A TEAM of dedicated environmentalists in Gourock are helping to drive change in government policy as they protect the local environment.

Sea champion Kathleen McMillan works in partnership with Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park rangers and Greenock Cut conservation volunteers to carry out beach cleans at Lunderston Bay.

The cleaners record every single item they remove from the beach and send the data to the Marine Conservation Society.

Data gathered by the volunteers over the last few years has been influential in bringing about legislative changes which have had an impact on the environment.

The introduction of a charge for plastic bags came about as a result of data collection beach cleans across the UK, as did the ban on plastic cotton buds, regulations on microplastics, and the launch of bottle return schemes.

Kathleen says the data collection beach cleans are vital as they show trends and reveal where action is required.

She told the Tele: "All the data that's collected helps the Marine Conservation Society see patterns in the different types of litter that's washing up.

"The data is passed to a company which uses the information to approach governments and build cases for changes to legislation to reduce marine pollution.

"We pick up a whole range of rubbish that's a combination of litter that's dumped on the beach itself and debris in the water that washes up on the shore.

"Cotton buds are definitely the most common item but we find everything from wet wipes and sanitary towels to disposable barbecues.

"Rangers have been collecting and reporting data here since the 1990s so can see all the trends over the last 30 years.

"Without this data, we can't make changes."

In the last beach clean up on April 17, volunteers collected 7kg of rubbish in two hours - including 181 cotton buds.

Kathleen formed a partnership with the rangers back in 2013 and trained as a sea champion in 2014.

She used to see one or two volunteers per clean but says there was a huge surge in interest after David Attenborough's Blue Planet documentary and numbers swelled to around 50.

The environmentalist now regularly sees up to 20 at each of the four cleans a year.

Kathleen says there's still a lot of work to do in Inverclyde in terms of educating people and encouraging them not to drop litter.

Kathleen added: "A lot of people think that litter is just someone else's job and don't want to get involved.

"We're trying to encourage people to take their rubbish home if the bins are full.

"It's everyone's problem, even if you don't drop litter."

BAY WATCH: Senior countryside ranger Mike Holcombe, volunteer Stephen Finnegan, sea champion Kathleen McMillan and countryside ranger John MacLean.