The Marine Conservation Society is a not-for-profit organisation working to protect the seas around the UK. The charity has been running for more than 30 years and works with fishermen and the food industry to find more sustainable ways of fishing, educate retailers and consumers to help them choose more sustainable seafood, and organise beach cleans with its team of volunteers.

As well as supporting the wider goals of the organisation, the Marine Conservation Society leads the Save Scottish Seas coalition. Made up of likeminded environmental groups in Scotland, the coalition helps to influence the government in making decisions to preserve and save the country’s seas.

We spoke with Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society about the work of the organisation and how it benefits Scotland’s marine environment.

Marine Conservation Society

Marine Conservation Society beach clean.

When and why did you start focusing on beach and sea cleaning in Scotland?

The Marine Conservation Society has been passionate about recovering, protecting and celebrating our seas and wildlife for decades.

After establishing the UK-wide charity in Herefordshire in 1983, we opened our dedicated Scotland office in April 2000. However, we have had volunteers across Scotland taking part in our citizen science and beach cleaning project, Beachwatch, since 1994.

Beach cleaning is an opportunity for our volunteers and staff to give something back to their favourite part of the coast, to get to know their local community, protect the marine environment and local wildlife for the next generation.

The impact that litter has on our seas and wildlife is devasting, with all creatures at risk of entanglement and ingestion. We want to ensure we are doing everything we can to clean up our coastlines for the benefit of our people and wildlife.

How do you organise and manage your beach cleans?

We ask our volunteers to collect vital information on the types and amounts of litter turning up on their local patch of shoreline, as well as remove all the rubbish.

We have hundreds of incredible volunteers all over the country who use our survey form when they clean a 100m stretch of beach. We ask them to record all the litter they find and upload it to our website so we can use it as evidence for our campaigns.

Our volunteers are supported by councils, local businesses and community groups who provide beach cleaning kits and help to remove the litter. It’s a big team effort, and we need as many people as possible to get involved.

What results are you seeing from your Beachwatch data?

The data gathered by our volunteers has been used to successfully campaign for many important policy changes in Scotland, including the 5p carrier bag charge in 2014.

The data has also proven the success of the policy, with the number of single-use plastic carrier bags found on beaches in Scotland dropping by more than 70%.

Our data has also supported the ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds in 2019 and the government’s commitment to a Deposit Return Scheme for cans and bottles, which we expect to start next year.

Hopefully, the data will continue to show the positive impact of these new policies and schemes, and we can continue to push for further legislation to stop all litter ending up on Scotland’s beaches.

These success stories are all thanks to the brilliant volunteers who head down to the beach and spend their time giving something back. The data collected and the policies which they inform really do make a difference to Scotland’s seas.

However, it’s not just bags and bottles blighting our beaches.

The rubbish collected from last year’s Great British Beach Clean, our flagship event, highlighted a concerning, but perhaps predictable, presence of PPE litter. Face masks and gloves were found on almost a quarter (23.5%) of Scottish beaches over the course of the week-long event.

Have any notable collaborations or partnerships been established as a result of your beach cleans?

We have partnered with so many great organisations over the years, from large national brands sponsoring and funding our events to partnering with local authorities and community groups on joint events.

One of our partners is Whisky maker The Glenmorangie Company. As part of its partnership with us and Heriot Watt University on the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP), Glenmorangie funds a seasonal Marine Conservation Society information officer at its distillery in Tain. The officer is responsible for running regular beach cleans with the local community and distillery visitors. Staff from across its distilleries, bottling plant and head office also take part in beach cleans across Scotland, which sets a fantastic example of how a business can give back to the marine environment.

Can a group coming to Scotland take part in a beach clean while they are here?

Absolutely. Organising a beach clean and survey with us is really easy.

We ask volunteers to choose a 100m stretch of beach so we can accurately record each piece of litter cleaned. This is a fantastic and unique addition to an event or incentive programme, giving delegates a chance to give back to the local community. We have guidance and check lists on our website to make organising private beach cleanings as easy as possible.

To find out more about the Marine Conservation Society or to join a beach clean visit -