Great Borders River Clean

– in the Scottish Parliament on 31st August 2021.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-00131, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on the success of the great Borders river clean. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

I call Rachael Hamilton, who is way up in the gods. You have around seven minutes.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the success of the Great Borders River Clean, which returned on 15-16 May 2021; congratulates the 460 volunteers who took part and collected over 3,000kg of rubbish from the River Tweed, including shopping trolleys, mattresses, signposts and a sun dial; thanks GreenTweed Eco for organising the event; recognises the strength and spirit of Borders’ towns and communities, who pulled together to tackle a common cause, and notes the importance of volunteer work ahead of Volunteers Week 2021, which takes place from 1 to 7 June.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

I thank members for attending my debate on the first day back after the recess. It is good to see you all again—haggard or revitalised, we return.

Old tyres, baby wipes, bottles, bicycles, a plastic picnic chair and baler twine are just a few items that my family and I picked up along the River Tweed on the great Borders river clean. It is a tremendous initiative in its own right but, undoubtedly, it is also a blatant excuse for us to debate the importance of our wonderful Scottish rivers and address the biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, species extinction, extreme flooding and the fight to reverse the decline in wild salmon stocks, which is pertinent to my constituency.

In my motion, I was delighted to mention the annual volunteers week, which showcases the best of giving back to the communities where we live. Where would we be without people who give up their time? The volunteers week campaign started in 1984, which means that 2021 is the 37th year of formally saying “Thank you” to volunteers.

I turn to the main event, which all members have been waiting for. The great Borders river clean is a wonderful project that organises regular, large-scale river clean-ups throughout the Scottish Borders. Residents from towns and villages across my constituency and along the rivers and streams across the Borders take part in the river clean, which is predominantly of the area surrounding the River Tweed. All the rubbish that is collected is transported to the local waste transfer station and recycled.

I put on record my special and heartfelt thanks to Tom Rawson of St Mary’s school in Melrose, which is in Christine Grahame’s constituency. I am glad to see that she has joined the debate this evening, and I thank her for that.

Tom Rawson founded GreenTweed Eco, which organises the fantastic river clean project. His organisation aims to link environmental groups and charities with young people and schools across Scotland, and through the development of large-scale wildlife conservation and education projects, to encourage engagement between Scotland’s children and the natural world around us. As we hand over our planet to the younger generation, it is vital that they have the awareness and understanding of caring for our environment.

I must also mention Tom’s school, St Mary’s, which was the first primary school in Scotland successfully to eliminate single-use plastics. Furthermore, Melrose itself is making really good progress in reducing plastic consumption by becoming one of Scotland’s first towns to be accredited as a plastic-free community by the marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage.

I now want to set out why the river clean is so important and what it means for river pollution. We are aware of the damage that plastic pollution causes to river flora and fauna, and a widespread Greenpeace survey of 13 United Kingdom rivers found that they all contained plastic pollution. In the first nationwide exercise of its kind, scientists found microplastics in 28 of the 30 locations tested. Moreover, we cannot forget that around 80 per cent of marine microplastics come from freshwater run-off, which means that they persist in rivers for a certain period before they are flushed into the ocean.

It is important that we have cleaner rivers for the sake of the wildlife that have made them their home. As a lot of the problem is man made, it is up to us to do something about it. Over the years, the success of Scottish fishing has taken a real knock, and the decline in salmon stocks, which I have previously mentioned in the chamber, is affecting rivers across Scotland. The dire consequences that many areas are now facing can be attributed partly to pollution. According to Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland, the problem begins upstream in our rivers, where a shocking 50 per cent of aquatic insects now contain microplastics. We can acknowledge that there is no single cause for the decline in salmon stocks, but the fact is that plastic pollution and human activity have made a major contribution to that decline.

Members might be interested to learn that the United Nations has designated the 10 or so years from now to 2030 as the decade of ecosystem restoration. Riverbank ecosystems are part of our life support system, and I want the Scottish Government to provide more support for riparian woodland. I cannot see from up here, but I think that the minister Màiri McAllan is in the chamber, and I want her to take on board some of these asks. For example, we want shaded tributaries with cool pools where salmon can thrive that will allow us to begin to tackle falling salmon stocks. Indeed, that policy is supported by Scottish Woodlands.

As I am—believe it or not—the riparian woodland champion, I want to highlight some other actions that would be beneficial. First, the Scottish Government should incentivise the uptake of well-planned riparian woodland creation through, for example, the forestry grant schemes that are being rolled out just now. Such schemes could be extended to include riparian woodland species. Creating nature network corridors would be another fantastic way of meeting riparian habitat aspirations in all local authority areas right across Scotland, and the regional land use partnerships could also be used to deliver riparian networks at scale across the country.

However, the most important thing that the Scottish Government could do is give farmers clarity about its future farm policy. With support, land managers, who are keen to be part of the climate change solution, could improve the riparian zones of rivers and their tributaries, including the bricks and all the other bits that make up the banks of those rivers.

As we leave here tonight—perhaps stopping for a wild swim along the way, as Jackson Carlaw told me he would be doing—we should reflect on the possibility of positive change. We must not sit back and allow pollution to damage our rivers. Every one of us must act now, and I encourage members to get involved in this activity. Picking up rubbish is actually very satisfying, especially if it involves dragging big tyres across a wide field, and it is good for kids, their families and everyone else. This is for our constituencies and our country. By getting involved in a river or beach clean, we can feel proud of and give back to our communities. In fact, it is essential that we get together with these groups to tackle the blight of litter and pollution. We all need to be more like Tom Rawson.

Although such clean-ups form only a small part of the wider work of tackling climate change and reducing the impact that humans have on our planet, they are nonetheless vital and really bring communities together to make our rivers safer for wildlife. I again thank all the volunteers—Tom Rawson and everyone else who has been involved in the great Borders river clean.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you very much, Ms Hamilton. I think that Mr Carlaw almost had a coronary at the prospect of wild swimming. [



Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing it. She has highlighted the fact that so much good work is being done.

I also congratulate GreenTweed Eco on bringing together this year’s great Borders river clean, which took place from 15 to 16 May and was supported by the Fallago environment fund. As part of that important work, 460 volunteers took the time to clean up the River Tweed. I congratulate the Tweed Forum on the important role that it plays in helping to educate people on the River Tweed’s importance for biodiversity and the role that it plays in tackling the climate emergency.

The work of the volunteers led to more than 3,000kg of rubbish being removed from the Tweed, which is remarkable, considering that most of the heavy items, such as car tyres and scrap metal, are still under several feet of water. The amount of waste recorded was a real testament to the determination of all involved to remove as much rubbish as possible from the river banks. Rachael Hamilton mentioned some of the interesting finds, which included major car parts, an intact fishing rod and a broken kayak, as well as the usual detritus of our modern lives, such as bottles, plastic toys, clothing and hundreds of thousands of wet wipes. The river clean demonstrates what communities can achieve when they come together in a good cause, and I again congratulate everyone involved.

A lot of work is also being done by hard-working volunteers across Dumfries and Galloway in the west of my South Scotland region to clean our rivers and coasts. One example is the work of the Galloway Fisheries Trust, which is working to ensure that we have clean riparian habitats and management. Riparian management can bring important benefits to the surrounding catchment. Watercourses can be damaged by overgrazing livestock, overshading bankside trees or the presence of alien plant species. The Galloway Fisheries Trust has completed various improvement works, including the installation of bankside fencing, the organising of controlled grazing agreements and extensive spraying of Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and skunk cabbage, as well as the removal of riparian coniferous forestry and the planting of deciduous trees in the riverbank zone. All that work has led to a reduced acidity level in Galloway rivers, such as the River Bladnoch near Wigtown, the Water of Dee near Castle Douglas and the Old Mill Burn near Newbie, which is close to Annan.

In addition to the important work of the Galloway Fisheries Trust, the Solway Firth Partnership has been working extremely hard to tackle marine litter by organising beach and water cleans by volunteers throughout the region. Marine litter is human-created waste that has been deliberately discarded, accidentally lost or transported by winds and rivers to the sea and the beaches. As well as being unsightly, marine litter can be dangerous, causing harm to public health and injury to our marine and coastal wildlife, our birds and other sea life.

The D&G Eco Warriors group is worth a mention. It has been working to address coastal littering. I was pleased to join its members in 2019, and I hope to do so again. We found a few nurdles on the beach near Kirkcudbright.

The Solway Firth Partnership and D&G Eco Warriors are particularly concerned about the impact of fly-tipped waste, which I have previously highlighted. I ask the minister to tell us in her closing speech what action the Scottish Government is taking to assist local authorities with education on fly-tipping and enforcement action against those who commit fly-tipping offences, especially when such offences are committed in coastal areas, where they can present a real threat.

The River Tweed is described by our own Alasdair Allan in his book “Tweed rins tae the Ocean”. I am sure that the Borders river clean has helped greatly to maintain its appeal for walkers and visitors to enjoy. I remind everybody that all the money raised by Alasdair Allan’s book will go to charity.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

I thank my colleague Rachael Hamilton for securing this first, and important, members’ business debate after the recess. Waste, and primarily plastic, has become a serious problem for the environment, especially in our rivers, seas and oceans. We need only to go for a short stroll along most Scottish beaches to discover just how serious the issue has become.

Fortunately, in my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries, a growing army of volunteers, consisting of primary school pupils, young people and even the not-so-young, are all equally determined to tackle not only the menace of plastic but general rubbish left strewn in the sand and around our rivers.

Three years ago, three youngsters—Lottie, Fiona and Lucy—formed the Dumfries and Galloway Eco Warriors, and what a shining example that group has become. Within a matter of months it attracted 750 members, and that figure has doubled in recent times. Through organised beach cleans along the Solway coast, they have shifted tons of plastic and rubbish ranging from golf clubs to car wheels that have been left behind. Although their activities have been somewhat curtailed because of the pandemic, these eco-warriors are ready to go into battle once more to clean up the beautiful beaches and coves scattered along the Solway coastline and beyond. Their slogan, “Together we can make a difference”, probably says it all, and I would urge other members of the public to join in and show their support.

Another local clean-up organisation—this one in Wigtownshire: Oceans Need Us South West Scotland—has staged similar clean-up exercises around the harbour in Stranraer. That shows just how much people care and want to take pride in their community.

Interestingly, a number of plastic collection prototype projects are starting to be developed, which could help us to reduce litter problems in rivers and seas. The Solway Firth Partnership is looking to tackle the issue in a holistic way in the south-west corner of Scotland. Together with Marine Scotland and others, the partnership aspires not only to provide clean coasts but to prevent plastic and litter coming downstream into the estuary, so it is important that it gets support, resources and help to achieve that goal.

Given that tackling climate change and improving and protecting the environment is not a short-term challenge, I call on the Government to ensure that funding packages reflect the need for long-term solutions.

There are various projects afloat, including one that is being trialled in Holland, appropriately named “Catchy”, which might be successful in improving our water quality. Comprising two floating booms, a floating frame and a collection cage, the Allseas project is working on wind and current movement. It can be floated either at the quayside or even in the middle of a harbour to collect floating litter.

Thankfully, new technologies and solutions are being developed, but we cannot and should not rely on technology to do the dirty work for us. We need a culture change, and we need to make littering and fly-tipping as socially unacceptable as drink-driving or smoking in public places. We should encourage people to do the right thing. I welcome my colleague Murdo Fraser’s plans to introduce a fly-tipping bill.

However, we need to take personal responsibility and take our litter home; we should not rely on others to clear up our mess after us. Perhaps further roll-out and funding for countryside rangers can help to educate people. Until then, we must seriously thank all our eco-warriors for all their sterling work in the past and in the future.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank Rachael Hamilton for lodging her motion. The debate gives Parliament the opportunity to pay tribute to all those who give up their time to organise and volunteer for river-bank litter picks such as the great Borders river clean—and “great” is certainly a fitting description. 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 on a chilly February-March weekend last year. Despite the huge challenges and restrictions that all our local communities have faced in recent months, it was good to see the clean-up return in May this year, when an amazing 460 volunteers collected 3 tonnes of rubbish from the Tweed.

I echo the thanks that we have already heard for the work of Tom Rawson and the award-winning GreenTweed Eco, with support from the Fallago environment fund. They have made the clean-ups possible and have ensured that borderers can enjoy far cleaner river banks as a result.

The great Borders river clean is about more than just ensuring that our river banks are that bit more litter free; it is also about having pride in our towns and villages in the Borders and across the south of Scotland. Also, given that six tonnes of rubbish were removed over just three events, the clean-up raises awareness of the scale of the problem of the—primarily plastic—pollution that plagues far too many riversides in our communities.

We have all seen appalling images of beaches in Bali that are covered in rubbish, and birds in the Atlantic feeding plastic to their chicks, but the damage that plastic pollution causes is happening in the rivers—and the burns that run into them—right here on our doorsteps.

We are the cause of that pollution and it is our problem to solve. That means that we need tough action on people who leave litter in our countryside, which I am sad to say is a problem that appears to be on the rise. It means properly enforcing action to reduce the level of waste that is washed into waterways from nearby agricultural land whenever we are hit by heavy rainfall.

It also means that we must tackle the level of sewage that is legally spilled into rivers, which has risen by 40 per cent over the past 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. I get that the action is taken to stop sewage backing up into homes, businesses, streets and open spaces, particularly at times of heavy rain—and, of course, we must get the message across better that people should not dispose of items such as wipes in the sewage system in the first place. However, we need to look again at the level of investment in the system’s capacity, because it is clear that it is increasingly failing to cope.

Ultimately, the problem is another wake-up call about climate change: it is an effect of the increase in rainfall and the more intense storms that we are facing. Unless we tackle the climate crisis and the levels of surface water that we will have to manage, the scale of flooding and pollution that we have to contend with and the amount of litter that we have to clean from our beaches and rivers will grow and grow.

Communities in the Borders are stepping up to the mark when it comes to cleaning up their environment. In the important months ahead, we, as policy makers, need to match their commitment in taking action to protect our precious environment for them and all our communities. In the meantime, I thank each and every one of the volunteers who gives up their time to put the “great” into the great Borders river clean.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton, who represents a neighbouring constituency to the one that I represent, on securing this debate.

My constituency—Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale—encompasses the western side of the Borders, from the Eildon hills to the foothills of the Pentlands, so I am very familiar with the route of the river Tweed and its significance to the life and economy of the Borders over the centuries. It was undoubtedly a major route for early humans, it saw the great water wheels that drove the textile industry, and to this day it continues to be a great salmon river—all 97 miles of it.

The debate is not all about the Tweed, however. The river has many, diverse tributaries—watercourses that feed it, from where it rises, humbly, high up in Tweedsmuir, and along its path through to England and Berwick and the sea, via Peebles, Innerleithen, Galashiels and Melrose. The waterways that feed into it, such as Eddleston Water, Turfford Burn, at Earlston, Leithen Water, at Innerleithen, and Gala Water—obviously at Gala—to name but a few, are equally important in the cleaning process.

I cannot speak on the issue without first recognising, as other members have, the pivotal role of Tom Rawson, a teacher at St Mary’s School in Melrose and an indefatigable environmental activist. He has engaged riverside communities along the Tweed and its waterways in the clean-up, which is synchronised so that, on particular days, communities across the Borders are involved in their local clean-up, taking ownership of their waterway.

As others have said, more than 450 Borderers turned out to clean up the mess of the minority—a minority who are ignorant and uncaring about the damage to the environment, to wildlife and to the health of the river that they are fortunate enough to have navigating past their community. Twenty-two bags of litter were collected at the Turfford Burn at Earlston one Saturday. The clean-up at Eddleston is another example of one that extends to ensuring that natural debris is cleared. The Eddleston Water project has planted vegetation along the river’s path and has diverted it to make the water snake more in order to slow its path, which helps to reduce the prospect of flooding downstream, especially in Tweedgreen and Peebles, which has been all too common. As we know—it hardly needs to be said—flood prevention starts upstream.

Those who despoil our waterways, whether it is through plastic, debris or pesticides, should be held to account and prosecuted. They should be reported to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency or the council’s environmental department. No one should desist from reporting such people. It can be done discreetly.

I applaud the majority and, of course, the volunteers, including the biggest volunteer of all, Tom Rawson—the good guys. I thank them for protecting the Tweed and her varied waterways. We mortals are merely passing through, as generations of our predecessors have done before us. We are custodians of our environment. We should leave our rivers, including the River Tweed, and our waterways in a better condition than we found them—cleaner and clearer.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I extend my congratulations to you, Presiding Officer, which I have not managed to do for some while.

It is a great pleasure to follow the speech of Christine Grahame, who was right to thank all the volunteers and to say that we should hold to account individuals who recklessly tip and dump in the rivers. If they did not do that, our volunteers would not need to do so much work.

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing this members’ business debate. It is a great pleasure to come together in the chamber to thank people who do not seek publicity or even thanks, but who seek the enjoyment of being together and doing good for their communities. The great Borders river clean is a fine example of that. It is funded by the Fallago environment fund, which was set up to enhance the quality of life of local communities and visitors to the Borders through investment in the protection, enhancement and appreciation of the natural, built and cultural heritage of the Scottish Borders environment. It is a great credit to EDF Renewables and the Roxburghe Estates that they required those aims to be encompassed in the thoughts behind the funding that they provide.

That brings me to the great Borders river clean. If we look slightly more widely, River Cleanup, which is a worldwide group of river warriors, estimates that 8 billion kilograms of waste end up in our seas and oceans, having been transported down our rivers—the arteries of our society. Two thousand of those 8 billion kilograms were removed by the 453 great Borders volunteers who gave up their time. To give some idea of that volume, I note that it takes approximately 50 small plastic disposable bottles to make up a kilogram. We should think about the large articles that were dragged across farmers’ fields and the bags that were collected to go to landfill. We should also think how much easier it would have been for individuals to put the items in the bin themselves rather than expecting others to gather them together, but there we are.

Between May and June last year, 750 teams around the world worked on cleaning up their rivers because they recognised the importance of their rivers to the community, to communication, to wildlife and to the future that they want for their children. Those arteries make their way to the sea. That leads me to mention Surfers Against Sewage, which I have mentioned in other places, and the phenomenal work that it does in cleaning up beaches. It organises not only clean-ups, but surveys. On 11 August, the surfers produced a brand audit report that highlights, after 1 million miles of beach clean, exactly where the rubbish comes from. It identifies the “dirty dozen”—the 12 companies around the world that are responsible for almost three quarters of all the plastic and packaging pollution that ends up going into the sea and then, twice in 24 hours with the tides, gets washed back ashore.

In the south of Scotland, we have 13 beaches that have been recognised with the Scotland’s beach award. Those communities have looked after their beaches to meet the criteria of access, facilities, safety, local environmental quality, community and heritage. I take a moment to remind people that they can attend their local beach between 17 and 26 September for the beach clean-up in Scotland. I urge them to do so and I know that volunteers will be there.

Time is short, but I want to mention an idea that I hope the minister will consider promoting—I know that it is not within her gift. Organised by Scottish Borders Council, the People’s Project in Dumfries and Galloway and East Lothian Countryside Volunteers, it is a library of litter collection equipment—plastic bags, gloves and litter pickers—that enables our volunteers to go out and do their best.

The Destiny Project in Prestonpans spent last weekend clearing up fly tipping by visitors who decided to set up camp in one of our fields. Off their own backs—again, not because of publicity, but because it was the right thing to do—they went and collected that rubbish.

In conclusion, I echo the many members who have rightly said thank you to the volunteers, because they are taking care of their communities in a way that is special and individual to them. It is about time that we all thought about what happens if we just drop that plastic bottle.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I, too, thank all the volunteers in the Borders who participated in the great Borders river clean this year and in previous years. I also congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing a members’ business debate on the issue.

It is important that actions from local communities are spoken about and acknowledged in the Scottish Parliament.

More than 400 people from a number of villages across the Scottish Borders have worked together, demonstrating not only the strength of spirit of towns and villages pulling together on a common cause, but also where we need to act to look after the natural environment that we rely on and must take responsibility for.

As members have said, communities in many parts of the south of Scotland are rightly concerned about the environment, littering and fly tipping. Many communities are taking excellent direct action through events such as the river clean, litter picks and the beach clear-ups that Martin Whitfield mentioned. Cleaning our green spaces, rivers and fields undoubtedly has many advantages, from the aesthetic—tourists are attracted to the beautiful towns and villages across the Borders and beyond—to the environmental and educational benefits. It is important to teach people from an early age to respect their environment and understand the damage that is caused by plastics and the overconsumption of goods, which previous generations have undoubtedly succumbed to.

As it aimed to do, the great Borders river clean has brought into sharp focus the scale of the problem that we face. In one weekend, 3,000kg of rubbish was pulled from a Borders river. What a throwaway society we live in. The organisers hope that that shocking figure will raise awareness of the effects of the problem and help to change behaviours and reduce the amount of litter that enters the natural environment. That is very much needed.

Young people across the planet are telling us to act now and are instructing us to take the issue seriously. As a Parliament, we must accept our responsibilities. We must do more and take on responsibility for ensuring that there is legislation and funding to prevent the causes of such environmental problems. We must be serious about having a zero-waste Scotland. We need to use the evidence that we have to move on education, with local authorities responding to the reasons that have been identified, be they socioeconomic problems, barriers to people accessing services or a lack of education to change behaviour.

I end by noting just how important the subject is. I hope that we will return to it in the chamber many times in order to demonstrate that we take it very seriously, as that will be the best thank you that we can offer the volunteers. I once again commend the great Borders river clean and thank all the volunteers.

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate. I thank everyone who has stayed for it, and I welcome their views.

On the theme of thank yous, I begin my response on behalf of the Scottish Government by once again offering our sincere thanks to two groups of people. First, I thank Scotland’s incredible waste and resources key workers, who have, during an anxious and difficult time, worked tirelessly to keep our systems operating. While those of us who were able to work from home did so, they went out and kept our environment clean. I thank them—and all of Scotland’s key workers—for that.

Secondly, I extend the Government’s thanks to our communities of volunteers, who also rallied to meet the enormous challenges of the pandemic, keeping communities together as we had to stay apart. I thank everyone who dedicated themselves to causes such as keeping our natural environment enjoyable for all. Volunteer week always shines a spotlight on the efforts of volunteers, including those in the great Borders river clean. There are countless groups across the country who faithfully clean up our beautiful countryside. I was really pleased to join a litter pick in Rigside in my Clydesdale constituency last week, and I thank those volunteers, too. Such groups work tirelessly for our people and our planet.

Despite those thanks, it is clear that clearing up our waterways should not fall to volunteers. Many points have been made in tonight’s debate and I would love to pick up on them all. In my closing remarks, I want to address an area where I think progress needs to be made, which concerns the Scottish Government’s plans for tackling litter and fly tipping. Emma Harper asked me to outline those. Before I do that, however, I will pick up on a couple of the points that were made in the debate.

Rachael Hamilton mentioned riparian tree planting and other forms of support. Over the summer, I had the privilege of visiting a natural tree regeneration project in the Cairngorms, and I saw at first hand how the river began to adapt to the natural regeneration of woodland around it and how life returned. It was a wonderful thing to see.

Rachael Hamilton also mentioned future farming policy. I was very pleased that my colleague Mairi Gougeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, announced the future of farming implementation board as part of the Government’s first 100 days commitments. It will drive forward the future of farming policy. I know at first hand just how ready Scotland’s farmers are to contribute to supporting biodiversity and tackling climate change while continuing to produce sustainable, healthy food.

Colin Smyth rightly picked up on sewage outflows, and I agree with much of what he said. There are two points to stress. First, as he set out, they are a vital mechanism for ensuring that sewage does not back up into homes and businesses when there is adverse weather. Secondly, as he also pointed out, adverse weather is recurring. It is important that we all accept that, as the impact of climate change begins to be felt, we will have to become more accustomed to extreme weather conditions. I agree with his point that, just as we must all adapt to climate change, so, too, must the Scottish Government. I have asked my officials to work with Scottish Water and SEPA, which are already investing heavily in the area, to ensure that we are keeping up to date with the climate emergency and its implications.

Martin Whitfield mentioned the litter-picking library, and I like the idea. A little girl in my life, when asked at the beginning of the summer holidays what she was going to be doing, told me that she had ordered a litter-picking kit from South Lanarkshire Council. I thought, “Gosh! How times have changed.” Young people are so alive to these issues, and I like that.

Fly-tipping and littering are illegal and dangerous. Fly-tipping is unnecessary and there is no excuse for it anywhere in Scotland. Our environment is blighted by it and valuable resources that could form part of our circular economy if recycled are instead wasted. Taxpayers and landowners bear the brunt of the clean-up. I am acutely aware that fly-tipping is not just something that has happened as a result of the pandemic—it was a problem before that. However, there is no doubt that the pandemic created new challenges and, as people have spent more time in their homes and their communities, they have noticed the problem more.

A lot of hard work went into helping our waste and resources industry to minimise disruption during lockdowns, and I again praise the workers who kept everything flowing, as it were. There is evidence that the incidence of fly-tipping and littering has decreased as waste services, like everything else in life, have begun to creep back to something more like normality. Despite that, however, the Government is preparing to renew our commitment to tackling the problem with a new approach and accelerated action to address it.

The current policy and political landscape are very different from when our national litter strategy was published. We now face the climate emergency, we are out of the European Union against our wishes and we are navigating a global pandemic. Therefore, ahead of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in Glasgow this year, we have been working on developing a new litter and fly tipping strategy, which will recognise that those are different issues and that they both require prominence and a tailored approach.

The Scottish Government has committed to publishing that refreshed and updated strategy in early 2022. Later this year, I will publish a consultation to outline the key actions in the new strategy, which will include looking at where legislation might need to be renewed or updated. The consultation will be developed in close collaboration with our key stakeholders including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Zero Waste Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful and, of course, local authorities, which are responsible for and best placed to make decisions on waste prioritisation.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I welcome the fact that there is new thinking and, indeed, rethinking regarding tipping. Does the policy recognise that there is a fundamental separation in those who fly-tip? There are commercial businesses that, in essence, fly-tip for profit for themselves and there are individuals who fly-tip for want of access or some other, may I say, lame excuse, such as not being able to take things to the tip. Will the policy reflect the differences in those who fly-tip?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

I am grateful to the member for making that important point. I am determined to ensure that that nuance is part of the consultation because, to address the issue, we have to understand its causes.

As someone who lives in a rural location and has personal experience of and frustrations about littering and fly-tipping around my home, I am determined that the consultation exercise will reflect lived experience.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Among the stakeholders that the minister mentioned, she did not mention the police. I know from my many years here that the police and SEPA worked together when commercial operators were undercutting the prices of reasonable and conventional environmental disposal people and were dumping poisonous waste wherever they liked. Would it be possible to include the police in the list of stakeholders?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

I absolutely agree with Christine Grahame. Littering and fly-tipping are criminal offences, so the police should absolutely be involved in the development of the policy.

I am conscious that I am running short of time, Presiding Officer. I stress that we recognise and celebrate the value of kindness, which is inherent in volunteering, and we want to ensure that everyone who wants to volunteer can do so. However, I trust that I have made it clear that the Government is determined to tackle the causes of littering, fly-tipping and environmental damage and to focus on prevention, so that it does not fall to our volunteers to deal with the consequences. In doing that, we can clean up our beautiful natural environments, we can deliver a truly circular economy with all the economic benefits that come with that and, together, we can build a just and fair transition to net zero.

Meeting closed at 19:03.