Making History in St Andrews: A Line in the Sand

Line in the Sand 2019 Photo credits to Ben Markey

Joining the global climate action call on Friday the 20th of September 2019, 1200 people gathered on West Sands Beach in St Andrews for a Line in the Sand to voice their concerns about climate change and stand together in solidarity for climate action.

The Line in the Sand received international media attention, was recognised in an Early Day Motion at Westminster and prompted the University of St Andrews to accelerate action on sustainability and spearhead climate initiatives to become carbon net zero.

Students, academics, school children, parents, grandparents, toddlers, and locals all joined in for the biggest climate strike ever seen in the 600-year-old University town. Since that day, we have seen an increased recognition of environmental concerns and more commitments to change and actions taken for the climate.

At the beginning of 2020, the University created the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) as the highest level of governance for sustainability. The ESB is chaired by Sir Ian Boyd and unites initiatives for sustainability in the curriculum, operational adaptation to achieve carbon neutrality, research, energy, estates, and environment, as well as student and community initiatives for environmental sustainability.

Beyond the work of the University, different initiatives have expanded and accelerated. One of it is the town-wide Sustainable St Andrews initiative. Another example is the Green Faith St Andrews Network which was established as an informal forum between various Christian churches in St Andrews. Many churches and faith groups have taken efforts to highlight the Climate Emergency at services and thus increase public awareness and sustainability action. Fife Council has declared a Climate Emergency and so has the Scottish Government as the first one in the world to do so.  

However, despite this local response we are still a long way from where we need to be and the need for global climate action has increased more dramatically than ever. This has not least been revealed trough Covid-19 which is a global pandemic born out of wildlife trafficking and human’s increased invasion into wilderness and nature (Aguirre et al., 2020). It has killed thousands around the world and forced to halt our whole global community in the tracks. It has changed our lives and – for better or for worse – we will unlikely be returning to the world as it was before. The challenge is now to use this historic opportunity to build back better. Many agree that this is a turning point. Scientists, conservations, and public health specialists have warned us that if we do not address the Climate Crisis, we are not equipped to address our survival and thus risk increasingly more and increasingly dangerous pandemics as well as weather events and natural disasters (Aguirre et al., 2020; Briggs, 2020; Spyro, 2020; Wyns, 2020).

While we long to go back to normal we must also recognise that what we call normal brought us and our world to where we are now. The time has come to imagine a new normal. It is time to use this opportunity in our history to build back better. We need a green recovery. A way to build a world that is more sustainable, most just and nature- centred. Protecting and respecting nature also means protecting ourselves. The big issues of our time such as climate change, social justice, and health all interlink and require an intersectional response.

That is why this year, on Friday the 25th of September 2020, as St Andrews students and community members, we made sure to add our voice to the global climate action call in a unique for the Line in the Sand 2.0. Where last year we had the continuous line of people we now formed a line of around 120 socially distanced shoes from StAndReuse and before that line of shoes individuals, families, community members and student representatives came at different times of the morning socially distanced in small groups of maximum 6 people from 2 households to write climate messages and artworks of hope in the sand.

In difficult times it becomes more important than ever to stand together for a future on a habitable and sustainable planet and call on politicians to lead a green recovery.

These are challenging times, but they also teach us that human and planetary health are deeply interlinked. Furthermore, the effects of Climate Change and nature exploitation are impacting the world sooner than expected. Our future lies in the hands of those leading and making decisions today. May their actions and inactions be remembered. As the messages in the sand state: “Climate Crisis: don’t bury your head in the sand. Act Now!”, “Our recovery must be green”, “Climate Justice is Social Justice”, “Plant Hope”, “One Earth One Home”.

I am reminded by a saying analysing the fictional conception of time travel and how people in movies and books always worry about how their small actions in the past could radically change the present. Yet, rarely does someone in the present think they can radically change the future by doing something small.

Picture by Ben Markey

This is a historic moment in time determining our future. Whatever you do, no matter how small, makes a difference! Climate Change might be humanity’s biggest collective challenge, but it is also our biggest opportunity to create a better world – one that is greener, more nature-centred, healthier, and filled with more kindness. Kindness to ourselves, each other, to the animals and our beautiful home – Planet Earth.

-Léa Weimann

Students’ Association Environment Officer at University of St Andrews 2020-21

4th year MA (honours) Sustainable Development & International Relations


Aguirre, A. A. et al. (2020) ‘Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID-19: Preventing Future Pandemics’, World Medical and Health Policy, 12(3), pp. 256–265. doi: 10.1002/wmh3.348.

Briggs, H. (2020) ‘Sir David Attenborough warns world leaders of extinction crisis’, BBC News, 28 September. Available at:

Spyro, S. (2020) ‘David Attenborough: COVID-19 may wake up the world to global warming’, Express, 22 September. Available at:

Wyns, A. (2020) ‘How our responses to climate change and the coronavirus are interlinked’, World Economic Forum, 2 April. Available at: