“50 tonnes of litter is abandoned on Scotland’s roadsides each month.” (Keep Scotland Beautiful)
When you picture Scotland, what do you think of? Expansive beaches and vast coastlines? Mountains as far as the eye can see?
It’s unlikely that your first image of Scotland includes the unimaginable amounts of litter that pepper our roadsides each year.
As restrictions ease but access to public toilets and local services remain limited, we have witnessed ‘large scale trashing of beauty spots’ the country over, prompting national outrage.
For this reason we caught up with Colin Morrison to understand first-hand the impact litter is having on the natural environment in Durness and what we need to do about it.
Why Keeping Scotland Beautiful Is So Important
Colin’s family have run the croft at Durness’ Sangobeag Beach for 36 years. In that time they have welcomed guests from all over the world.
However in recent times, increasing levels of litter and destruction of the natural environment have caused Colin and his family to think twice about the unrestricted access they have always allowed to their croft.
What Kind of Issues Have You Been Experiencing?
“Litter never used to be an issue on Sangobeag Beach. Now we regularly have to clean up all kinds of mess – everything from burnt tents and used barbeques to plastic bottles – and we aren’t alone in this. Locals across the region are spending considerable time collecting litter.
“A roadside clean-up completed at least annually collects 30 bin bags of rubbish along each mile of the roads in and around Durness. That equates to 960 bags of litter between Durness and Tongue and 15,000 bags (or 24 articulated lorries) of rubbish around the North Coast 500. No one would want that in their front garden, but that’s exactly what we face.
“Aside from litter, we regularly find human waste left in public areas, with campervan waste cassettes often emptied at the side of the road instead of in a designated chemical waste disposal area – burning and polluting our natural environment. We’ve had wood stolen from our croft to make campfires and have even received verbal abuse.
“Fortunately of the thousands of people that travel through Durness everyday, these incidents are still in the minority.”
Has It Always Been This Way?
“We have always welcomed people here and we still do, we’re always grateful for their visit – it’s part of the Highland nature. Our philosophy is very much, ‘if you can find a spot to camp responsibly, go right ahead.’ We fully support the right to roam.
“The North Coast 500 has been staggeringly positive for the rural Highlands, creating jobs and enabling businesses to thrive, but in the past couple of years we have started to notice a lack of awareness and respect for our local community and natural environment.”
What Action Have You Taken as a Result?
“I’m sad to say, for the first time in 36 years we’ve had to close our gates to cars and campers (though not to people accessing the beach on foot). We firmly believe that despite having exclusive access to Sangobeag Beach, it belongs to everyone. The beach isn’t closed to visitors, now or ever.
“However Sangobeag is not a theme park with litter attendants. It’s where we live and work and it’s our family home. We are the ones forced to pick up the mess to keep Sangobeag’s pristine beach precisely that. Sadly there is now a pretty poor legacy of how society can behave in our rural landscape.”
What Would Your Message Be to Those Visiting the Area?
“If we don’t respect the world we live in and look after it, it will disappear. We are all custodians of the land, with equal responsibility for protecting our iconic landscape – whether it’s your front garden or not. Respect is the price that must be paid to come here.
“Come and enjoy the place, swim in the sea if you dare, but above all please tread lightly and leave it as you found it.”
“If I turned up in your front garden, parked my campervan, dumped my waste and left my litter – how would you feel?”
Important Things to Remember When Visiting Rural Communities
- Please avoid travelling in convoy and allow locals to pass safely – many people in rural communities run emergency services and need to respond quickly. Others simply need to get to work – the additional traffic can double journey times and cause frustration.
- If your identified camping or parking spot is already full with tents and campervans, please find somewhere else to stay responsibly.
- As well as taking your own litter home, why not also dispose of the litter you see around you? Keep Scotland Beautiful has a helpful guide to safe litter picking.
- If you want to wild camp on someone else’s land, please be considerate and ask the landowner first.
Find out more in our Guide to Responsible Travel 2020
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