Waters and shores

This page presents some of our work relating to waste in our waters and along our shores. You can read about our Futures Archaeologies of Marine Litter project here.

Solway Firth Partnership

Solway Firth Partnership logo

We’re delighted to be working with the Solway Firth Partnership (SFP), a Scottish charity that has a wide environmental remit in the Solway Firth region, including a strong interest in marine litter.  You can read about the SFP’s work on marine litter here, and access a resource about some of their strandline finds here.

As well as helping the SFP produce their own Message in a Bottle activities for local schools, Waste Stories has also produced some bespoke Waste Stories guidance for teachers, community group leaders and anyone else who wants to create some Waste Stories in the Solway Firth area.  These resources will be available soon!

Marine litter

Marine litter is one of our biggest problems, globally. Human-generated waste ends up in our waters, on our sea beds and on our shores. It comes from a huge range of sources, including industry, fishing, agriculture, domestic waste, transport and sewerage. It consists of metals, plastics, glass, rubber, wood, and more, and varies in size from the remains of ships to microplastics.

Marine litter in Dumfries and Galloway – image courtesy of the Solway Firth Partnership

Everywhere with a coast is affected, and this means Scotland may be more than most: with a coastline estimated by marine Scotland to be a bit less than 19,000 km long (!), Scotland has about 13% of Europe’s (and 62% of the UK’s) coastline. It also has over 900 islands and more than 30,000 freshwater lochs. That’s a lot of water, and a lot of shore. 

Beach cleaning

The fact that beach cleaning has become a thing speaks volumes about what is happening in the marine environment.

We’ve been along to beach cleans in Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire, and we’re working with the Scottish Islands Federation. Scotland’s varied coastline provides a depressing showcase for the different ways in which waste affects our seas and coastlines. 

In Dumfries and Galloway, a lot of the waste that ends up on beaches is washed up, rather than dropped. It comes from the west and south, borne north-east by ocean currents and winds. Beach cleaners in this area find drink bottles and milk cartons that have floated over from Ireland and the Isle of Man, as well as items from further afield (including a US coastguard buoy)!


This milk bottle was found on the Solway Firth coat – it tells us it’s come from Ireland. Image courtesy of the Solway Firth Partnership.
A US coast guard buoy, collected by members of the ONUS beach clean group on the Galloway coast. Image from ONUS’s Facebook page.

Because of the dominant south-westerly winds and ocean currents, litter can build up in inlets and gullies that lie in roughly that direction, such as this gully, just north of Port Logan:

An inlet north of Port Logan, showing a build-up of plastic waste. Image copyright Anna Wilson/Waste Stories.

Nic, the SFP Project Officer who took me here, told me about how the gully had been full up to the brim when they’d partnered with ONUS to arrange a clean a couple of years before. That day, a group of about a dozen ONUS volunteers concentrated on the stretch of beach right by Port Logan. It only took a couple of hours to collect this:

Sunshine on beach litter: waste collected by ONUS in a single morning on Port Logan beach. Image copyright Anna Wilson/Waste Stories.

Further up the Scottish west coast, in Ayrshire, more of the beach detritus is dropped by those visiting the beaches. There is still a significant fraction washed up from further afield, and a good amount of waste associated with the fishing industry:

One of many blue gloves on Girvan Beach during April’s beach clean. Image copyright Anna Wilson/Waste Stories.

But people cleaning these more accessible, less remote beaches find expanded styrofoam food containers as well as cans and bottles left by people who have presumably gone there to enjoy the beautiful environment.

Styrofoam on Girvan Beach. Image copyright Anna Wilson/Waste Stories.

Golf is popular in this area, meaning there are also lots of golf balls and golf tees.

A wheelie bin full of golf balls, collected from the beach. Image copyright Anna Wilson/Waste Stories.

Again, it doesn’t take a long time or a lot of people to collect a huge amount of litter from the beaches here. The following photos show the waste collected by about 20-30 people in a couple of hours on the beaches just south and north of Girvan in April 2022, in a beach clean organised by Rotary:

The problem of litter build-up in particular areas extends up the coast, wherever there is somewhere with a roughly south-west/north-east inlet and a dead end that stops the materials that are washed in from moving further. Perhaps one of the most famous of these “litter sinks” is in Argyll and Bute, at the otherwise beautiful head of Loch Long. The Arrochar litter sink has been used as a case study by Marine Scotland since 2017: unfortunately, as the waste comes from far afield, it arrives bashed and battered, fragments of plastic embedded in thick seaweed.

Further west, in the islands, the main source of marine litter seems to be the fishing industry. Beach cleans are dominated by finds of fishboxes, blue gloves, nets, ropes and plastics used in commercial fishing.