It’s a promising June morning and St Cyrus beach is gradually coming to life: dog owners, power walkers and picnickers are scattered across the dunes.
Zandra Taylor is among them, complete with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, but unlike the others, she’s not here for a fun day out.
Her backpack is filled with all the necessary equipment: protective gloves, bin bags and hand sanitiser. In her hand is a long litter picker.
The glamorous life of a litter picker
“I’ve been litter picking here for over four years,” she said. “I come more or less every day to do one of the tidelines. It’s just so peaceful, so rewarding and you can see the difference you make which is so encouraging.”
Out of nowhere, a green dog poo bag flies past in the wind. Zandra nimbly scales the dunes to spear it but ends up sprinting across the sand as the wind lifts it just out of reach. “Got it!” she yells triumphantly.
Zandra is retired and lives in Inverbervie. “I love all the beaches round here, but I hate seeing them covered with litter,” she said, brandishing her litter picker.
Disposable nappies are her bugbear. “Dirty nappies,” she said incredulously. “People seem to think it’s ok to just take it off and chuck it.” She’s not a fan of other hygiene items either, particularly wet wipes. “People flush them down the toilet and think someone will deal with it.”
Zandra is one of several individuals dedicated to cleaning up St Cyrus beach and the nearby National Nature Reserve (NNR).
Every day come rain or shine, pandemic or otherwise, she walks her dog at the beach and collects litter as she goes.
“When I first started, I could maybe go about 50 yards and I’d fill a large animal feed sack with large pieces of plastic, like containers from offshore and canisters and stuff like that,” she said.
But over the last four years, her efforts appear to have made a real impact. There is virtually no litter on the beach when we visit, and nothing to detract from the miles of golden sands and blue skies.
The important thing is to get down to the beach and pick regularly, Zandra says, as long as you keep on top of it and do every tideline, it’s manageable.
‘Litter attracts litter’
The reserve has been busier than ever since lockdown eased and people began to socialise outside.
Burnt out disposable BBQs and empty bottles are left behind as evidence of society opening up once more.
Staycationing means Scottish beauty sports are going to take even more of a hammering than usual, but Zandra has been buoyed by how relatively litter-free the golden sands have remained so far.
“One thing I’ve noticed during this time is that litter attracts litter,” she said. “So if somewhere is clean, any visitors tend to keep it clean. Whereas if there is any mess lying around, they will add to it.
“I really have noticed a difference here, it’s really good.”
Her visits to the beach aren’t always a pleasant experience, however. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay motivated against the rising tide of filth, particularly when a storm has come by and churned up wheelbarrows worth of rubbish onto the beach.
Seeing wildlife caught up in the mess is even more difficult. “I’ve found birds that have been entangled in a string of helium balloons, and obviously they’ve died,” Zandra said.
So why does she do it? “It’s just so rewarding,” she said. “When I first started I thought ‘gosh, we’re never going to get on top of this’ but I think at the moment – touch wood – we have.”
Turning your passion into a job
And Zandra is going to be spending more time at the beach than ever before after accepting a part-time role at the reserve helping out the rangers and educating the public on how to respect Scotland’s coastline.
“I get to do some litter picking too,” she chuckles, “which is good.”
Zandra has been nominated as one of our P&J Beach Clean Champions.
Find out more about our Beach Clean Champions project and read about our other nominees below.