What’s the problem?
All sorts of litter ends up polluting our beaches and coasts, from plastic bottles to oil drums, fishing boxes to take away packaging, plastic shopping bags to industrial strapping bands, the list goes on…It ended up there due to the influence of people, the movements of the ocean’s tide and currents and the shape of the coastline.
In 2017 the Marine Conservation Society found an average of 491 litter items per 100m stretch of beach monitored in Scotland, with plastics topping the list. This represents a 7% increase from 2016 figures. In some areas the problem simply cannot go unnoticed, with beaches swamped in plastic debris. Last year a study produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation produced some truly disturbing conclusions: the equivalent of one entire truck of plastic (8 tonnes) is dumped in the sea every minute and, if we don’t change things, by 2050 we could have more plastic than fish (by weight) in the sea. This litter impacts the ecosystem health and the wellbeing of the coastal environment as a whole. The rising tide of plastic is impacting marine wild life through entanglement, ingestion and breakdown into microplastics that pose hazards, known and as-yet unknown, for both wildlife and human health. Over 90% of North Sea fulmars that have been autopsied contain ingested plastic. Pre-production plastic pellets or nurdles are mistaken for fish eggs and fed on by seabirds. Plastics in the sea also attract carcinogenic and endocrine disruptive chemicals like PCBs, BPAs and pesticides.
The presence of litter on our beaches and coasts isn’t new, but it is growing. Recent publicity and policy actions highlight the issue and are helping drive initiatives to understand the distribution of coastal litter and drive cleaning operations. Clean, safe and healthy coastal environments are critical for a variety of reasons from maintaining ecosystem diversity to contributing revenue to the economy through attracting businesses and tourism. Scotland’s Marine Litter Strategy was launched in 2014 providing a framework for the delivery of a multisectoral approach to the control and monitoring of marine and coastal litter in Scotland. This will also contribute to the UK’s obligations under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2010) to deliver Good Environmental Status in marine waters by 2020.
What are we doing?
The Scottish coastline has been divided into sectors, each between 20 and 30 miles long, providing a framework for the crews to target their flights. The aircraft used are all dual crewed (pilot and observer) and have high wings, to collect unobstructed images of the coast. The observer takes pictures of coastal litter using a high performance DSLR camera with 70 – 300 mm lens, GPS geo-tagging and RAW format capability. The focus is on capturing litter locations.
Other features of interest will also be captured (for example, seals on the beach, interesting coastal morphology or historic structures). In addition, the aircraft are fitted with a downward and outward facing HD capable video camera of GoPro or Garmin VIRB type. Video data is collected throughout the flights and provides useful information to support the pictures, particularly for assessing access and providing a record of the coast where litter isn’t visible and therefore pictures haven’t been taken.
The images collected contain geographical positioning information, which is used as the basis of the mapping. The track taken by the aircraft is also recorded. SCRAPbook flights aim to fly at 600’ – 800’ to capture useful images. As much as possible, low tide conditions are targeted so that any litter on the foreshore will be exposed. Good light conditions are also needed, with the cloud base >1500’. Rough sea states are also avoided, and winds of <15kts required. Finding days where these conditions exist can be tricky, even during the Scottish summer!
Sky Watch crews submit the images for assessment and positioning information is extracted and added to a classification spreadsheet template. Once we know where each picture is from, a team of brilliant volunteers review them, looking at a set of criteria to help assess where the litter is. The intensity of the litter visible from the image is the primary category we are interested in – how much litter is there and how is it distributed? We are looking at both how much there is, and how it is spread as this can provide useful information about its source. The scheme below shows how we are classifying.
We’re also interested in what type of litter it is, and we apply a scheme based on the Marine Conservation Society Beach watch form. The other primary piece of information is the character of the coast; is it rocky, sandy or cliff dominated? Is it saltmarsh? Are there paths down to it? Is it a residential area? All this information can help inform both an understanding of why the litter is there, as well as its collection and removal by those who will use SCRAPbook to help clean up their stretch of coast. These analysed images form the data set shown on our map. The images show us where the litter is; and will provide beach cleans the extra information they need as to where their efforts are needed.
Planes and Crews
Peter Macintosh (Above, right): Peter learned to fly in the RAF and was operational on both fast jet and transport types. After a tour as an instructor he joined the Red Arrows, flying as Red 10 then as Red 8. After leaving the RAF Peter was involved in Formula 1 racing and has been a long time member of the UKCAP. Peter is part owner of a Jabiru aircraft.
Paul Horth (Above, centre. Below, right): Paul is a retired RAF engineer and co-owner of a high wing Jabiru aircraft. He is an expert in technical matters including aerial photography and is a long time member of the UKCAP. Paul flies regularly as pilot in the Jabiru and as observer in the gyrocopter where, due to the exposed seating, organisation of equipment is key.
David Brown (Above, left): David retired from the RAF as a senior Wing Commander specialising in reconnaissance. He is another part owner of the Jabiru and flies regularly as both pilot and observer. David brings a wealth of operational experience, both in flying and planning to the UKCAP and to the SCRAPbook project.
Will Roomes (Above, left): Will retired from a career in the Army and is now a gyrocopter pilot and gyrocopter instructor. His MTO Sport gyro is a superb slow flying platform with unprecedented visibility, making it highly suited to SCRAPbook observation and photography. Will is a recent member of the UKCAP and brings very valuable experience in gyro matters.
Peter Gilmour (right): Peter flew in the RAF as aircrew on the Shackleton fleet and then several tours on the Phantom air defence fighter. After leaving the RAF Peter became a civil pilot, eventually joining First Choice Airlines (later Thomson) where he rose to become a senior manager and Chief Pilot. Peter now flies a Piper L18c observation aircraft.
Archie Liggat (left): Archie learned to fly in the RAF, completing a first tour as an instructor and then further tours as a fighter pilot on the Phantom. He completed his RAF career with a tour as a fast jet squadron commander before going on to become a pilot with British Airways on the 747 fleet. Archie is currently UKCAP Chairman and flies a Rallye.
Jim Watt (right): Jim is currently the Managing Director of Tayside Aviation Ltd, a flight training and engineering facility based at Dundee Airport. Jim flies a large variety of types and owns a classic Vietnam-era Cessna L19/O-1 Bird Dog observation aircraft which is absolutely perfect for SCRAPbook survey duties.
Bruce Thomson (left): Bruce recently retired as a Police Inspector having worked in Response/Community Policing, Traffic and the Force Control Room. He obtained a flying licence many years ago and trained as a Civil Defence Air Observer whilst serving with the police. Bruce brings valuable experience in air observation and operational matters.
Ian Forrest (right): Ian is a pilot, retired teacher and a drummer with a successful band. Ian’s aeroplane is a high wing 2-seat Skyranger which offers excellent visibility and slow flying ability that makes it ideal for SCRAPbook survey. Ian is a long term member of the UKCAP and has been flying microlights, often with Colin Maclean, his observer, since 1990.
Colin Maclean (left): Colin is currently a cameraman with STV and, as a pilot, is also well used to the demands of aerial photography – at which he is a complete expert. Ian and Colin make an ideal team with Colin acting mainly as observer and offering his expertise to the SCRAPbook project.
Accessing the images
All the images are available under a Creative Commons license agreement. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) If you would like to reuse the images, we ask that they are appropriately credited and that you abide by the terms of the license. The classification data set based on the images can also be shared by arrangement.
To request images or classification data please contact us at email@example.com to discuss your requirements. In future, we also aim to make our data available to other data sharing portals.