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News / Community effort praised in marine litter fight

Beach cleans like this highlight Shetland's consciousness when it comes to helping the environment.

SHETLAND’s sizeable efforts to remove marine litter washed up on its shores have been reiterated following concerns from a nature campaigner over the extent of rubbish brought into the isles by sea.

Sean Whyte claimed the extent of marine litter found along Shetland’s coastline as the worst he has seen “anywhere in the world” after visiting the isles last week.

As part of a pair of articles on the issue, Shetland News now shines a light on the huge work done in the isles around the year to tackle marine litter.

Whyte’s comments were met with some disappointment locally, and he has since admitted that he was not aware of the annual Da Voar Redd Up, which has cleaned up over 1,900 tonnes of bruck over the last 31 years.

He still largely sticks by his views, however, and said he hopes more people will now be encouraged to take part in the Redd Up.

The tourist’s comments were, by chance, published on the same day a new video was released by Shetland Amenity Trust celebrating the work of its Redd Up, which has formed part of isles culture for all ages since the 1980s.

The clip, produced by local filmmakers JJ Jamieson and Liz Musser, delves into how the popular annual clean-up operates, from lifeboats picking up rubbish at hard-to-reach beaches to the sorting and recycling of materials.

The amenity trust‘s environmental improvement officer Sita Goudie said marine litter is a “global problem” and suggested Shetland is naturally prone to having rubbish washed up due to its island location.

“The Redd Up finds include many items from mainland UK as well as much further afield, including Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Mexico, Russia, America and Canada,” she said.

“Collecting over 1,900 tonnes to date, Da Voar Redd Up significantly improves our environment and removes items hazardous to our wildlife, economy and residents.

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“This year alone more than 240 groups registered for the event, covering areas in all inhabited isles and some uninhabited. Over 4,600 volunteers took part and we expect the total tonnage of bruck gathered to exceed 65 tonnes.

“The community spirit seen year on year is truly inspirational and I would dread to think what our islands would look like without this huge community effort.”

The fishing industry has often been regarded as a culprit when it comes to marine litter, with netting often found on beaches.

Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson acknowledged that marine litter is a “serious issue that must be properly addressed”, but she said the industry works hard to minimise waste.

“For our part, the mussel industry is dependent on a clean environment, and we know that we must protect that,” she continued.

“As a result, we are working hard to minimise our own waste and, at the same time, clean up any litter that is not of our making.

“To that end, we support Dunna Chuck Bruck and participate in Da Voar Redd Up campaign, which not only means that we are taking a very active role in keeping our shoreline clean, but it also reinforces the policy of ‘no waste to sea’ with our workforce.”

The local fleet also takes part in the Fishing For Litter scheme, where vessels are given hardwearing bags to collect marine litter that is caught in their nets during their normal fishing activities.

The Lerwick, Scalloway and Cullivoe harbours provide cost free landing facilities for the marine litter and since the start of the project in 2005, more than 1,208 tonnes of rubbish has been landed across Scotland.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said “Shetlanders – including its fishermen – are rather better at clearing up litter than depositing it”.

Councillor Ryan Thomson, who presides over a campaign to eradicate single-use plastics in Shetland and has started the new roadside clean-up event Da Muckle Gadderie, admitted that he is “amazed” to see the type of items washed up on the coastline – but he agreed it is a wider problem.

“Something needs to be done, urgently, at national level,” he said.

“I think to call the isles litter problem ‘the worst in the world’, however, is quite an absurd exaggeration. The world has a serious litter problem, not just Shetland, we need to share the responsibility equally.

“Without doubt Shetland has a litter problem, however I would suggest a good percentage of this is washed up on our shorelines from external sources.

“There is plenty being done locally to combat this problem, but there is simply no way Shetland is the worst culprit, nor has the biggest problem.”

It is not just large scale events like the Redd Up in which locals tackle rubbish on the coastline, with people regularly doing their own bit in their own time through mini redd ups and two-minute beach cleans, for example.

Goudie also pointed to political lobbying and a range of environmental education and awareness activities that are carried out.

“I have been working with local school and youth groups recently and they are so well informed and engaged on environmental matters,” she added.

“In fact earlier this year, a presentation created by a secondary two class on the issue of plastic pollution impressed our MP so much he raised the questions posed in parliament.”

The Dunna Chuck Bruck campaign is also active on social media and it regularly reminds people to clean up their rubbish if they are visiting Shetland’s beaches.

It also gives advice on how to cut back on plastic use, as well as promoting the isles’ various clean-ups.

One of Shetland’s next organised beach cleans, meanwhile, will take place at Woodwick in Unst between 10am and 2pm on 18 July as part of this year’s UnstFest. The event will focus on picking plastics.

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