As the children of Catterline Primary scatter across the village beach with grins on their faces and bin bags in hand, their teacher Jane Turner reflects how strange it was that cleaning up rubbish used to be a punishment for naughty children.
The primary six and seven classes of the coastal Aberdeenshire community’s school have grown so passionate about litter-picking in their local environment they now ask Mrs Turner if they can go and collect rubbish from the beach in their spare time.
“They’re like terriers,” Mrs Turner said. “If there’s something there, they’ll find it, and they’re going to sort it.”
But the youngsters aren’t just learning how important it is to clean up the great outdoors.
A Coastal Classroom
By taking part in their regular litter-picks of Catterline Beach with Mrs Turner, the children have been learning all manner of lessons about the natural world.
From the geological discoveries made investigating the pebbly shoreline, to finding out more about seismology with the local cliffs, the Catterline kids have turned the coast into an extension of their classroom.
Mrs Turner reflected that in days gone by, it was not uncommon to send children out to collect litter if they were behaving badly, which she said attaches negative connotations to the noble cause of looking after the planet.
But now, by turning it into a positive activity and a fun day out, Mrs Turner said: “These kids absolutely love it.
“Like everybody these days, they’re very aware of the need to keep our environment clean and the danger especially to wildlife, caused by litter.
“We have bird colonies all around this area, and seals visiting daily, so it’s really important to keep this environment as pristine as it can be.
“They just want to do their bit to make sure they’re keeping this part of the north-east clean.”
Beach cleans are just one of the ways the youngsters at Catterline have been stepping up to learn about and protect the natural world.
Fern, a 12-year-old in primary seven, said: “We have an eco-committee at school too to talk about problems in the environment.
“We also do one pick per month around the village and playground too. Then we take back the litter and measure it to see if we are making a difference and finding less.”
Cigarettes, fishing gear and barbecues
As they scavenged around the rocky beach for unnatural rubbish, the youngsters shared some of their pet peeves they’ve developed during beach cleans.
11-year-old Oli, in primary seven, said: “I really hate finding small pieces of litter the most, like bunches of cigarette butts or drinks bottle lids.
“I found a battery in a rock pool once which was leeching chemicals into the water and could have hurt animals.”
“When the tide has just gone out you notice a lot more rubbish,” added Fern.
“Usually we find lots of rope from the fishing boats, as well as socks and rubber gloves. I’ve found two socks already today.
“I think they just throw things overboard when they are finished with them.”
Mrs Turner, who has been teaching at Catterline for four years, explained one of the most infuriating finds during the school’s clean-ups was the remains of a large, irresponsible fire.
She said: “We came across the fall-out of a beach barbecue which had turned into a bonfire and where a whole bunch of pallets had been burned.
“All the wood was gone or turned to ash, but there were so many nails left behind. We stopped counting when we got to 200.”
Beach Clean Champions
The youngsters of Catterline School have been nominated in our Beach Clean Champions project this summer.
Find out more about our project, and read about our other nominees below.