Marine rubbish is a problem for us all – not only does it build up on beaches across the world, it forms great islands out to sea. Rubbish, be it a plastic bag on a centreboard that costs a dinghy sailor a race, or gets wrapped round a prop, or a bigger item like a container that presents a serious hazard to sailors is just one side of the problem. But that’s just the tip of it - it’s the effect on wildlife that is even more serious, both at sea and once it washes ashore… and ashore of course there’s also the unsuspecting humans as well, especially the smaller ones, for which it can present a danger.

Youngsters removing rubbish in Orkney

A group of yongsters remove a pile of netting from one of the beaches in Orkney - Photo Bag the Bruck

Young boy clearing rubbish from a beach

This young volunteer is enjoying the work - photo Bag the Bruck

But there is something we can do about it… as brilliantly illustrated by the people of Orkney and their ‘Bag the Bruck’ initiative, which I witnessed first hand last month. What on earth does ‘Bag the Bruck’ mean? Well ‘Bruck’ is the Orcadian word for rubbish, and the rest of us could learn a lot from the way the Orkney Islanders, situated as they are north of the top of Scotland, approach their annual beach clean up, organised by Environmental Concern Orkney.

Now it’s not that we don’t have beach clean-ups in the rest of the country… there are actually more than you might think, but it was the systematic way the beaches of Orkney are targeted and the way that, over the 20 since the initiative started, it has become a major event in the islands harnessing the help of volunteers young and old – it seems that a huge proportion of the islanders get involved. It illustrated that not only could it be a satisfying weekend activity for the whole family, by systematically working round the islands’ beaches, the difference was amazing…

Bird caught in litter

A casualty of the marine litter found during a beach clear up - photo Bag the Bruck

There are other clean-ups, headed by organisations like Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society, as well as numerous local groups. The M&S-sponsored Marine Conservation Society ‘Big Beach clean-up’ collected 30,000kg of rubbish from 300km of beaches and waterways across the UK this spring!

Of course the answer is not to drop the litter in the first place, but the key to that lies in education… I’m willing to bet that every child involved in a beach clean up will think twice about ever dropping litter… that’s an important message to pass on.

So look out for beach cleaning initiatives near you, or near where you are on holiday. If there isn't one, why not organise one with your sailing club or another local organisation. And on an individual level, next time you find yourself in a remote anchorage, and pop ashore to a lovely remote beach, or simply go for a walk along the coast, why not take a carrier bag with you and scoop up a bit of that rubbish - it might seem like a small thing but if we all did it then it would make a huge difference.

Aberdeen beach clean

Marine Conservation Society Aberdeen Beach Clean - photo Marine Conservation Society