marine litter found these hard to reach areas is also logistically challenging.

These images also show that marine litter encompasses a huge variety of sizes of litter beyond that which is seen on frequently visited beaches. Some of the SCRAPbook images, including some in Dumfries and Galloway, show huge items of litter washed up on our coastline, which are difficult to remove without equipment.

The SCRAPbook project has been invaluable in evaluating where litter is being washed up on Scottish shores, what litter is there and how best to try to remove it. It has opened the issue of marine litter to a wide audience as well, raising awareness and helping promote the need for better education about marine litter.


Image; Cairndoon Great British Beach Clean 2019. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine litter

COVID-19 Effects

There is widespread concern that the coronavirus pandemic which began in 2019 and spread globally throughout 2020 has, and will continue to add to the issue of marine litter. The concern is focussed on personal protective equipment (PPE). The public were encouraged to use PPE to help minimise the potential to pass or catch coronavirus, and masks were made mandatory in 2020 in certain areas, such as in shops and businesses and on public transport, with people also being encouraged to wear masks in a variety of other situations. Single use gloves have also been used widely throughout the coronavirus pandemic in public spaces in an attempt to avoid contaminating hands. The issue of single use PPE litter has been widely reported in the media, with the UK issue reported in publications such as the Guardian and the Independent in 2020.

Although encouraging reusable alternatives to single use PPE items, the use of disposable single use masks has been widespread and has led to many being carelessly disposed of through littering.

Masks and plastic gloves are becoming a common sight on the roadside in towns and cities, on our beaches, and in the water. They not only add to marine litter which can be eaten by animals or broken down into smaller plastics, but the elastic for holding the mask around ears is also an entanglement risk for marine and bird species.


Image; Mask on the beach at Sandyhills. © G. Reid/ Solway Firth Partnership

Marine litter


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Image; Brighouse Bay beach clean. © N. Coombey/ Solway Firth Partnership