|Michelle on the beach with a group of volunteers after a beach clean|
When people come and volunteer with us at the Marine Conservation Society there are many different ways they can get started. They may begin by organising a beach clean or doing Seasearch dives, doing some community fundraising or surveying the shoreline for our CoCoast project. So many of our volunteers get hooked on marine conservation and want to do more. That was the case for Sea Champion Michelle who recently won our Conservation Award. Read on below to find out how she got started and all the great work she's done so far.
Four years ago I found myself getting more and more fed up at finding litter along the coasts and shore lines when I went to the beach and wondered where it kept coming from as it couldn’t just be from what people had left behind. So I decided to find out more and organise a beach clean for one of the local beaches that I grew up next to.
I found the Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch page on the internet by chance as I was just scrolling through and decided to join and become a Beachwatch Organiser for Bacton Beach in Norfolk.
My first beach clean was back in November 2013. It was just me and my 12 year old daughter at the time and we collected a couple of bin bags full. I found it very satisfying and it was the perfect excuse to go down the beach and do something worthwhile whilst there. Once I saw what was involved in the surveys and understood how important they are I knew there was a real opportunity to make changes.
At the next clean there were four of us and we managed four bin bags full. Inspired I decided to start advertising more and so made a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The number of people coming out to help has grown over the years and we now have a fantastic group of regular volunteers.
After a little time I decided to take on another beach and became the organiser for a beach next to Bacton beach called Walcott which was in desperate need of some cleaning after the very severe surge tide of December 2013. Back then a lot of people lost their homes and there was severe flood damage to peoples' property which meant a lot of building debris, plastic piping, bags, polystyrene and rubber insulation found its way onto the beach. At the first beach clean at Walcott ten of us collected a whopping 110 kg of rubbish!
Not long after whilst walking with my son along another beach a few miles south called Sea Palling we found dead birds caught up in fishing rope and lots of litter too, so I decided to take on that beach as well. The final beach I took on was Mundesley where I went to school and have many happy memories of visiting. We have been working away at clearing up a huge polystyrene mountain there behind the sea defences since February 2017, it is now more of a mole hill and much improved!
I have been the Beachwatch Organiser for all these beaches since. They are relatively small beaches, but almost every weekend I organise a beach clean for one of them as well as doing the year round surveys and seal warden duties in the winter. So there I was, looking after four beaches but I still felt like there was more I could be doing so 3 years ago I became a Sea champion and boy have I been busy since!
As more people found out about the beach cleans I was asked to give a talk at Bacton First School to key stage 2 children. This was a great opportunity to educate the younger generation. I then did another two beach clean talks at a primary school and a Brownie group both of which I did a small beach clean with too.
Eventually I started getting contacted by companies such as Aviva and McDonalds asking if I could organise beach cleans as part of their charity initiative days. I did one with Aviva and Virgin Money both in 2016 and 2017 and a couple with Victory housing group.
Working at Sainsburys I was also able to be part of their local heroes scheme where they donate up to £200 per financial year depending on how many hours you volunteer for a charity. The Marine Conservation Society gets £200 per year from that as well as some fundraising I do whilst manning stalls at events.
I've even tried my hand at a bit of media work and have done a couple of radio interviews too as well as had the opportunity to take part in Sky TV's Ocean Rescue programme as part of a new children's program.
Recently it was a very nice surprise to be invited to the Marine Conservation Society AGM in London and to have won their Conservation Award! I was very touched and happy to receive this as it means a lot to me. I do the beach cleans as it is something I feel strongly about and enjoy, but receiving this was fantastic and a huge thank you for the opportunity and recognition . It has been a fantastic four years so far and hopefully many more to come!
Phew, what a trooper! A huge thank you Michelle. The award was very well deserved and we can't wait to see what you get up to next 🙂.