Duo clean-up with award for Midlothian river work

Joy Godfrey from Dalkeith and Stuart Forbes from Bilston have been given a People's Postcode Lottery Earthmovers Award.
Joy Godfrey from Dalkeith and Stuart Forbes from Bilston have been given a People's Postcode Lottery Earthmovers Award.

A local duo have been awarded for their environmental campaigning to clean-up a polluted Midlothian river.

Joy Godfrey from Dalkeith, and Stuart Forbes from Bilston, were given a People’s Postcode Lottery Earthmovers Award in recognition of their tireless campaigning to clean-up the South Esk River. It was recently awarded by environmental campaign charity Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The pair began a social media campaign called “I’m Back Caring”, with videos highlighting how thousands of sanitary towels and wet-wipes had polluted the river. They rallied local communities, ultimately forcing a major clean-up of the burn when more than 20 tons of sewage waste was removed.

Friends of the Earth Scotland wanted to acknowledge their fantastic campaigning and demonstrating leadership through practical action. The green group particularly praised the pressure that the duo applied to powerful decision-makers like Scottish Water, who ultimately took responsibility for the clean-up operation.

As a result of Joy and Stuart’s campaigning and political advocacy Midlothian’s sewage pollution issue has been raised in both parliaments. The campaign was recognised by the Scottish Parliament for drawing wide support and having “achieved its success through positive engagement on all sides”.

Joy said: “The River South Esk has been polluted with sewage for years and one small tributary, the Mary Burn, was especially bad. Sewage had poured into it unchecked for over a decade leaving half a kilometre in hard-to-reach woodland covered with thousands of sanitary towels and wet-wipes, some half buried, some hanging from tree branches and many more strewn everywhere.

“It was really shocking, because people flush things and think that’s the end of it – but it’s not - it’s scary to think how much of this waste goes directly into our local rivers.

“Local folk had stopped letting their children and dogs play in the river; but now with the clean-up underway we hope they’ll soon be able to use the water again. Rivers literally bring communities together. An issue like this is a great way for people to understand the impact of our waste and work together. This campaign has galvanised people and given them hope that we can make a huge difference to our local environment by working together.”

Stuart said: “To me it seems incredible we achieved what we have so far given that we started with only a smartphone and determination.

“When I think back to the hours we spent filming in the burn over winter, freezing and shivering as we scrambled up river banks and the earthy slopes of the burn, I remember how insurmountable the challenge sometimes felt that the task may never be over.

“Winning this award recognises how worthwhile it is to make a start on addressing pollution issues and it sends a message to communities and activists everywhere that you can make a difference, that you don’t need big budgets to tackle the problems locally.”

Sarah Moyes, Friends of the Earth Scotland plastic and circular economy campaigner, said: “Wet wipes and sanitary products are a major source of plastic pollution but thankfully people like Joy and Stuart are working hard to clean these products out of our environment. Their tireless campaigning has delivered major improvements to their local environment which will benefit wildlife and those who use the river recreationally. It’s right that they have been recognised for their hard work and innovative campaigning.”

Sanjay Singh, senior programmes advisor at People’s Postcode Lottery, who support the awards, said: “Congratulations to Joy and Stuart, who are fantastic campaigners setting a positive example to their community with their hard work and dedication to protecting their local environment. We are pleased that support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery allows inspiring people like you to be recognised through the Earthmovers Award.”