When I first visited this shoreline seventeen years ago it was multi-coloured. Tiny pieces of plastic, bottle tops and PVC ropes littered the coast. There were huge pieces of refuse that were difficult to shift. Most of it had been washed up, rather than left by visitors. I would take a black plastic bag down to fill with rubbish, but often gave up in despair. Slowly, volunteers have cleared it.
I now try to go down every day to keep it clear of #plasticpollution. Although it looks clean at first glance, I usually fill a large bucket for every mile of Solent shoreline. This will normally contain about 250 items. Most are small ‘micro-plastics’. It involves a lot of bending-down. I sometimes return home weighed down by large items such as ten-gallon plastic drums. I then Tweet photos of my finds on #Solentbeachclean
The usual things I find related to fishing:
Fishing net and PVC rope – often small pieces of green PVC cord, sometimes embedded in the mud.
Fishing line – one length extracted from the mouth of a wild pony.
Anglers’ floats, lures and hooks.
PVC rope, fishing nets and floats.
Plastic grating and discs from crab traps.
Polystyrene in different stages of decay. Some pieces are huge.
Disposable rubber gloves and undisposable protective gloves.
Old buoys of all colours. One was too heavy for me to remove.
25 litre chemical containers used as buoys.
Plastic crates. One from Plymouth, one from the Clyde, one from Brittany. One made a good umbrella when a storm blew in as I walked home.
The usual things I find relating to sewage:
Plentiful cotton-bud stalks and other lengths of plastic
Tampon applicators and the back of panty liners
Wet wipes and floss sticks
Condom packs – some unopened. Bits of old condoms
Items dropped or washed off boats:
Old paintbrushes and cans of paint
Deck brushes and sponges, plastic buckets and cleaning materials
Cans of WD40, engine oil and lubricants
Plastic pegs – lots
Plastic funnels and nozzles
Half-empty bottle of turpentine (disposed of responsibly)
Pieces of gaffer tape and insulation tape – lots
3 x Fluorescent light bulbs
The usual things I find left by visitors to the shore or washed up:
PPE masks and homemade masks.
Hundreds of spent shotgun cartridges including the insides of paper cartridges.
Old underpants, socks, gloves, caps, t-shirts and other clothing.
Crisp wrappers – the sell-by date of one declared it to be more than 12 years old.
Broken glass – always collected for fear it will cut dogs’ paws or wild ponies.
Glass bottles and jars, recycled by my husband who used to manufacture cut glass crystal.
A sealed jar of Nescafe Gold Blend – which we used.
Hundreds of plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes, along with plastic drums. Many of these are washed up rather than dropped.
Babies dummies and children’s toys
The usual things I find that come in on the tide:
Old cigarette lighters of every colour and hue – about one a day.
Old flip-flops and shoes.
Plastic bags of every description, many buried in the mud.
Bottle tops and bottle rings of every shape and colour, usually plastic.
Plastic straws – about one a day – and cellophane covers to straws.
Plastic cups sometimes colonized by seaweed.
Sweet wrappers, cellophane, wrappers for packets of biscuits or other food.
Plastic hooks and tags of every kind including six-pack plastic.
Toothbrushes, nail files, make-up holders, ear plugs
Syringes and empty packs to tablets
Spray on aftershave and deodorants
Protective masks and PPE masks.
Helium balloons – one or two a day, usually with the string attached.
Flower pots of different sizes.
Little plastic fish, which once contained soy sauce.
Bubble wrap, other packaging and lumps of insulation material.
Brushes of all description, mainly for cleaning boats.
Heavy duty plastic bottles that once contained teak oil or engine oil, including 5 gallon containers.
Sponges and scourers of different types.
Micro-plastics: usually small pieces of blue, red, white or black plastic.
Corks from bottles, some plastic
Plastic bubble making toys
Aerosol cans and drink tins of all kinds.
Dairylea spread cartons and other plastic tubs
Old pens of all descriptions and various plastic sticks.
Old sticking plasters
Plastic cable ties – originally manufactured by my father.
Broken toys including a purple revolver and old balls.
Sophie Neville on a #Solentbeachclean (photo: Octavia Pollock)
People ask if I wear gloves: sometimes. They ask if I take a grabber: usually. They want to know if I am addicted: possibly. I spend about 90 minutes a day or 30 hours a month on my #Solentbeachclean but it keeps me fit, exercises the dog and gets us out while doing something useful. We walk with a purpose. The wind can be brisk but I never get cold.
I go with friends or family. I can fit litter-picking in with my work, taking advantage of good weather. My only worry is getting stuck in the mud. I have to admit that my back gets sore if there is a big haul to lug home but my hunter-gatherer instincts have been awakened. There is treasure to be found.
The unusual things I find:
3 x long fluorescent light bulbs – fully intact. They contain mercury. Both were washed up in the same place, years apart.
Intact domestic light bulb – haven’t had the guts to test it.
Star Wars mask
Rusty welding cylinder – I though it was an unexploded bomb and reported it to the police. Bit embarrassing.
Rusted depth charge – I was told this is a metal buoy but it has been identified as a WWII depth charge.
Old pair of binoculars.
Useful things I have found:
2 x feed buckets, one pink, one orange, used to collect rubbish henceforth
Brand new rubber-inflatable ring, which made a good Christmas present for someone I know.
Life-belts and buoys
Lens cap, that was washed 800 yards down the coast – returned to grateful owner
Brand new carpenter’s saws.
Yellow whistles from life jackets.
Yachting caps x 5. One was labelled and returned to its owner.
Neoprene sun-glass holder – bit grotty
New rope and cord.
Elastic boom-holder for a Scow dinghy
The number 5
2 x children’s plastic beach spades
New garden hose attachments
Wheels from two different dinghy launch trailers
A dinghy cushion akin to a garden kneeler
Sailing kit bag – unclaimed.
Can of WD40 still operable.
Unopened, sealed jar of Nescafe Gold, consumed at home.
Large fenders – some in pristine condition. I gather they cost about £60 each to buy new.
Turn the Tide on Plastic
Would you volunteer for the next Great British Spring Clean organised by Keep Britain Tidy? You can pledge your support here.
I officially volunteered 195 minutes of my time to clean the banks of the Lymington River, where litter gets chucked before being washed into the sea. This nature reserve belongs to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust of which I am a member. I expect it will take me 1,950 minutes – about 33 hours, which is my average for a month.
Or, think of joining the Marine conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean in September
There can be rewards to Wombling, as my friend calls it. I was once filmed trudging along a beach for a Chanel 4 ident. We were given a fee, in cash. This is my black dog, my nephew and me on a beach in Wales: Sophie and the old buoys.
8 thoughts on “Diary of a litter-picker: things found on a Solent beach clean”
Aha, I do beach-rubbish recording every September (https://www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch/), where we of course pick up the rubbish but under the Marine Conservation Society initiative we also record every tiny piece of plastic etc that we find, on a detailed form; this happens over a particular weekend in September, on hundreds of beaches round Britain, and the results are analysed statistically. The data is divided into 3 broad categories – fishing (nets, lines), tourist (packaging etc), sewage (wet-wipes, cotton buds etc), and this provides the MCS with real quantitative data with which to tackle the polluters.
Yes, on these weekends I’ve found some pretty odd things – for example a cigarette-lighter labelled ‘HM Prisons Only’….. And on Brighton beaches we find quite a few pairs of socks and tights – apparently Brightonians get a bit fired up with alcohol and go skinny-dipping late at night, and when collecting their clothes afterwards can’t find their socks!
Do please, all readers, go on this beach-recording weekend – near the time the beach organisers will be listed on the website, and you just turn up and will be given kit and deployed. It’s very sociable and rewarding.
PS For litter-picking etc I now use a pair of barbecue tongs, which are more precise than grabbers and great for reaching into corners.
I will definitely sign up for the beach recoding in September. I hadn’t heard of it. You have inspired me to recategorise my list! Do you ever clear road verges?
Thanks to you, I re-categorised my list, deciding most of the rubbish I collect from the Solent shore is washed up on the tide. It must come down the river, be chucked off boats, including the ferry, or blow over from the Isle of Wight.
The Solent mudflats only attract wildfowlers and a few walkers, who don’t leave much litter, although tramps camping in the woods leave plenty. I collect a lot of glass bottles.
I rode down the Transkei coast last November. Most of the rubbish came from passing ships.Do the MCS have a category for this?
Yes, separately from the beach-rubbish recording I go out with Litter Free Lewes – every couple of weeks we target a particular part of town, and on the last one it was the road verge all the way from town down to the main road. A huge haul of rubbish, as you can imagine!
On the rubbish-recording sessions, some of the packaging comes from passing ships though we can’t tell unless it’s in a foreign language; so we just have packaging categories and make a note if it’s foreign. Most of the bits of fishing-net and line are of course from ships. Our biggest category is always ‘small pieces of plastic’. Good to hear that you’ll go out on the MCS weekend! Nearer the time you can look up beaches near you on the website.
You’re doing a magnificent job, Sophie!
Thank you! How bad is rubbish accumulation on the coast where you live?
This is incredible! Some of the stuff you find is funny, other stuff useful; but some is weird and some just plain revolting – I don’t how you face picking some of the items up! But brilliant that you do, thank you, Sophie.
It’s not so bad when you have a litter picker but I hate finding dead rodents in bottles. Millions must be killed by litter.