Diary of a lone litter picker – cleaning Solent shores of plastic pollution after Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis

I’m often ask what are the most extraordinary things I’ve found on a beach clean. This year, I came across a crate washed up on Solent shores that originated in Brittany, nearly 400 kilometres across the English Chanel.

My bucket fills with lost toys and discarded litter as I clear plastic debris brought in on the tide. There is often a piece of Lego and nearly always an old cigarette lighter. How do they get into the sea?

Plastic and PVC string gets entangled in oak trees brought down in the storms.

But, perhaps the strangest things are three unbroken fluorescent light bulbs washed up in the same place at different times.

There is always plenty to collect from tidal margins including a fair bit of rope. Most pieces are tiny. Plastic gardening waste is common.

Some of it defeats me. I couldn’t shift this marker buoy. It is difficult to imagine how it will ever be removed from such a remote spot with no vehicle access.

British mud flats, so important for wildfowl, constitute one of our last wildernesses. I long to check the whole area but birds will be breeding on the low lying islands soon.

Instead, I go inland, clearing plastic bottles and wrappers that have blown off the Solent into coastal fields where they risk being a hazard to livestock. I often find pieces of plastic that have passed through the guts of New Forest ponies. Some items have obviously been dumped by overloaded hikers such as this brand new camping gear.

Meanwhile, the Lymington river estuary seems to be regarded as a litter bin by someone who drinks Tazoo everyday. I collect what I can from the banks before the rubbish attracts even more.

The nearest McDonalds is a 25 minute drive away and yet countless people wait until they reach the bridge before tossing their cups into the tidal river. Why do they do this?

I didn’t clear nearly enough. The road flooded taking all the litter chucked onto the verge into the sea.

The shore I usually clean-up was not too bad after the storms but this is because others have begun to clear up debris.

After storm Ciara I found three old cigarette lighters at once along with other indicators of how bad things are. I learnt that one person had  found 105 old lighters up on the Mersey. For a list of things found while beach cleaning in 2019, please click here.

What could you do to help? Could you pick up a little litter today? Please click here to find a list of the things I might take on a beach clean.

You really can make a difference. We have the Great British Spring Clean from 20th March until 13th April. Sign up and get involved here.

The Solent coast and mudflats looking west

Diary of a Lone Litter-picker – after the Solent storms

Solent Beach Clean photo Matt Wright
photo: Matt Wright

21st January 2020 ~

I returned to the shingle beach at Tanner’s Lane on the Solent at low tide to see what had washed up after a week of stormy weather. You can see me and my dog wrapped up against the cold weather in the bottom left hand corner of this aerial photograph taken as we searched for rubbish along the shore. We found a predominance of PVC fishing net and rope, along with plastic straws and cotton bud stalks, bottle tops and micro plastics.

I was obliged to leave a car tyre and a quantity of rope that was too deeply buried to extract without a crowbar but it had been too cold for picnicers. There was no litter. It is not difficult to imagine that plastic pollution can endanger people. The yards of loose mooring rope I did retrieve could easily have become entangled in the propeller of someone’s boat and left them stranded in shipping lanes.

22nd January

I joined ‘Paws on Plastic’ on Facebook who encourage dog walkers to return with one piece of rubbish a day. One piece is better than noting. I picked up a can discarded by the sign greeting people to our town and took it home for re-cycling with the mantra, ‘rubbish attracts more rubbish’ swirling around my mind.

23rd January

The next time I took my hound for a walk in the New Forest, I came across two carrier bags of litter hanging from a tree. I’m rather hoping their owner will return for them since I had already collected a bucketful.

24th January

I continued to collect tins and plastic bottles throughout the week, if only two or three a day. What amazes me is how often I find unopened cans or bottles of drink chucked in the bushes. Were they originally stolen? Why are they thrown into the woods? To read more, please click here

I hate sorting the litter when I reach home but getting out into the wild can be amazing.

Diary of a lone litter-picker: cleaning the riverbank and Solent shores

Sophie Neville collecting plastic from the Atlantic Ocean
Sophie Neville on the 150th beach/river clean of 2019

Wednesday 1st January 2020

“Hello Sophie,” a passing driver called out. “Are you still collecting plastic?”

“My first beach clean of the year!”

I manged 150 beach or riverside litter collections last year. My aim is to make it 200 for 2020. As someone wrote to ask why I stopped my last‘Diary of a lone litter-picker’ back in April, I thought I’d start it up again. It may not be that consistent but I am fuelled by rage. The first thing I picked up toady was a deflated helium balloon found on the road to the Solent shore. Isn’t helium a finite resource? Don’t we need it for medical procedures?

Solent beach clean 1 Jan 2020

I came across two ‘disposable’ barbecues lying abandoned on the beach.

“Do you think someone will return for these?” I asked the only other person about on New Year’s Day.

“Doubt it.”

I added the aluminium trays to the purple bucket I use to collect litter. Only one drinks can graced it’s depths today but stopped repeatedly to pick up cotton bud stalks along with small pieces of PVC fishing twine and red, white or blue micro- plastics washed up by winter tides.

A runner ran past. Will all this bending keep me fit, I wonder. There was a little polystyrene and four boxes of fireworks left beside the municipal bin.

It was a mild but misty morning. I walked along with my dog listening to cries of seabirds. How many of them have plastic in their gullets?

Solent Beach clean barbeque 1 Jan 2020

On returning home, I looked up the  Marine Conservation Society and see from their 2019 report that they have a number of different classifications for items such as ‘Sewage related debris’. They need more data to campaign and change Government policies. I decide to join.

Thursday 2nd January

It was windy with rain threatening, so I decided to take my dog down a lane running alongside the river marking the boundary of the Lymington Reedbeds Nature Reserve in the New forest National Park. This is just above the high tide level and prone to flooding. I cleaned the area two months ago. In about 500 yards I collected:

Rubbish 2020

3 x glass booze bottles, 3 x booze cans, 3 x drink cans, 7 x plastic drinks bottles, 5 x cigarette packets and 30 x crisp/sweet wrappers. This weighed 3kgs. Apart from one sandwich the contents of the packaging could not be described as health-giving.

I had to leave a discarded boiler, a rusting wheelbarrow, a length of soggy carpet and a number of bottles lying out of my reach. This fly-tipping has languished in the ditches here for sometime but I need to commander help and a suitable vehicle.

Friday 3rd January

A lovely sunny day when I cleared litter from the rest of the lane running along the river. What do people expect will happen to the cans and plastic flung into the reserve? One tin was dated 2011. Four of the wrappers had been neatly knotted before being chucked in the ditch. From the evidence collected, I strongly suspect their owner to be drink-driving on his or her way to work every day.

Rubbish 4 2020

Sadly, I will need to return with a long poled grabber for plastic bottles chucked deep into the brambles. I need a vehicle to collect a large car part, a plastic tub and a number of ‘Bags for Life’ stuffed with litter lying abandoned near the footpath to the pub. It could be worse. I found nine different items of stolen property along this lane last year – iPhones, lap tops, two empty jewellery boxes and a handbag in which a mouse had made its nest.

Rubbish 3 2002

It was my friend’s Birthday, so took her a card, walking along the estuary with a bucket to collect the inevitable litter. What should I do with parts that have obviously fallen off cars? I hung one up in case its grateful owner comes along along. I also hung a soggy sweatshirt from the railing, although I doubt if it will be claimed.

Rubbish river 2020

I was down by the water, fishing out plastic bottles when a car passed belching clouds of choking white smoke. After extracting an old carry-mat from the reeds I found two puzzled men looking under the bonnet of their car. Their glamorous passenger stood shivering by the estuary. I pointed them in the direction of the local garage but feel I should have left the mat in case they needed it.

Rubbish river 1 2020

Saturday 4th January

In an effort to record data, I sort yesterday’s litter into recyling bags full of tins and plastic bottles. Glass bottles go in an outside sink for washing, wrappers into my domestic rubbish bags. They should go into Council litter bins or litter bags.

Rubbish solent 2020

I returned to the Solent and began collecting plastic deposited by winter tides. When I first moved to this area fifteen years ago, the foreshore was multi-coloured with debris. The coast now looks clean at first glace but I picked up about 200 tiny pieces of fishing twine and micro-plastics in a few hundred yards. There were quite a few spent shot-gun cartridges left by wild-flowlers. I found a baby’s dummy and a used cigarette lighter. There is often one. New Forest ponies roam here and yet I have retrieved buckets of broken glass in the past and find a jagged bottle base that could easily lame a horse. It has obviously been there for years.

Rubbish glass with dog

Sunday 5th January

A stereo speaker was washed up on the shore this afternoon. I wouldn’t want to hit one at sea. I spied a Corona bottle, the bobbly ‘every bubble’s passed its FIZZical!’ type that we yearned for as children in the 1960s. How old would it be? 50 years-old? Could I still redeem the deposit? Hopefully soon.

Rubbish micro plastics

Monday 6th January

I walked back from town, unable to pass littler lying the causeway over the Lymington River. I had no bucket with me but where there is rubbish there is usually something you can use as a container. I found a broken umbrella, filling its folds with plastic cup lids, bottle tops, and assorted trash including a Pepsi Cola tin that would have otherwise rolled into the tidal river.

Rubbish umbrella 2020

Tuesday 7th January

I should have rushed out early when we had two minutes of sunshine but I was distracted and the rain set in. Instead, I read through litter-picking posts on Facebook, absorbing information on bottle return schemes and the call for an end to single use plastics. I reckon we need to support anyone who is doing anything before the world is swamped in rubbish and the food chain poisoned. Do let me know what you are doing in the comments box below.

For a list of things found on Solent Beachcleans last year, please click here

Lymington estuary

 

The original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) screened on Wednesday 18th December on BBC Two

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Please click here for details of the broadcast

If you enjoy ‘Swallows and Amazons’ do think of joining The Arthur Ransome Society who often visit the film locations or the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook where you will meet like-minded people – of all ages. Most are dinghy sailors who love the books.

At least one film fan held a TV party with and 1930’s theme to celebrate. Others stoked up the wood-burner and settled down to spend an afternoon re-living summer in the Lake District. It is as if Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – a timeless classic to watch again and again.

Swallows & Amazons film billing

For the latest edition of the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons(1974)’ with details of where the film was made and what those who appeared in it are doing now,  Please click here

The Making of Swallows and Amazons' by Sophie Neville

The ebook, entitled ‘The secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’ is the same with a few more stories for adult readers and has links to behind-the-scenes cine footage. It can be downloaded from iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo and Amazon Kindle

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

It would be lovely to hear from anyone who saw it in the cinema when it first came out in cinemas in the summer of 1974 – more than forty-five years ago.

9a. Leaflet programme for S and A film Theatr Clwyd 1976_reverse.JPG

Simon Hodkin kindly sent in this cinema programme that he has kept since watching the movie when he was a boy growing up in North Wales.

9. Leaflet programme for S and A film Theatr Clwyd 1976_front

Can anyone remember the films scheduled later that long hot summer of 1976: ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973) with Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt and Sterling Hayden, ‘What Next’ and ‘Black Beauty’ starring Mark Lester?

Swallows and Amazons comic 1

Swallows and Amazons comic 2

Arthur Herbertson managed to track down these rare publicity sheets for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ typical of movie games of the period:

Swallows and Amazons 1974 camp scene

Arthur has a collection of the four jigsaw puzzles and the Puffin paperback that came out with the film.

Puzzels

There was a vinyl LP narrated by the screenwriter David Wood that you can still purchase.

Arthur found a publicity brochure that I had never seen before.

Swallows and Amazons sales book 2

To read comments from people who saw the film at the cinema in 1974, please click here

The original story was written by Arthur Ransome in 1929 ninety years ago, so the film hits the half-way mark between the original readers and today’s audience.  It’s funny, the critics in 1974 are asking the same question as raised in the billing this week: Do ‘modern youngsters struggle to relate to such old-fashioned game playing’?

Do add your thoughts to the comments below.

Radio Times billing of Swallows and Amazons Christmas 2019

~Billing in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times 2019~

The diary of a lone litter picker: 20 reasons why it’s good to collect trash

 

As a child, I collected sea shells on the beach. Now I walk by the Solent, pulling rope and other litter out of the springy coastal turf, finding rubbish that has literally grown into the landscape. I often find litter that looks as if it has been previously ingested by New Forest ponies that graze the area. Some plastic had been around for years. How old is the Mars Bar wrapper or the bottle of Fair Liquid in this photo?

As I work, I’ve been thinking up reasons why it is good to collect litter:

  1. You can make a difference – improving the environment very quickly.
  2. Items that are potentially harmful to wildlife and pets get removed.
  3. Quantities of glass, metals and plastic can be recycled instead of languishing for years.
  4. It is an easy way of paying back the natural world and society for the good things we freely enjoy.
  5. A huge amount of satisfaction is gained by logging findings and looking back on the results, especially when you map the area.
  6. It is satisfying to be able to return lost or stolen items to their rightful owners.
  7. You can find interesting or useful items – including things you’ve lost yourself.
  8. You occasionally find money.
  9. As your eye adjusts, you begin to notice all sorts of interesting things.
  10. It broadens your appreciation of the natural world and can become relaxing.
  11. It is a productive way of keeping fit especially if you bend.
  12. It gets you outside, exploring your neighbourhood by using footpaths and lanes you might not walk along.
  13. At times you can litter-pick while walking the dog.
  14. It can be social and an amusing activity to do with friends.
  15. It is a way of meeting new people with good intentions.
  16. You invest in the future: If you take children litter-picking they are unlikely to throw it.
  17. Once you collect litter it is less likely re-accumulate. Litter attracts fly-tipping.
  18. You gain an insight into social problems in the area that need addressing such as theft and drink driving.
  19. You tend to receive encouragement and moral support, especially from neighbours.
  20. You become more diligent about your own recycling.

Could you add to the list? Please use the comments box below.

~ Returning used egg boxes to the community shop ~

One Thursday in May –

I decided to count how many pieces of #plasticpollution I could pick up from the Solent shore in an hour. Since this was along a section of coast that I have been cleaning for years, most of the cellophane, plastic bags and other items had been washed in on the tide, so it took longer than litter picking: 101 items in one hour.

~101 pieces of plastic pollution washed up on Solent shores ~

One Friday in May –

Tonight I walked westwards along the Solent shore, thrilled to find a plastic feed bucket, an unopened can of larger,a torch, a new tennis ball and a cap. I also picked up a helium balloon, black tubing, an empty bottle of rum and various pieces of rope from the fishing industry. My dog spotted an old flip flop.

~50 pieces of rubbish washed up on the Solent coast~

One Monday in May – 

Since New Forest ponies, wildfowl and other animals graze on Solent shores I am keen on collecting broken glass. There is no wave action, so it remains sharp for decades. I can’t bear the thought of swans’ feet being cut. I collected this much in an hour but failed to reach it all.

I met two South Africans on the beach who told me more than fifty tonnes of rubbish had recently been washed onto the shore near Durban in the recent floods.

~a cap, 2 balloons and about 50 pieces of rubbish and broken glass~

For a full list of items I’ve found on the same stretch of coastline, please click here

How many items could you collect in an hour? Were any useful? Please note your findings in the comments below.

Diary of a lone litter-picker: concluding the Great British Spring Clean

I normally spend at least an hour each evening collecting rubbish from on the Solent shore with my dog. It’s extraordinary what you can find. I have a list here. (see also : Twitter #Solentbeachclean)

This year, I signed up as a volunteer for the Great British Spring Clean with Keep Britain Tidy. On 22 March, I began collecting litter chucked onto the banks of the Lymington River in the New Forest National Park before it could reach the sea. My personal challenge was to keep going, every day until the 23rd April when the Great British Spring clean officially ended.

The initiative inspired me remove rubbish from the ditches in earnest. Ours is a very beautiful area. I like working alone as I can go out when the weather is appropriate and fit in litter-picking with my work and Solent tides.

~A stolen handbag found in a nature reserve~

The results of my efforts:

Litter collected in one month: Total: 1360 minutes ~ about 22 hours

97 x glass bottles, milk bottles and occasionally jars – all recycled by my husband. About 5 of the bottles were half-full with vodka.

300 x plastic bottles including plastic milk bottles chucked into the river where there is a sign saying ‘Otters Crossing’.

I small bag of plastic bottle tops – saved for MENCAP

300 x empty drink tins – mostly alcoholic drinks found road verges. People must be drink-driving

9 x large rubbish bags of mixed litter, weighing about 60kgs: sweet wrappers, crisp packets, sandwich wrappers, disposable coffee cups with lids, drink can wrappers – often neatly knotted, cigarette packs, stubs, old lighters, plastic tobacco bags as well as socks, gloves and other items dropped by mistake.

This doesn’t sound a lot however,  when I counted the items, it could take 1,000 pieces of plastic to fill a typical black bag. It could take only a few. Conservation International say, ‘Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way to into our oceans. Well, I’ve reduced that a by tiny bit.

Stolen items found:

Jewellery box with sentimental treasures including a wrist watch, a silver filigree broach and a bracelet engraved with the name Shirley

Leather holdall containing a pair of embroidered slippers.

HP laptop with a silver coloured case

Empty leather jewellery box for earrings

Apple iPhone

Acer laptop

Discarded make-up bag (possibly from a stolen hand-bag)

Handbag containing spectacles, make-up and hair brush but no valuables – was able to inform the owner who is coming to collect it.

Vehicle parts found

Part of the bumper of my husband’s car. ‘I thought it would turn up sometime.’

4 x wheel hubs (one claimed after I put it on display)

Wing mirror

Tow-bar cover (given away as a present)

Car radiator

Car bumper – a huge white one

Space-saver spare wheel for a car

Motor tyres x 5

Back shelf of estate car

Metal rod and rubber seals

Reverse light cover – undamaged

5 – litre diesel container with fuel inside

2 x mudguards from bikes

Rubber roller from a RIB trailer – (returned to grateful owner)

Grey grill off a Mercedes – undamaged (anyone want to claim it?)

 

Council signs found buried in ditches and the estuary

Men at Work sign

Narrowing road sign

Part of a chevron sign someone drove through

3 x temporary road sign stands

Tall black and white stripey bollard

Police bollard

3 x plastic bollards and a sandbag

I wasn’t quite quite sure how to cope but a volunteer from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust collected the heavy tyres. I’ve piled up road signs I found for the council to collect but he rusty a metal wheelbarrow still needs removing from the ditch that carries floodwater.

Time spent:

Week one: 325 minutes

Week two: 60 minutes

Week three: 430 minutes

Week four: 395 minutes

Week five: 150 minutes

The results have been uploaded at Keep Britain Tidy  What I need to do in future is to record how far I have walked and map the stretches I’ve cleaned. I still have to tackle this dirty beach. Three loads have been removed but more awaits. Anyone want to take it on? Otherwise, you can help by pledging your support for the Great British Spring Clean here

As for me, I will continue to walk my dog with a bucket in one hand. It would be too awful to lack a container when I came across rubbish. I’ll keep a list of the things I find for this time next year. However, the project for May is to clean out our garden shed and the clutter in my own office.

 

 

 

Diary of a lone litter picker: week 5 of the Great British Spring Clean

 

Rubbish sluice gates

~Litter chucked into the Lymington River~

Day 29

‘Are you winning?’ my friend Alastair asked on the phone. I think so. The challenge to clean up Britain seems endless but once litter is collected it is less likely to re-accumulate.  I’m certainly seeing a reduction of waste washed up on Solent shores.

This evening, I make my way into the muddiest location of all: the tidal estuary.  Will I ever be able to clean it? Although tidal, it was been used as a sewer for years.

I walk past dinghies moored below the pavement only to come across a sodden bedspread, green with algae and seaweed. It stinks. I scoop it into my bucket, adding other rubbish – plastic bags, wrappers and stacked Costa coffee cups – before spending twenty minutes collecting broken glass. 30 minutes work. No wonder nobody walks here at low tide. It’s lethal.

 

Day 30

The dog is so longing for a walk, I take the Solent Way up to our local monument. A stream runs from this point down into the estuary. Could it be carrying rubbish with it.

I reach the monument to find it has been renovated beautifully. The stream is running clear but why would anyone leave a can of anti-antiperspirant here? Is it being inhaled? I once found a brand new micro-wave oven, in its box, hidden under the bushes below the obelisk. It was clearly stolen. Then the dog found a large catfish. It must have been dropped by an osprey – not that I have seen one nesting here. I spend 30 minutes gathering predictable pieces of litter and walk home along the river.

~ The Burrard Neale Monument ~

Day 31

I need to tackle the estuary again. After sliding down the embankment, I cautiously make my way onto the mud at low tide. Broken bottles sit in black ouse. I find a police cone encrusted with barnacles, bladderwrack and even a couple of muscles. It has become a mini-ecosystem.

I extract a number of plastic bottles, tins, a fishing float and one triangular Men at Work notice. At least two rusty road-sign stands lurk in the gunge. I go after another traffic cone but find myself being sucked into the mud and retreat clutching a wheel hub and my bucket. The heavier items are left on display for passing motorists to admire.

A multi-million pound Redrow development has risen up recently on the western shore beyond the sluice gates, offering sought after views. Did they not think about removing the rubbish that has accumulated over the decades? No wonder the flats were slow to sell. You’d think the value of the real estate would warrant a little bit of a tidy-up. It takes me 30 minutes.

Day 32

‘I’ll ring if I get stuck in the mud. Please come and extract me!’ I tell my husband.

‘Don’t joke about serious issues,’ he calls back, sure that I will come to grief. ‘Are you taking the dog?’

‘I can’t. There’s too much broken glass.’

Some of the pieces of china I find are clearly Victorian, although none are of value.  The shards of glass prove ancient and yet are razor sharp. There is no wave action here, only waders and seabirds searching for food, significant species such as little egrets. How many have been cut by this rubbish over the years?

I slide over seaweed and make my way around the shoreline, filling my purple bucket with litter caught under bushes or embedded in the mud. I end up finding a pristine and very modern bottle of wine. Two men mooring their boat stare as I drag a weathered traffic cone from the black mud and stagger home. If this foreshore was made up of golden sand, it would be a well known beach attracting hordes. How long will it take to recover from being a historic sewer?

I post this photo on Facebook, sharing thoughts with the local community. The men who were disembarking from their dinghy see this shot and apologise for not coming to my aid, which I appreciate. They kindly offer to help haul out anything I can’t manage, using their boat to reach the otherwise inaccessible items. Hopefully we can retrieve the bollard that defeated me earlier in the week. 40 minutes

~How long has this police cone been in the river?~

Day 33

I put out rubbish for the refuse collectors – four large bags of mixed litter that can’t possibly be re-cycled. I’ll spare you the photos. My husband takes the bottles and broken glass with him to the supper-market where he has a long relationship with the re-cycling containers. He insists that I try to rescue the bedspread found in the estuary. I drag it out of the washing machine after two cycles but it still stinks. Noisome is the word. There is no chance it can possibly be of use. I make plans for the pile of vehicle parts I’ve found on verges to be taken to the town dump where useful items are sold cheaply. The only piece of litter added today is a steel cable but all this sorting absorbs 20 minutes of my time.

I log my findings with Keep Britain Tidy, since it is the last day of the Great British Spring Clean. There are no categories for the number of glass bottles, stolen items, road signs or vehicle parts found. I’ll publish the results in my next post.

Total for week: 150 minutes (2.5 hours)

 

 

 

 

Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 4 of the Great British Spring Clean

~Things I’ve found on Solent shores, including the buckets~

Day 21 –

Our garden has become a retirement home for old buoys.  The school holidays have begun and hordes of small children descend on us and pester them. While dear old Mr Puce tolerates being punched, kicked and swung on, Miss Black, a fender who I found washed up on the shore, has a new role as a garden cushion.

‘Oh buoy, Oh buoy – Give us a wave!’

Mr White, an elderly buoy who had obviously been working on the Solent, was offered a new role on the Beaulieu River but has opted for a swinging job on a climbing frame in South London. Mr Pink, who had a career in the chemical industry before taking up life on the ocean wave, has passed on, along with one old buoy who sadly got cut up and split his sides open.

It is a crisp spring evening. I take a footpath through the New Forest National Park with my dog and return home with a number of plastic drums and 5 litre containers I’d previously pulled out of a remote wetland area. The children are revolted. Time spent collecting this rubbish: 40 minutes.

Day 22 –

I sort the litter I’ve collected since the beginning of the Great British Spring Clean: 20 green glass bottles, 20 brown glass bottles and 20 clear glass bottles plus about 10 assorted glass recepticals. Most were so dirty I’ve had to soak them. My husband takes them to be recycled. This is important to him as he used to manufacture cut glass crystal and knows you can’t make glass without glass. A four year-old boy helps me count 137 squashed tins that once contained alcohol. They fill one recycling bag. I can’t bear the thought of counting the plastic bottles. This takes 20 minutes.

~137 tins which once held alcohol, found along one country lane~

I need to sneak off without the dog knowing. It’s too dangerous for him to collect litter with me beside the main road. I work away for about 15 minutes deciding a lot of people must be drink-driving. Only drivers chuck litter into the verges here. They must have serious disassociation issues to chuck it out while negotiating the sharp bend.

One driver wasn’t concentrating when coming down the hill not so long ago. The car didn’t turn around the bend at all. It carried straight on, splitting a large black and white chevron sign in two and landing upside-down in the river. The lights were still on when I passed by on my usual litter-picking walk. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. The vehicle had been wrapped in police cordon tape by the time I returned but lay leaking oil into the river for six weeks. I extracted one half of the chevron sign at the start of the Great British Spring Clean. It is going begging if anyone would like it to decorate their bedroom. The council couldn’t possibly use it.

Day 23 –

What I thought might be hay-fever turns out to be full-blown cold. I have no energy to expend sorting the carefully gathered rubbish piled up outside my back door. My husband returns from re-cycling the bottles saying that they don’t separate the coloured glass anymore.

~This section of the Solent foreshore was multi-coloured with mirco-plastics 15 years ago~

We have a Portuguese friend staying who also has a bad cold and wants to collect seawater to clear his sinuses. I take him down to the Solent shore. Here I collect micro-plastics including drinking straws and a balloon and 5kgs of rubbish from a wetland area. The whole exercise takes 90 minutes as the location is quite remote.

Day 24 –

My cold is pulling me down but I find a wheel-hub and spend 20 minutes gathering litter from the roadside going up the hill, amazed at how much old rubbish I didn’t spot the first time. New items infuriate me. Today a Costa coffee mug sits on a ledge overlooking the river like a hidden Easter egg. A banana skin has been carefully folded inside and the cap clipped back on. What does the person who purchased this assume will happen next? It’s madness. Costa give customers a 25p discount if they provide their own mug.

I’m told that nothing can be labelled ‘disposable’ anymore. Things don’t disappear, we simply move them to another place. I maintain that vegetables decompose and chuck the banana skin into the undergrowth but collect the cup with its plastic cap. I know Costa want to recycle this but I can’t walk into all the way into town especially.

Day 25 –

I’m ill in bed nursing my cold but get up in the evening determined to collect another bucketful of rubbish from the main road. I find a discarded ‘Bag for Life’ on the verge and return with quite a number of tins and empty bottles of alcohol.

Are glass bottles being flung out of moving vehicles? I spend a total of 40 minutes collecting and sorting as refuse is collected first thing tomorrow.

Day 26 –

I close my laptop at 6.00pm and spend 40 minutes in search of litter on footpath up to the pub and the main road on the way down. A number of cans have been shredded by a hedge trimmer that breaks glass bottles and makes everything more difficult. I fill a large bucket with cans and a black plastic bag with other rubbish before coming across a discarded road sign. The wheel hub I propped up for motorists to find is still in situ. I wonder how many have been collected by #litterheroes this month?

What do drivers think of me as I grub around at the side of the road? What would they think if I chucked the rubbish back into the road? I get upset when I find newly strewn litter but what can I do? Arrange a line of cans across the lane? String up plastic bottles like Christmas decorations? Would it stop anyone littering?

Day 27 –

I spend the evening walking along the Solent shore, alone with the dog, the sea birds and micro plastics. I photograph my catch before loading the hard stuff. It is clear that some pieces, including a balloon, must have already passed through the digestive tract of an animal, possibly a forest pony.

My aim is to collect bottles and ancient plastic containers lodged in the mud on a footpath running through a wood where I once found Mr-Pink-the-chemical-container in a down-and-out state. I recognise one turquoise bottle from the 1960s. The expedition takes 90 minutes.

Day 28 –

The lady whose stolen handbag I found contacts me to say she can pick it up on 24th April – the last day of the Great British Spring Clean. I still have so much to do.

I take my buckets down to the Solent beach I need to clean. Parking rules have suddenly changed. I’m required to pay £2.50 an hour. Thousands of pounds have obviously been spent on the terminal for the Isle of Wight ferry but this beach next to it, which could be a great asset, has been ignored.

I squeeze my car into a friend’s driveway and take my buckets down to the shore. It is like a rubbish dump. Every time I pull up a section of plastic, sand flies rise. I stuff as much as I can into a bag and gather bottles, plastic straws, fishing net, a yachting cap and other flotsam, and depart with as much as I can carry. The last thing I find is a fairy liquid bottle that must be 30 years old. It’s suddenly all too much. 40 minutes and I have hardly made any impression on the filth. I need to return with friends. As I write this, a neighbour messages me to say she’ll join me. If we work together it’ll be more amusing.

~Which is the oldest plastic bottle?~

What impact has this project had on my life? I have become more dedicated to recycling. Every milk bottle top gets saved for MENCAP. Every tin is crushed and recycled. The amount of domestic rubbish we produce has decreased – as has my waistline. All the walking and bending is keeping me fit. At this rate I might just gain the figure of a Fairy Liquid bottle.

Total for week: 395 minutes (nearly 7 hours)

To see a list of the things I’ve found on a beach clean please click here

 

Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 3 of the Great British Spring Clean

In an attempt to turn the tide on pollution I am making a concerted effort to record how long I spend collecting litter and how may items are collected in the categories: plastic bottles, glass bottles, general rubbish and drink tins but find myself dragging other items such as road signs out of ditches.

Day 15

I’m am on the phone to the police as I write, reporting another stolen item. A sodden, empty jewellery box looked up at me from a ditch this evening. It was in plain view of the road. I had just collected one bucket of bottles, one of empty cans and one of general rubbish along with a road traffic bollard, the back shelf of an estate car and a sodden carpet. This took 90 minutes of concerted effort. Retrieving rubbish from an overgrown ditch is tricky. Some was hanging from the trees. However, this is the New Forest National Park. It’s important to persevere. One unopened tin of larger was dated 1990. It must have been lying there for thirty years. An odd conical can of UHT milk had the same ring pull. I’ve no idea of the date. It is made of both plastic and tin.

The police tell me that they will never be able to find out who took the jewellery box and suggest I dispose of it. It’s the sixth item of stolen property found on the same lane.

~A 30 year-old lemonade bottle gnawed at by mice~

Day 17

Another hour of my life is spent filling my three buckets with litter. I collect 23 drink cans, 8 glass bottles and 16 plastic bottles including 2 x 2 litre unopened bottles of cider from the local nature reserve. My powers of observation are increasing. I walked along a path which I have already cleared twice and yet spotted tins and bottles, which are decidedly elderly.

I find a full bag of make up in the lay-bye, which looks as if it was chucked out of a stolen handbag. It would be the 7th stolen item. What really worries me is a pair of tights, a girl’s skirt and a in the undergrowth femur nearby. Had someone been murdered? I returned home to Google ‘human femur’ and ‘difference between deer and human femur’ (which is not much).

Day 17

The dead body I feared finding turned out to be a life-size doll. I dragged a pair of huge high-heeled shoes and fancy items of clothing out of a marshy patch nearby. Ironically, the next thing I found was a plastic sack with hundreds of packets labelled: Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research – ‘PLEASE GIVE good quality clothing and paired shoes – your collection day is Thursday.’

There was also a large bag of incontinence pads (unused). Being absorbent these had filled with water and expanded in a grotesque manner as I tried to lift the sack. They  were so heavy it was all I could do to swing it towards my car. I had to use two bags from the council to contain the load. Why were all these things these dumped in a wood?

The dog was desperate for a proper walk so I took a bucket and went up the hill. The only people I came across were George and Kate Heathcote of Warbourne Farm, known for the Animal Planet television series Farm Life. They tell me that have been collecting roadside litter constantly and also came across a large doll in the woods. Creepy.

I walk on, startling a deer. It’s legs are far to fine for the femur, which I decide must be bovine. I return with only 13 cans, 4 glass bottles, 3 plastic bottles and a spare wheel but found much more ‘other rubbish’ than normal including a kite. The whole expedition takes 90 mins with another 10 mins to sort it all out

Day 18

I’m finding quite a few roadwork signs and the sandbags used to prop them up. I stack them by an electricity substation and plan ask the council to collect these after on 24th April when the Great British Spring Clean Officially ends. Other litter-pickers report estate agents’ signs are also a problem. We liaise on Facebook. Some collect huge quantities.

I begin to clear the busy road up the hill behind our house and find an open penknife, along with the usual litter. I spend a total of 90 mins collecting and sorting the rubbish, putting out 5 sacks for the refuse collectors.

Day 19

I look at the littered verges as we drive to a hotel in the New Forest where I am giving an illustrated talk on my next book. While speaking about the art of litter-picking over lunch, the gentleman opposite me says that he found a life-size doll whilst he was working for the Forestry Commission. Three in the same area.

Do people enjoy chucking litter into our woods and rivers? Does it give them a sense of release? Is it that people despise what they throw away? I usually pick up one used cigarette lighter a day. Most litter seems comprised of the wrappings of what is bad for us: cigarette packets, sweets, over-flavoured crisps, sugary drinks, alcohol and fast food. Much of this is unfinished, which makes it even more revolting to collect. I presume it’s natural to disengage from what poisons you as quickly as possible.

It’s been a wet day and I’m too busy to do much but collect 16 pieces of litter as I walk along the river to Book Club. I find a rubber tow-bar cover, which I present to my friend as a hostess gift. She says she is thrilled receive what she describes as a knob guard. I entertain the other members with tales from my litter-picking. Two of them offer to join me. Total for the day about 5 minutes.

Day 20

One of my Twitter friends called Becca noticed how ironic it was that people who consume caffeinated drinks never seem to have the energy to dispose of them. I collect about 7 on my way into town only sorry I can’t recycle them as I drop a mixed bag of rubbish into a municipal litter bin. An old friend joins me for a walk in the evening. I take a bucket as we stroll along the sea wall and collect detritus washed up by the tide. There are no bottles, no tins and we enjoy beautiful sunny weather.  Total for day 95 minutes

Total for week: 430 minutes

For list of weird things I’ve found on beach cleans – please click here

Diary of a lone litter-picker: week 2 of the Great British Spring Clean

This month I have been re-energised in my endeavour to collect litter by taking part in the Great British Spring Clean under the auspices of Keep Britain Tidy. They encourage their registered #litterheroes to keep a diary:

Day 8: Friday 29 March

I find another unopened can of beer on the pavement in Tooting where I am staying in South London. The general attitude to litter seems almost medieval, accepted as normal and tolerated by residents who rely on road sweepers to clean up rubbish scattered by foxes. My friend did not want me to think of touching it without gloves but she can’t stop the children picking up lost toys. Each time we pass a shopping trolley of garden waste, abandoned in the street, we see it has attracted more litter. How long will it stay there?

Day 9: Saturday 30 March

I’m off to Premier Radio’s Woman to Woman conference in central London. Litter in the streets seems to be an indication of poor diet. You can see what is being recklessly consumed: sugar-laden drinks, sweets, flavoured crisps, fast food, alcohol. Do we have a natural urge to discard what is bad for our bodies?

Cable ties lie the pavement in Westminster. Although not cheap, builders seem to cut and cast these aside. I picked up a handful that could easily be re-used. PVC cable ties were originally manufactured by my father. He would have wept to see how many are wasted or left to pollute the Earth.

Day 10: Sunday 31 March

Back on the south coast, I find an empty beer bottle, coffee cup and two dog poo bags sitting on the flood defence gate over the Lymington River, left as if for passers-by to admire while they take in the view over the nature reserve. What next? Have these items been carefully placed for me to collect? What if they fall into the river? Could the beer bottle ever jam the sluice gates open and cause flooding? The plastic will be washed into the sea. I give in and collect the items, only grateful they don’t have to be fished out of the brambles.

I go out latter for ten minutes, finding a full bottle of beer along with a large number of cans on a footpath leading to the pub. Some of the tins have been minced by a hedge trimmer, which is maddening. We must clear the verges this spring before vegetation grows. I retrieve another expensive roller from a boat trailer and a various car parts that owners might like returned.

Day 11: Monday 1 April 

The police arrive to examine the HP laptop and jewellery box I found chucked in the river last week. A silver bracelet engraved with the name Shirley lies inside. Everything is taken to the police station. The officer recommends putting a photo on Facebook in an attempt to find the rightful owner. My post soon has 92 shares. I only hope it is not too upsetting.

~Do you know anyone called Shirley who is missing this?~

I also post a photo of a strange car part found yesterday and am told it is from a Mercedes. A grateful lady comes to collect the roller from her boat trailer. I continue picking up litter from the lane alongside the Lymington River and spot something familiar. It is the mud-guard that fell off my husband’s car weeks ago. I am thrilled. He says, ‘Oh, I thought it would turn up some time.’

Day 12: Tuesday 2nd April

The council message me to ask if I can tell them where three road signs I dragged out of the ditch can be located. I find one has already disappeared from the verge where I left it. I collect a rusty car radiator and two buckets of rubbish from the lane running alongside the nature reserve. Its raining, the dog won’t join me and am beginning to feel morose when I am struck by the sight of a double rainbow, arching over my buckets left in a gateway. It is as if I am being thanked for all I am doing.

Day 13: Wednesday 3rd April

I resume collecting bottles and cans from the lane wearing rubber gloves and Wellington boots, jumping into the ditch in an effort to extract bottles and cans before they are washed into the sea. What do you conclude when you find a lipstick in a wild, marshy place? I discovered a handbag not far away and kept searching the area, coming across an iPhone and an Acer laptop.

Back at home, I go through the handbag with care, looking for something with the owner’s name, as the police officer taught me. I ring the number on a pile of identical business cards and eventually get through. The owner is travelling through London on a bus. Her bag had been stolen from her car ages ago but she sounded very pleased to hear from me and said she’d come to retrieve it.

Day 14: Thursday 4th April

As requested, I’ve been posting photos of my litter activity on social media, desperately trying to edit attractive photos of garbage for my Ingram feed. I begin to lose followers on Twitter but gain others as support grows. Encouragement helps no end.

People are making a difference but the task seems endless. One volunteer from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust filled a long-wheel based Land Rover with rubbish from the Lymington causeway last year. Although an ecologically sensitive area it has somehow attracted more rubbish.

Today it was cold and raining hard. The road drains were blocked. I wonder why? I reached down to pick up one piece – just one piece – but if I don’t a dolphin could die.

 

Total for week: About 60 minutes

My Stop – Start campaign

Stop chucking litter

Start picking it up

Stop flushing things down the loo

Start getting organised – get a car bin