Community volunteers rally to protect Whitesands Beach

As the first Coronavirus lockdown began to ease, local residents became increasingly concerned at how beaches around the UK were being damaged by huge numbers of visitors leaving litter scattered all over the place. Apart from being unhygienic and the risk of further spreading Coronavirus, the beach litter was a very real threat to land and marine wildlife. EcoDewi was approached by members of the community to discuss how we could ensure our local beaches were better protected. We put our heads together and Peninsula Beach Stewards was born as a new project!

Whilst beach cleans had always been on our to-do list, the difference here was that our goal was to have a daily beach presence, collecting litter and overtly displaying good community spirit. We began by liaising with other organisations to see what else was happening, whether there was already a plan and what support we could muster.  Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Pembrokeshire County Council, the National Trust, Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum, Keep Wales Tidy and Surfers Against Sewage were all contacted along with other groups. We heard back from most and all responses were very positive. Whilst there was a collective plan to launch hi-viz community ambassadors in tourist spots, there was nothing aimed at caring for our beaches, so we began recruiting volunteer!

It was at this point we realised that we’d only have the volunteer numbers to cope with Whitesands beach as unfortunately we failed to recruit enough volunteers to cover Newgale beach too. That aside, we continued planning with the next priority being equipment and PPE.  This is where our true hero Mark Bonds, Pembrokeshire’s very own Eco Champion, came into his own. Not only was Mark great at loaning us some kit and sharing network contacts, he was also a brilliant sounding board for our project and ideas.  We also applied for a PAVS Supporting Community Action Fund (SCAF) grant and were really excited to get an email a week later to say we had been successful and they wanted to support the project. That allowed for additional vital equipment and supplies. Our final key supporter was Porthmawr Surf Life Saving Club & the RNLI. Through them, we were able to arrange safe storage of all our equipment at the beach and space to disinfect tools after use.  It was all coming together!

Our volunteers were absolute legends and we managed to cover almost the entire summer holidays with normally two volunteers down at the beach for a couple of hours litter picking every day.  As you can see in the infographic further below, we only missed a few days and most of them were due to bad weather.  The reception from locals and tourists alike was very positive, with volunteers being repeatedly thanked for their hard work and that definitely made up for the odd nappy or unpleasant item that had to be collected.  In total, we estimate that 84 bags of rubbish was removed from Whitesands which otherwise most likely would have ended up in the sea, polluting our waters and damaging our marine wildlife.

The project was a huge success and we were very touched that Morrisons Haverfordwest decided to reward each of our volunteers with a Morrisons voucher as a small thank you. Many of our volunteers then chose to pass these on to the St. David’s and Solva Food Pod; a real sign of community spirit and support. So what’s next?  Well, we will continue with regular beach cleans (subject to lockdown rules), we have more supporters, we’ve managed to get some good PR about EcoDewi from this project, and we hope all of this will help with future projects to support our local communities across the St. David’s Peninsula.