Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Beach clean with Smidge

Marine Conservation Society (MCS) recently teamed up with new corporate supporters Smidge to carry out a beach clean on Sand Bay Beach. The day was a great success, lots of fun was had by all involved, and staff members at Smidge learned more about the impact of ocean pollution on the UK coastline. Smidge shared their experience of being involved in a beach clean and what they learned.

What is a beach clean-up and why are they important?
A beach clean-up is an activity, normally organised and carried out by volunteers, that aims at cleaning a beach or a section of it from all sorts of beach litter (mainly plastic, but not only!).

The collection of trash makes the coast a cleaner and safer place for beachgoers as well as facilitating marine conservation. While this is not an ocean pollution solution in itself, it helps keep our coasts clean and preserve our seas’ ecosystems as a result. 

Some beach and ocean pollution facts… 
The trash and plastic on the beach are a direct result of two possible causes: they either come from the sea and get washed up during the tides or are the direct result of littering on the beach by people who visit the coast. Either way, this is a reflection of how much plastic waste is affecting our environment and how big a problem plastic pollution is.

Among the litter polluting our beaches, some of the most common items are: cigarette butts, plastic bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, foam take away containers, plastic bags, plastic lids, straws, stirrers, glass bottles, cotton buds, wet wipes, balloons. Sadly, most of these are made of single-use plastic and a lot of them cannot be recycled.

Recycling charity Recoup estimate consumers in the UK go through 13 billion plastic drink bottles every year, a lot of which go to waste. During the 2018 Great British Beach Clean by the Marine Conservation Society, an average of 16 drink bottles and cans were found for every 100m stretch of beach surveyed. Despite plastic being a convenient material thanks to its durable and lightweight nature, its these exact characteristics that make it a threat to our environment – plastic can stick around for literally hundreds of years before biodegrading. 

As some areas of our oceans currently contain 6 times more microplastics than plankton and countless marine species are endangered, we are happy to see that things are – slowly but surely – changing for the better! Did you know that MCS have recorded a 47% decrease in plastic bags on UK beaches since the government introduced the plastic bag charge measure in 2011? Also, microbeads have recently been banned in wash-off cosmetics, whoop! And are you following the news around #WarOnPlastic, #OurPlasticFeedback, #RefillRevolution and #PlasticChallenge? As we look at the possibility of our seas having more plastic than fish by 2050, we are optimistic that all the attention generated by the public and the media will lead to concrete actions that reduce plastic pollution (not only plastic in the ocean but also on land) as well as have a positive impact on our day-to-day relationship with single-use plastic!

Our beach clean experience with the Marine Conservation Society
Here at Smidge we believe it takes a little thing to make a big difference. As we know we cannot single-handily solve the world’s single-use plastic issue, our aim is to encourage little day-to-day changes which promote an eco-friendly (as well as stylish and practical) lifestyle. With Plastic Free July around the corner, we couldn’t think of a better way for our team to get down-and-dirty (or shall we say down-and-clean) than a beach cleanup day with the Marine Conservation Society.

We woke up to a miserable, rainy day… yeiii, not! But our spirits were not defeated… we had our hearts set on cleaning Sand Bay Beach in the South West of England and were ready to take up the challenge no matter the weather. As Lizzie and Caroline from MCS met us at the beach and we set up the gazebo, the weather luckily cleared up a bit and, although still being well aware we were not on a tropical beach, the rest of the day was dry and that was good enough for us!

After a brief introduction and having split up into teams of 4 or 5, we all grabbed the cleaning equipment kindly provided by MCS (litter picker sticks, gloves, bags) and headed off to the selected 100m of beach to be cleaned during the morning. Here’s a ‘fun’ fact for you: MCS organise beach clean activities 4 times a year to pick litter in this same strip of beach; they do so to keep record of all the rubbish items they find and in what quantities. They then use this data to inform our local and national governmental bodies, but also to undertake specific campaigns that target the more harmful and widespread items of trash! Every trimester, when a beach clean is carried out at Sand Bay Beach, kilos and kilos of new plastic litter and other kinds of rubbish are collected from the beach.

As the teams worked through the beach meter by meter, we recorded every single piece of waste we found and bagged. Among the most common finds: plastic wrappers, pieces of foam containers, plastic bags, cotton bud sticks, plastic lids, plastic bottles and cans, rubber items, sanitary waste, glass bottles… for a total of 1302 litter items (25kg) in just 100 meters of beach – and that was just in the morning! If you are interested in learning the details, here is a really interesting summary provided by MCS with the stats of what we found: 

After lunch, a very interesting quiz picked our brains on plastic waste, recent positive changes which are having a great impact on reducing plastics as well as amazing activities and achievements by MCS. Do you know the answer to the question Lizzie asked to proclaim a quiz winner – how many species of turtles exist on earth? Read on if you’d like to find out the answer…

The afternoon saw us do some free-style beach cleaning, which brought the total litter count up to 66kg! We never thought litter picking could be so rewarding. Leaving Sand Bay as a clean beach was such a great feeling. This day provided us with an opportunity to see with our very own eyes how much plastic pollution affects our surroundings as well as how big a difference we can make by getting involved. This experience has brought our enthusiasm to a whole new level and we came home knowing that our efforts as a team are going in the right direction.

Our tips for a fully enjoyable beach clean experience
What to wear and bring
As you will have gathered by reading the above, you need to be ready for any kind of weather: if it rains, you’ll need raincoats, wellies, hats, waterproof backpacks. Also, you’ll need to be very careful as rocky beaches become really slippery when wet. If it’s sunny, don’t forget sun block, hats, sunglasses and a reusable water bottle to keep hydrated (have a look at our Smidge water bottles if you still haven’t got one). Regardless of how lucky you are with the weather, make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes/flip flops, so you can happily hop around.

Beach clean tools
In terms of tools that will make your life easier, big garden bags to collect litter are great as they are sturdy and won’t end up breaking while you are enthusiastically cleaning. Also, gloves are a must – some of the litter you’ll find can be sharp (e.g. pieces of glass, cans) or not very clean (sanitary items, needles), so it’s best to wear protective gloves at all times. Litter pickers are a great bonus: while they are not strictly necessary to carry out a beach clean, they can be of great help as they prevent you from having to bend down every other second.

Beach clean stats and data
By working with MCS, we realised that keeping a record of what you find is not essential, but can be really valuable for marine conservation and coastal conservation research. By performing a quick search, we’ve found some apps that help you keep track and even allow you to share your findings on social media. While we haven’t tried them ourselves yet, we think it’s a great idea to help raise awareness and show off your efforts. 

I want to get involved, where can I start? And how do I organise a beach clean? 
This of course varies massively depending on weather it’s you and a couple of friends setting off to the beach to get some fresh air, a nice swim and collect some plastic waste for the greater good, or you’re trying to organise a team building activity for your company.

If the main goal is an enjoyable day out at the beach with your family and friends and the number of participants is small, you can of course plan this yourself. No action is too little! Just refer to the tips above if you are unsure as to what you will need to make sure you leave a clean beach behind and come home without a cold or a sunstroke.

If on top of the above, you’d also like to meet new, like-minded people, there are several organisations and volunteer groups who meet regularly to clean together. These activities are a lot of fun and can be great both if you are beach-clean virgin as well as if you are a more experienced and weathered beach cleaner. You can find local beach clean events on the Marine Conservation Society website here. Also, the 2019 Great British Beach Clean is coming soon – September 20th-23rd. At this link you will find information on scheduled local beach cleans near you as well as details on how you can plan your own beach clean event.

For companies wanting to organise team building activities and promote team days out, or even just seeking to help a bit in reducing plastic pollution, we strongly recommend getting in touch with the Marine Conservation Society, who can help you plan the day and will bring to the table much more than just kit and equipment – enthusiasm, passion as well as a wealth of knowledge in marine conservation and ocean pollution are just the first 3 things that come to mind! 

If a beach clean is not really your thing (no judging here, to each their own!), there are plenty of other ways you can get involved. You can donate to MCS, help them fundraise, become a sea champion (this one sounds so cool, right?!) and lots more – find details on all the ways you can get involved here. Also, did you know that with each purchase from our Smidge Natural Collection, 10p are donated to the Marine Conservation Society to help clean our seas and carry out all the fantastic activities that make our oceans and their inhabitants a little healthier and a little happier. You can shop the Smidge Natural Collection here.

We’d love to hear from you…
Feel free to get in touch on social if you’d like to know more about what we do, our beach clean experience and our cooperation with MCS, or if you’d like to share your own beach clean memories and pictures.

Oh, and we almost forgot… the number of turtle species in the world is 7. Did you guess right? :)

If you would like to find out more about getting involved in a beach clean, or running one yourself, please visit our website -

Friday, 31 May 2019

From Beachwatch to Don't Let Go

Balloon litter found on a beach clean

Sea Champion Andy has been organising beach cleans for MCS for a number of years now and he was becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of balloon litter he was finding so he decided to do something about it.

"I got involved in the Don’t Let Go campaign through my initial work as a Beachwatch organiser. I have been running Beachwatch events since 2012 and have frequently found evidence of balloons and sky lanterns during these events. I have run over 20 separate Beachwatch events since 2012 at a number of different locations in local to me.

I decided to get involved in this campaign for two reasons. Firstly to raise awareness locally about the dangers to the environment from balloons and sky lanterns being released. Secondly to do what seemed to be impossible at the time, get a ban introduced by my local Council to stop any balloon and sky lantern releases on land they owned. 

Sea Champion Andy running a beach clean

I had managed to meet a number of local Councillors through running Beachwatch events, some of whom had previously attended my beach cleans. To get a ban introduced, I first contacted these local councillors I had met. I had to be quite persistent phoning or emailing every week then after a few weeks of being passed around to various Councillors and Council officials, eventually I was put in touch with a local Councillor called Diane. Diane luckily is a very passionate, environmentally aware Councillor and she agreed to help.

We met up and discussed the campaign and she agreed to support me in trying to get a ban introduced in the Sefton Metropolitan Borough area. After a further few weeks of intermittent contact, Diane informed me that she had prepared a motion that would go before the next available full Council meeting.

Following the meeting on April 24th, I received the awesome news that the motion had been passed unanimously. This means that Sefton council will be introducing a ban on both balloon and sky lantern releases on council owned land as soon as possible.

My advice to anyone wanting to get involved in this campaign, just do it and don’t let go of the idea of getting them banned in your area. Just be determined and persistent and you will get there." 

Fantastic work Andy! If you'd like to find out more about our Don't Let Go campaign then visit our website -  

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Ringed birds on our beaches - How you can help

Office Sea Champion Viv Philips has been volunteering with MCS for over 7 years! Each year she helps us to coordinate and distribute 150K Pocket Good Fish Guides and she is instrumental in helping identify and contact chefs/recipe contributors for our Fish of the Month recipes project. Viv is an ecologist by trade and is a passionate and experienced ornithologist . She got to thinking about our volunteers out on the beaches and how they may come across dead birds that are ringed but not know what to do so she's shared just how important it is to report any ringed birds you find and how to go about it.

"I was brought up by the sea and in my career as an ecologist had some wonderful jobs on offshore islands. I trained as a bird ringer in the early 1970s and was involved in seabird studies in the UK and abroad. It was great fun scrabbling about on cliffs and seeing beautiful seabirds and their chicks close-up. It also felt very worthwhile as the results from recaptured or found dead, ringed birds gave so much vital insight into where the birds go, their survival and population trends.

Having retired I now volunteer for The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) in the Ross-on-Wye office one day a week. I seem to have settled a long way from the sea but working with the inspiring MCS team keeps me in touch. Bringing some of my previous experience with me I would like to urge everyone who is out and about on the seashore to look for rings on dead birds and pass on the information. It is always sad to find a dead animal but there can be a lot to learn from some of these which in turn can help in their conservation.

About bird ringing

The British and Irish Ringing Scheme is run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Over 900,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by over 2,600 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers. Ringing generates information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds, helping us to understand why populations are changing - questions that are vital to answer for bird conservation.

Placing a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring around a bird’s leg provides a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals.

Examples of a British and a foreign ring taken from dead gulls

Although there has been bird ringing in Britain and Ireland for over 100 years, we are still discovering new facts about migration routes and wintering areas.

Amazing facts – some birds can live almost as long as humans!

Very few wild birds reach anything like their maximum potential age as there are too many factors working against them – predators, accidents, weather, disease, starvation and plain bad luck. Even so, the top five longevities are staggering. 

Manx Shearwater 
51 years 
Bardsey Bird Observatory 
42 years 
Bardsey Bird Observatory 
41 years 
Eynhallow, Orkney 
40 years 
Pink-footed Goose 
39 years 
Longevity records

These longevity records are even more remarkable when you consider the vast distances these birds will have covered in their lifetimes. The 51 year old Manx Shearwater from west Wales (seen left at the tender age of 48) will have spent 51 winters off the coast of southern Argentina, covering 1.5 million kilometres just getting there and back! 

How you can help 

If you’re out and about at the seaside whether it be for a beach clean or a leisurely stroll, and you come across a dead bird, please have a quick look to see if it is ringed and if it is, report it to the BTO. 

How to report a ringed bird 

The information required is: 
  • The unique number on the ring (and country of origin if not a British ring)
  • The date found
  • The location where found (beach name, nearest town/village, county etc)
  • Species if known
  • A photograph can be useful
  • Your contact details
Please report the information using the Euring website. Alternatively you can send the information to the Ringing Office, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU. 

For each ring number reported, the finder receives notification of what it was and where and when it was ringed. It doesn’t matter if you don't recognise what species the bird is, the unique number together with where and when you found it gives vital information." 

A big thanks to Viv for sharing her knowledge about bird ringing. More information about the BTO’s ringing scheme can be found on their website here: