Scotland’s shores blighted by sewage and litter scandal

Litter teams are out almost every weekend in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll trying manfully to hold back the tide of flotsam and jetsam (and sewage) that flows on to our shores.

By Bill Heaney

Research from the Marine Conservation Society has found that a mere 3.4 per cent of storm overflows in sewers are monitored and reported in Scotland.

This neglect has led to 19,590 sewage-related litter items being found on beaches in one area alone last year.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, pictured left,  said:  “Monitoring is absolutely key, but the Scottish Government just don’t seem to get that.

“Right now, they are doing next to nothing to understand the true scale of the sewage problem, undermining any attempts to fix it.

“This new data emphasises that local communities are yet again bearing the brunt of this shameful SNP/Green inaction.  

“The Scottish-government owned water company must record and publish all sewage discharges so that we finally have an accurate picture.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see accelerated measures to upgrade our Victorian sewage system and prevent sewage from flowing into our rivers and beaches.

“We’re calling for Scottish Government to put a stop to sewage polluting Scotland’s seas.”

Scottish Water recently published data on just 3.4% of Scotland’s monitored sewage overflows.

Experts have analysed this data and what they’ve found shows that we need urgent action to address Scotland’s sewage problem.

What’s been found:

  • Sewage poured into Scottish seas for over 113,000 hours in 2022
  • Sewage was released over 14,000 times in 2022

Combine that with beach clean volunteers recording over 35,000 pieces of sewage related litter in 2022 and it’s clear that something must be done.

The system is under pressure, being used above and beyond what it was initially designed for.

Scottish Water Map Data

As these maps show, this pollution is happening in close proximity to areas of conservation and bathing waters, threatening key habitats and ecosystems.

Scottish Government must tackle sewage pollution with better monitoring, reporting and progressive spill reduction targets.

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer

The story so far

Scottish Water published the ‘Improving Urban Waters Route map’ last December which includes planned actions to reduce pollution from overflows.

The route map, and Scottish Government’s Marine Litter Strategy, included positive commitments to monitor 1,000 overflows discharging into ‘high priority sites’ by 2024.

Scottish Water’s Nature Calls campaign is a further step in the right direction, calling for a ban on plastic in single-use wet wipes – something we’ve long campaigned for based on our beach clean data.

What we’re calling for

Now we need Scottish Government to step up and take action to solve Scotland’s sewage problem once and for all.

We need:

  • Monitoring and reporting on 100% of Scotland’s sewerage network by 2026
  • Progressive reduction targets for sewage spills
  • Filtering screens on all overflows to reduce sewage related litter entering the sea

Take a stand by sending your Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) an email calling for their support to tackle sewage pollution! You can take action here.

Babcock personnel with Primary Five pupils from Garelochhead Primary.

The Kidston contingent:  Royal Navy personnel and Babcock staff joined by members of the community at Kidston Park.

Meanwhile, great work is being done by personnel from HM Naval Base Clyde joined members of the local community in Helensburgh and Garelochhead recently for the Great British Beach Clean.

The annual event, which is run by the Marine Conservation Society, sees volunteers from around the UK spend time cleaning litter from shorelines.

Ten members of the Royal Navy and eight Babcock staff headed to the beach at Helensburgh’s Kidston Park where they were joined by the local Beach Clean Committee.

Meanwhile, at Garelochhead, Babcock staff worked alongside teachers and twelve Primary Five pupils from Garelochhead Primary School. 

Captain Base Safety at HM Naval Base Clyde, Captain Ralph Coffey, said: “It’s great to see the people from across the Naval Base and local community coming together to clean up our beaches and helping to reduce marine pollution.

“Thank you to all the teams and individuals involved for their enthusiasm and commitment to make a positive impact on the local environment.”

Each September thousands of people take part in the Great British Beach Clean.  As well as collecting litter, volunteers also collect data which is passed to the Marine Conservation Society for their International Coastal Clean-up initiative.

By recording the rubbish in a 100-metre stretch of beach the Society can build up a picture of where to target future efforts and help minimise marine pollution. 

Brian McDowall, Babcock Environmental Compliance Manager who helped organise the base’s participation, said: “This is a great opportunity to engage and work collaboratively with the local community while making a real time difference to the surrounding natural environment.”

Last year, Naval Base personnel volunteered at Rhu Narrows and Garelochhead with Babcock donating beach cleaning equipment for use by local community groups and Primary Schools.

This year’s efforts netted 18 bags of rubbish at Kidston and some 16 bags collected at Garelochhead.

Top picture: Litter and sewage over-spills are a big problem on the shores and water courses of rivers and lochs within the Loch Lomond National Park.

For more information on the Great British Beach Clean visit:

For more information please see our UK CSO policy paper and our Scottish Parliamentary Sewage Related Debris Briefing.

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