Borders plastics campaigner wins 2019 Tweed Forum River Champion Award

Melrose teacher Tom Rawson receives the 2019 Tweed Forum River Champion Award from Forum Chairman James Hepburne Scott.''(Photo: PAUL DODDS).
Melrose teacher Tom Rawson receives the 2019 Tweed Forum River Champion Award from Forum Chairman James Hepburne Scott.''(Photo: PAUL DODDS).

Teacher Tom Rawson, who has led a campaign to reduce plastic littering and single use plastic consumption in the Scottish Borders, has been chosen as the 2019 winner of the Tweed Forum River Champion Award.

Now in its fourth year, the accolade rewards an individual from the Scottish Borders or North Northumberland, from any walk of life, who has an outstanding commitment to the protection and enhancement of the River Tweed and the natural, built and cultural heritage of its surroundings.

The river has a catchment of 5,000 sq km, with 80% in Scotland and 20% in England.

Tom helped make St Mary’s School, Melrose Scotland’s first plastic free school and was behind the school’s recent 7Towns1River Tweed clean project which saw 196 people take part in a synchronised river clean along the banks of the Tweed. Over 2.2 tonnes of litter were collected by child and adult volunteers in Peebles, Cardrona, Galashiels, Melrose, St Boswells, Kelso, Coldstream and Berwick-Upon-Tweed as part of the initiative.

Tom is also currently organising the Great Borders River Clean which takes place on Sunday 27 October. This region-wide river clean will extend the work of the 7Towns1River project across 20 towns on 6 rivers across the Scottish Borders. Tom has also coordinated school tree-planting projects at Eddleston, Walkerburn and Earlston to reduce the impact of flooding events and organised the community planting of a First World War Centenary Avenue from Newstead to Melrose funded by the Tweed Forum-run Borders Tree Planting Grant scheme. 2019 is the second year of the St. Mary’s School #1918oaks project to supply Borders schools with portable tree nurseries to grow trees from seed for future planting events.

The issue of plastic pollution is a growing problem across the planet, with plastic bags, packaging, microbeads and other plastic pollutants entering rivers and oceans, harming wildlife and disrupting complex ecosystems.

Tweed Forum Chairman, James Hepburne Scott said; “Apart from being an eyesore, plastic pollution in our rivers causes serious harm, often killing wildlife and breaking down and entering the food chain where the effects of ingestion are still not fully understood. As rivers are ultimately bound for the sea, this then becomes a huge global problem. Tom’s work in raising awareness of the issue and in galvanising young and old alike across the Scottish Borders into taking practical steps to make a difference is hugely important. Through this Tweed Forum River Champion Award, we want to recognise and thank him for his vital contribution in the fight against the harm caused by plastic pollution in the River Tweed and beyond.”

Speaking as he was presented with the Tweed Forum River Champion trophy, Tom Rawson said: “I am passionate about educating, enthusing and empowering the region’s children to be the future guardians of our environment. I want them to feel that their efforts can and do have a positive and significant impact. The clean-up events that St. Mary’s School have organised are a real team-effort with children and adults from all over the Borders coming together to make a difference. Plastic pollution is very much a product of our lifestyles but we are also the solution to this local and global issue. I am delighted that my efforts, those of the staff and pupils at St. Mary’s School, Melrose and of school children across the Borders have been recognised in this way.”

The Tweed Forum River Champion is chosen from nominations received from the public and from groups and organisations involved in the management of the river on both sides of the Border.

Their championing of the River Tweed includes activity undertaken after 2010 and can feature anything from wildlife preservation initiatives and flood prevention to woodland, wetland and moorland management, listed building preservation or other relevant work. It can be carried out through their employment, through volunteering or other personal commitment.

The eventual winner of the Tweed Forum River Champion Award is decided by a judging panel.

Previous Tweed Forum River Champion recipients are Frank Turnbull from Coldstream (2016), Jim Sinclair from Galashiels (2017) and Eric Hastings from Drygrange (2018).