For a Fairer & More Sustainable World.

Surfers Against Sewage – Digital Campaigning and Activism

We started the year in a buoyant mood; celebrating our 30th anniversary and meeting with HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, our new Patron. A full schedule of beach cleans, education programmes, work with Plastic Free Communities and parliamentary activities were planned in addition to our core work on plastic pollution and water quality. Then COVID-19 struck and it soon became apparent that we would have to completely rethink our plans for the year.

We started to re-imagine how we could continue to support our volunteers, members and communities whilst having maximum impact in our work for the future of the oceans. We have embraced digital communication methods to move our education programs online, supporting parents with home schooling. We moved our beach cleans to a digital Return To Offender campaign.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted our fundraising in 2020, we have projected a 25% reduction in our income. We have however been quick to reforecast our expenditure budget to ensure we remain financially stable during this difficult time, whilst still ensuring we can deliver our projects as effectively as possible.

We are lucky that we are relatively small and very agile. We have supportive and knowledgeable trustees and an experienced leadership team who have enabled our staff to be safe and productive. We have emerged stronger.

Quick Facts:

  • 14 weeks of Ocean School delivered digitally on social media with 5,500+ views each session.
  • 1000+ views of ‘The Story of Plastic’ feature film screenings online via SAS channels.
  • #ReturnToOffender campaign achieved a reach of over 600,000 people on social media, sending a
  • strong message to big industry about environmental packaging pollution.
  • #GenerationSea Blueprint Survey received 3,330 responses in just 10 days seeking public attitude
  • toward the ocean and environment as a result of the pandemic.
  • 384 pollution notifications sent to MPs in one month via the Safer Seas
  • 200+ people attend SAS Brighton Beach Clean as lockdown eased.

Campaigning and Policy

Over the past three months, our campaigns and policy team has quickly adapted to the changing circumstances. They have adopted new ways of working to continue to be successful in our campaigning and reacted to new issues, whilst growing organisational capacity in this area.

  • In February, the Ocean Conservation All Party Parliamentary Group was successfully reconstituted
  •  following the 2019 General Election.
  • We developed our #GenerationSea strategy, focused on mobilising communities to engage with
  • the Environment Bill and pressuring government to develop world leading environmental
  • legislation.
  • The #GenerationSea Blueprint survey was undertaken in order to understand the attitude of the British public toward the Ocean and wider environment as a result of the pandemic. 3,330 survey responses were received and SAS were one of the first organisations to publish insights which will be critical in informing future work.
  • Developed partnerships with the Wildlife & Countryside LINK group, Break Free From Plastic international movement and continued our active involvement with The Climate Coalition, enabling more collaboration, sharing expertise and providing capacity to respond to external consultations.

Plastic Pollution

  • We delivered the #ReturnToOffender action which was quickly pivoted into a digital activation. Over 600 people were involved in the digital campaign, reaching over 600,000 people. The action revealed that 12 brands were responsible for 56% of environmental packaging pollution.
  • We have taken a lead role in forming a Plastic Reduction Policy Coalition engaging MPs to write plastic reduction targets into environmental legislation.
  • We held two digital screenings of The Story of Plastic feature film. Over 1,000 people watched the film.

Ocean Recovery

  • As part of the Wildlife and Countryside Marine Group, we published the Ocean Recovery Manifesto, a document clearly setting a course to tackle the many issues facing the ocean.
  • We supported the organisation of the Wildlife & Countryside Links’ Ocean Recovery Parliamentary Webinar.

Water Quality

  • We have extended the Safer Seas Service to be utilised as a campaign tool. App users can now email their local MP pollution notifications and submit health reports if they have become sick after entering the sea.
  • We launched the #EndSewagePollution campaign, building a cross sector coalition of 15 organisations, resulting in over 20,000 signatures to date calling on government to end sewage pollution.

Climate Change

As a member of The Climate Coalition, we mobilised our communities to take part in the Digital Mass Lobby to demand that nature is put at the centre of the economic recovery.


Our model for change engages communities nationwide and empowers them to undertake practical conservation activities. Over the last three months, our teams working with communities have adapted and evolved their models. The response  has been unprecedented with successful engagement with campaigns and participation numbers showing growth in all areas.

Regional Reps

Our Regional Reps program is a network of over 215 inspired individuals located across the UK, and that number is growing daily. They lead beach cleans, conduct education talks, connect with local councils and their local MPs, highlight regional issues and promote SAS’s national campaigns and initiatives.

Beach Cleans

The lockdown and subsequent physical distancing rules put an abrupt halt to planning for what was fast becoming the biggest Big Spring Beach Clean to date. The community appetite to strengthen the environmental agenda was directed through a number of digital campaign actions. From the middle of June, we started to reintroduce promotion of and support for beach cleans. Following a very strict guidance document, that is constantly updated to ensure safety during the pandemic, members of the public are now being encouraged to organise and promote beach cleans to continue raising awareness of the crisis.


The huge impact that the pandemic has had on schools and on education drove SAS to reimagine how to continue its momentum and rapidly find creative ways to support teachers and parents remotely.

  • Despite COVID-19 334 schools have signed up to be Plastic Free Schools in 2020, bringing the total to 2,348 (7.2% of all schools in the UK).
  • In mid-July SAS partnered with the Welsh Youth Parliament to deliver a week of online sessions which included discussion, debate, challenges and more. SAS delivered workshops on our Return To Offender Campaign, created videos which broke down the history of plastic and showcased the expanding Plastic Free Schools programme; and participated in a lively debate on ‘Climate Change: Who’s Responsibility?’.

Ocean School

Ocean school was delivered in a new way in 2020. Instead of the usual outdoor immersive experience, this year we delivered 14 weeks of online Ocean School, Each session consistently received over 5,500 views across platforms and provided the opportunity to engage pupils from across the country in environmental education topics ranging from coastal ecosystems to campaigning and circular economies.

Plastic Free Communities

The Plastic Free Communities 2020 Vision was launched with a series of regional workshops and seasonal activations, held just before lockdown. Thinking back to February, it felt like we were beginning to turn the tide on plastic pollution. However during the pandemic we have seen significant roll backs in government policy.  In addition, many businesses have been weakening their commitments to reduce their plastic waste and as lockdown restrictions ease many chains are sticking to this policy.

We have reviewed guidance in detail and busted the myths; it is clear that there is no reason Covid-19 should be an excuse to create another wave of unnecessary plastic pollution.

There are now 114 accredited Plastic Free Communities 10 of which secured their accreditation since March showing an inspiring focus of positive energy to help push back the weakening stance of government and corporates.

Thanks to Louise Allen and Jasmine Watterson of Surfers Against Sewage for giving us permission to share exerpts from their inspiring mid-term report. You can find out more about all their campaigns, activities and how to get involved at:

1536 864 Louise Allen and Jasmine Watterson
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