Diary of a Litter Picker – in the time of Corona

Before Lockdown, I was cleaning this section of the Solent shore on a daily basis, mainly collecting plastic pollution that had blown in or been deposited by the tides.


Being isolated and difficult to reach, and yet near my home, it seemed a good place to continue taking exercise with my rescue dog, using buckets that can contain broken glass and handle windy conditions. I have three that I’ve found washed-up, along with a bicycle basket.


Each bucket can contain between 40 and 260 pieces of plastic. Some items are very small. Barbecue tongs are useful for extracting wrappers from brambles but most sea-rubbish is clean having been floating in the Solent.


I find quite a few glass bottles, takeaway food containers, PVC fishing rope and always an old cigarette lighter.


Some items will have been lost overboard. Occasionally something makes me laugh.


I find the task of clearing the bridge across the estuary quite distressing. People have obviously been dropping litter from vehicles, including sani-wipes, plastic gloves and things that had been in their mouths. What do they imagine will happen next?


There was a lot of drink-driving prior to Covid-19. I’ve noticed less bottles and cans of alcohol chucked out of cars but far more picnic litter. It’s a wonder we are not coping with a more formidable virus.

“What is the worst things you seen dumped in a beauty spot?”

At the beginning of Lockdown I came across this rubbish dumped in a nature reserve where otters bred. There was human faeces everywhere.

“Why do people throw litter?” I’m asked.

It’s no excuse, but think it gives them a sense of release, which is why we are being inundated right now. I have studied the issue in my depth here.

Quite a lot of rubbish blows off building sites. Here I am in my V.E. Day dress, removing builder’s plastic from a New Forest pond along with a war-time can that looked at least 75 years old.

Collector's items - Sophie Neville's litter-picking finds

“What are the most distressing things you find?”

Fly-tipping upsets me. I took my family to help clear half a ton of plastic car parts dipped in a beautiful bluebell wood a mile from our house, last night. It’s been languishing there so long that a member of a UK Litter-picking group has asked me to send him what have become ‘collector’s items’ but there are too many! I dated the haul by a 2004 crisp-packet lodged with the hubcaps.

This was a load of brand new camping gear dumped in the New Forest National Park as if it was biodegradable.

It’s always distressing finding objects that have obviously been stolen, such as handbags, empty jewellry cases, laptops and iPhones. I’ve found eight different lots chucked in the river within half a mile of my home.

Finding nitrous oxide canisters worries me. What is something goes wrong? People are obviously taking it in areas inaccessible to an ambulance.

This is one of the most lethal objects found on a beach frequented by children, dogs and New Forest ponies. No one from the Council is going to find this.

Photo of rubbish - lethal litter - collected by Sophie Neville

Some items seem to have travelled a long way.

“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found?”

I find long, fluorescent light bulbs washed up in the same place – intact. Here is one I found at the beginning of Lockdown. I’m assured they contain mercury and would be horrific if smashed.

“Do you do art with the rubbish?”

Not using the hub-caps, but during Lockdown I’ve begun to make abstract pictures with sea plastic. You can see the earring and beer bottle caps I found above.

This seascape is proving popular on Facebook:

Seascape - artwork by sophie Neville made from sea-plastic

Those of us collecting sea-plastic along the south coast have found a number of toy soldiers. I incorporated one into this collage:

'The end of the world' a collage made of sea-plastic by Sophie Neville

Being a writer, I usually litter-pick alone so that I can take advantage of good weather and tides while being able to loosen-up after a day typing, but friends sometime join me. It’s fun and gives us plenty to chat about as we view society from the bottom up.

To see more photos and read more about #SolentBeachClean, please click here

Sophie Neville on her 150th beach or river clean of 2019

For a list of the kind of things I find washed up on Solent shores, please click here

Solent Beach Clean

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

18 thoughts on “Diary of a Litter Picker – in the time of Corona”

  1. You’re a hero, Sophie! Litter-picking is restarting in Lewes too. We’re dreading tackling all the fly-tipping in the woods, from when the local tip was closed re virus safety (very short-sighted decision)

      1. I think that there are litter-picking groups in the coastal towns, e.g. Peacehaven. We do our own town, one district at a time. Separately there’s the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach-rubbish recording weekend in September – depending on public transport, I try to get to a beach for that. Keep up the good work!

      2. Sophie is this a great site and you are doing marvellous work (I’m a litter picker myself). Please, please could you amend some of the text so that you aren’t telling everyone that you are all on your own in this deserted place – I may be over reacting but a lone woman (or man) in a place such as this, wonderful though it may seem, could be potentially unsafe.

  2. Well done Sophie. Sadly the Lake District has been deluged with litter in recent weeks. Thank heavens for volunteers!

      1. It seems to be barbecues, disposable tents of the festival kind, and a variety of things thrown from cars. I am baffled as to how people could journey to somewhere like the Lakes and do it. Regards John B.

  3. You are, indeed, a hero, Sophie. It beggars belief the damage humans are doing to the sea and the environment, even in this crisis. When I was a child I used to spend my summers at Stokes Bay around the corner from where my grandmother lived, bit I don’t remember the polution and litter being this bad back then. Nowadays, I worry about all those lovely and varied sea creatures and birds. I’m just glad people like you are willing to help redress the balance. Thank you – your work is priceless.

      1. I collected shells as a child as well! My sister had a little red cabinet full of them, all carefully arranged in order of size. I’m living near Buckingham now, but we (usually) travel across this area, the midlands and occasionally the south. Some rivers we see on our travels are OK, such as the smaller ones around the Bucks villages that are probably tributaries of the Great Ouse, but in the towns it’s not good. It saddens me greatly when I see (all too often) shopping trolleys dumped in the river behind the main car park in Buckingham. It seems so disrespectful to the beautiful swans and ducks that live on the water. It does make one despair rather.

  4. The fact that you and others have to do this at all is a terrible indictment on our society, you are all heroes. The parking ticket is a bit of a puzzle! The weirdest thing I have found, I think, was a car in a remote highland glen! It wasn’t dented so not a casualty of an accident; just rusting away! I love the artwork!

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