Colin Smyth MSP
Colin Smyth MSP

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has paid tribute to the amazing work of volunteers who have removed tonnes of rubbish on riverside litter picks as part of the Great Borders River Clean.

The local MSP was speaking during a debate on the subject in the Scottish Parliament last Tuesday.

The inaugural clean-up in October 2019 attracted 304 rubbish collectors who between them bagged an incredible 1.85 tonnes of rubbish.

That grew to over 450 volunteers collecting more than 2 tonnes during the second clean up early last year before the pandemic.

And despite the challenges and restrictions in recent months, the clean-up returned in May this year when 460 volunteers collected 3 tonnes of rubbish from the Tweed.

Speaking during the debate, Colin Smyth said: “I want to echo the thanks we’ve heard for the work of Tom Rawson and the award winning GreenTweed Eco, with the support from the Fallago Environment Fund, who have made these clean ups possible and ensured that borderers can enjoy far cleaner riverbanks.

“But the Great Borders River Clean is about more than just ensuring our riverbanks are that bit more litter free- it’s also about pride in our towns and villages in the Borders.

“And with six tonnes of rubbish removed during just three events, the clean-up really does raise awareness of the scale of the problem of primarily plastic pollution that plagues far too many of the riversides in our communities.

“We have all seen the appalling images of beaches in Bali covered in rubbish.

“But this damage is also happening in the rivers right here on our own doorsteps.

“We are ultimately the cause of that pollution. And it’s our problem to solve. That means we need tough action on those who leave litter on our landscape- a problem that appears to be growing.

“It means properly enforcing action to reduce the level of waste washed into waterways from nearby agricultural land whenever we are hit by heavy rainfall.

“But it also means tackling the level of what are often legal sewage spills into rivers and seas – a level that has risen by 40% over the last five years.

“Scottish Water’s figures show that the equivalent of 47,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools’-worth of waste has been discharged into our rivers and seas since 2016.

“The legal practice of releasing into our seas and rivers storm water and sewage overflows that would normally go into water treatment centres but cannot, because of the centres’ capacity, is on the increase. It seems that the practice is no longer happening in emergencies but is all too often routine. We are talking about raw sewage being legally poured into our waterways. The waste includes everything from plastic toothpicks to wet wipes—the very things that we all see when we carry out litter picks on our riversides and beaches.

“There are many high-profile incidences of sewage being released, not least just north of the Borders, on the Esk in Midlothian, where local residents are rightly concerned about the level of pollution, partly as a result of discharge of overflows from the sewage system.”

Colin Smyth continued: “Ultimately, this is also yet another wakeup call when it comes to climate change.

“A symptom of the increasing rainfall levels and more intense storms we are facing.

“And unless we tackle that climate crisis then the level of surface water we have to manage- the scale of flooding, of pollution that we need to contend with and the amount of litter that has to be cleaned up will simply grow and grow.

“Communities in the Borders are stepping up to mark when it comes to cleaning up the environment. And in the important months ahead we as policy makers need to match their commitment when it comes to the action we take when it comes to protecting our precious environment for them and all out communities.”

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