Diary of a Litter Picker: Flotsam on New Forest Shores

Collecting plastic pollution along the Solent

It took two adults and two small children more than an hour to collect this flotsam washed up along the Solent within the New Forest National Park.

Expert at spotting micro-plastics

The collection ended up weighing about 3 Kgs, despite cellophane and a large number of light, fly-away wrappers. The contents included hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic found in the shingle or blown inland.

A pencil, a washer and a tab from a life jacket

Sorting the colours brought attention to objects that the Marine Conservation Society would classify under ‘sewage’, ‘fishing’ and ‘litter’, thankfully well washed in seawater.

Solent flotsam – including evidence of sewage

Plastic straws and cotton bud stalks have thankfully been banned but plastic pollution remains a huge problem. We need to do what we can to turn the tide.

A plastic straw, a shotgun cartridge, the tip of a boathook and the handle of a brush

What most distresses me are signs that birds are confusing styrofoam with the natural remains of cephalopods that they peck at in search of calcium.

Insulation material and single use styrofoam

I sort out the marine rope and fishing tackle, which is stored for a future project.

Fishing line and shellfish traps

All this, and broken glass, was collected from a beach where children play. There are serviced, wildlife-proof litter bins, and since it is remote, requiring a parking permit, it is never crowded. After an hour of labour, the litter pickers are rewarded with cool drinks.

For photos of a previous Solent Beach Clean – please click here. You can see which items turn up month after month, such as green ‘sea kisses’ and tampon applicators.

Sophie Neville happy beach cleaning

Diary of a Litter Picker: Finding Stolen items

A stolen holdall containing shoes and a jewellery box handed in to the police

You know something is wrong when you find a high quality holdall in the reedbeds – with a lap top and empty jewellery box inside.

A jewellery box handed in to the police

I apologise if you find this distressing. It is distressing. Heartbreaking. I only hope the thief was eventually caught and can appreciate his wrong doing.

A detailed shot of the abandoned items handed into the police

This iphone was found further down the river, as part of a separate haul.

An iphone found near a lap top in the National Park

Having been chucked in the reedbeds there was no DNA for the police to find.

A lap top chucked in the nature reserve

The stolen laptops and phones were obviously password protected and of no use to the burglar. They could have been left somewhere dry for their owner to reclaim – such as a bus shelter but, no. Instead this jewelry box was chucked in a ditch, easily seen from from the tar road but soon ruined by falling rain.

An empty earring case chucked in a ditch

Why was this open penknife chucked out of a vehicle on a bend coming out of town?

A penknife found on a roadside verge

We may have had just one thief who repetitively used the local river as a dump for unwanted stolen items. I would have reported a weapon to the police but by the time I found this, I had spent too much of my life waiting on the 911 line.

A stolen handbag reported to the owner who had business cards inside

This handbag had been stolen some time ago from the owner’s car parked about ten minutes’ drive away. A family of mice had made a warm dry nest in the interior. There were three pairs of spectacles inside but not the necklace that she valued.

Spectacles inside the handbag

I’m always finding abandoned pub glasses, which technically have been stolen from local pubs. I returned this and a few others but glasses can turn up in the middle of nowhere.

A glass stolen from the local pub – now returned. How much do these cost?

I’m told that unopened chocolate bars, cans of larger and half consumed bottles of vodka will probably have been stolen. They lack value to the person who abandoned them – who obviously didn’t want to be caught red-handed.

Ordinary customers have to bear the cost of stolen cans of larger

I once found a brand new – and boxed – microwave oven tucked into the bushes at this location, a quiet spot where you can park:

The items in this bucket aren’t known to be stolen but the strawberry punnets could have been returned.

I once found a single, leather, horse riding chap on a bridge, deciding that it must have fallen off a trailer. It turned out to be part of a haul of riding equipment worth thousands that had been stolen the night before. I contacted the owner but she was distraught and couldn’t use one, single legging.

Sophie Neville in the Masai Mara, Kenya
My own riding chaps.

To see other unexpected items I find litter picking, please click here

Stolen by friends?

Diary of a Litter Picker: Sea plastic and pick it up

A sample of sea plastic washed up on Solent shores, 2021

Plastic straws and cotton bud stalks, along with plastic tampon applicators and shot gun cartridges, have become a sad portrait of society: what the sea sees of us. Why do we come across so many short pieces of PVC rope and fishing net?

‘Sea kisses’ found washed up on the Solent 2021

I am told these ‘sea kisses’ are the result of trawlers shredding torn nets at sea and dumping this ‘waste’ overboard as it is cheaper and more convenient than bringing it ashore to be buried.

Will this ultimately poison fish and make them inedible?

All these micro-plastics have washed up on the shores of the New Forest National Park. I’ve been trying to make ‘beautiful pictures of horrible things’, as the broadcaster JJ Walsh describes my photographs and framed collages.

Cotton bud stalks indicate sewage is entering the Solent

Any throw-away plastic rings should be regarded as ‘wildlife crime’ – they strangle too many birds.

Do you know how much lead there is in a tennis ball? Despite the fact they they are not recommended as toys for dogs, huge numbers are washed up on our beaches. I find them all the time.

Tennis balls found on Solent beaches, 2021

One of my biggest hates are the plastic things used to sell six-pack drink cans as they easily get stuck around creatures’ necks. This four-pack plastic was washed up near a seabird breeding colony. I won’t even re-cycle one without cutting it apart.

Washed up near a major seabird breeding colony

The ear-loops on masks also need to be cut, along with PPE gloves. They are washed up on the shore every day.

PPE washing up on Solent shores daily

And there are always gloves –

The blob of blueish plastic in the palm of the large glove has already travelled through the digestive system of an animal.

Children tend to be good at finding micro-plastics on beaches once they catch the vision. We have begun classifying them by colour or type. This black party-popper was a favourite.

I’m assured that some councils need to check beaches for ‘sharps’ before volunteer litter-pickers are allowed to begin collecting in earnest. Can you spot the needle and syringe here?

Collecting all these tiny pieces takes time and one has to watch out for hazards – but if it is not collected children will no longer be able to play on our beaches. Some parts of the coast have so much broken glass that you can’t pick it up with a dog in tow. It remains sharp for decades where there is no wave action.

Broken glass collected on a beach where children play barefoot.

The Marine Conservation Society likes to classify sea plastic into Litter, Fishing by-products, and sewage-related finds such as cotton-bud stalks and plastic tampon applicators.

We counted 21 cotton-bud stalks collected with this haul

After collecting flotsam, it takes a different mind-set to do the sorting, but it’s important to analyse and report back on what the tide is bringing in.

Sea plastic littering the New Forest National Park

I began to collect fishing tackle in a crate that was washed up on the Solent. Let me know, in the comments below, if you ever need some of this for a talk on conservation or plastic pollution. I’m giving it away freely.

For a list of weird and elderly things found washed up on the Solent, please click here

Plastic detritus washed up on Solent shores where wild geese and New Forest ponies graze

Diary of a Litter Picker: The ten most beautiful or useful things I have found

The very first things I ever found when litter picking in the New Forest National Park were these cut-glass jam pots found in a box that had been left in a rural car park. If they belong to you, and you’d like them back, please let me know.

These days, it is quite common to find discarded camping equipment in wilderness areas. Most items are brand new. I washed these green equipment bags (below) and sent them to an appropriate charity.

All litter pickers report back on finding glasses, usually abandoned near pubs. I must have rescued six or seven. Children’s toys are often left on the beach, but I leave them somewhere where the owners can pick them up or other children can enjoy them.

This silver broach lying in a stollen jewelry box was collected by the police. I also found a lost silver bracelet that I took to our local Police Station.

I have been making a collection of fishing equipment, which presumably could be re-used. Although this lure had lost its hooks, I have four or five like it. Our children were most thrilled when I found a plastic shark.

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I am yet to wear them, but these sunglasses were perfectly serviceable after being put through the dish-washer. I have added them to local Lost and Found post on Facebook but have had no takers. Other lost items have been gratefully re-claimed, from a lens caps to expensive trailer parts, and temporary road signs abandoned by contractors.

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I found this open penknife on the verge of a road where nobody walks, which was strange. I still wonder if it was flung out of a car window. It’s in my toolbox with a serviceable paintbrush and an expensive project torch I came across later.

Rubbish penknife

While not exactly beautiful this tow-hitch guard was just what a friend of mine needed and made an amusing hostess gift. I found it walking along the pavement on my way to Book Club.

For a list of weird things I’ve found, please click here

Think of joining the charity Keep Britain Tidy today. You can find more about how they can help here.

Having posted this blog on their site, members replied saying the most beautiful thing they had found litter picking was friendship – new friendships made, old friends litter picking together and fulfillment in forming groups.

Washed up on the beach – now translocated to my bathroom

Diary of a Litter Picker: Lockdown Reflections

A rainbow of discarded cigarette lighters

For some odd reason we have seen a rise in litter since Covid-19 broke out. Why is this? Does it reflect national frustrations or just an increase in takeaway meals and outdoor parties?

Green bottles found in ditches and beaches during Lockdown, sorted for recycling

It is strange that people continue to discard PPE despite obvious health risks. Have we ceased to care about endangering wildlife and polluting the environment? Ben Deutsch described it as, ‘an act of libertarian defiance.’ Jill Crouch decided, ‘we are coming out of a me me me time – a superficial needing of more and wondering why we are not fulfilled when we get it.’

There will always be lost things but have we lost pride in Britain?

This rubber shoe was found washed up on the shore with a mask, but there has been gradually less sea plastic found on my stretch of the Solent, presumably due to fewer ferries and less shipping.

A mask and other plastics washed up on the Solent along with an elderly bottle and scaffolding parts

I have been reporting finds in the local newspaper in an effort to inspire others to begin collecting flotsam.

SophieNeville, beach-hedge-and river-saviour,” one reader commented. “It’s frightening just how much litter she removes. I’m inspired to try to emulate her.”

Articles in The Herald by Sophie Neville

Meanwhile, there have been lots of vehicle part to retrieve on dry land.

Vehicle parts dumped in a Hampshire bluebell wood

Lockdown certainly bought an increase in fly-tipping as people used time off work to clear out their sheds and attics or redecorate. At the same time, Council dumps closed during the first Lockdown and then introduced various restrictions, which proved disastrous. The New Forest National Park was hit particularly hard with bed mattresses and junk being dumped in precious wilderness areas.

Matt Rudd, writing in the Sunday Times Magazine was horrified by the increase in rubbish strewn about during Lockdown. He wrote, “There are two schools of thought on why people litter. The first is that they hate themselves for cramming all that junk food into their faces. Chucking wrappers out of the car window is just self-hatred by proxy.” Certainly, most of the litter I find has once wrapped over-sugared, over-salted, over-caffeinated food and drink of some kind. I would add tobacco and harmful drugs to his list. It’s as if people want to distance themselves from guilt and shame.

“The second,” Matt Rudd claims, “is that the further you are from home, the less you care about the environment.” And yet, he witnesses that, even in strict Lockdown, our local parks and car parks are strewn with newly dumped masks. Does the fear of contracting a virus make people more selfish?

However, the response has been amazing. Despite restrictions, individuals have used their daily exercise allowance to clean the beaches and verges of Britain. Litter-Pickers of the New Forest have gained over 1,300 volunteers in the last year, with an active Facebook Page and Justgiving site. They encourage members with sponsors delivering rewards for volunteer achievements.

A gift of encouragement from Litter-Pickers of the New Forest

If you happen upon a litter-picker, do give them encouragement, and if possible, lend them a hand. We are all fighting the same battle.

To find out about Waste Less, Live More, please click here

A pillow washed up on Solent shores

Diary of a Litter Picker collecting sea plastic from Crown Estates on the Solent

I’ve been getting involved in Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean – making an attempt to spring clean the section of the South Coast where we live, only to be shocked by our own findings. Some of the plastic washed up on the Solent has been around for so long the vegetation has grown over or through it. This is not a rock:

This bucketful of flotsam was brought in by one storm, although some items must have been floating around for a while.

Sophie Neville collecting flotsam from the Solent foreshore and saltmarsh

A week later I found this washed up on the same 600yard stretch of Solent foreshore:

I collected these tins, plastics and polystyrene from a tidal riverbank.

Our waterways are full of drink cans.

The sheer amount of bottles that must have been thrown out of moving vehicles, is staggering. All this needs to be sorted and recycled.

I have found a number of discarded tools including carpenter’s saws. My husband wanted to resurrect these pliers, but they were beyond hope.

There is often a mask amidst the detritus, none of which will rot.

What distresses me most is the ardent fly tipping. These cans of motor oil were nearly full and looked uncontaminated. Why were they discarded? How many litres of river water would they pollute?

These full containers were dumped in a nature reserve within the New Forest National Park. Does someone imagine these things will decompose?

Get involved in Keep Britain Tidy – its fun! You can find more info here

Diary of a Litter Picker: We Will Fight on The Beaches

We are an island nation. Our coastline is precious. It speaks to us of freedom, holidays and relaxation. Those who live near beaches are well aware that they attract visitors who boost the local economy, and yet our shoreline is often covered in rubbish.

I find hundreds of small pieces of fishing net, plastic wrappers and cellophane, washed up on the Solent, along with glass bottles and rope. It’s been going on for years, threatening the environment and wildlife, if not our sanity.

This is historic litter found lodged in bushes along the Solent shore. Much of this is more than ten years old.

After a while it melds with the landscape, remaining a risk to animals. Below, you can see what is typically brought in on the tide.

There is often the remains of one shoe. Have we come to accept the phenomenon of an errant flip-flop? The lettering on this one amused me.

We have begun to accept society’s cast-offs, but why so many plastic pegs?

Metal fish, their hooks elsewhere.

There is often a lot of blue. Perhaps it’s the recent prevalence of masks.

This mask was worn over the eyes, rather than mouth, but she’s wearing protective gloves.

This is a battle we all need to fight. The bottom line is that we can’t even use beaches if there is too much broken glass.

Be a litter hero and turn the tide on plastic pollution. Day by day, we’ll get there.

My helpers on a Solent litter-pick

To see a collection of the weirdest this found on a Solent beach clean, please click here.

The charity Keep Britain Tidy is asking everyone to join their million mile litter picking mission #GBSpringclean – Please click here for details

Diary of a litter-picker: finding elderly rubbish by the sea

Every day we collect aging plastic pollution, cans and glass bottles from Solent shores.

This old glass bottle seems representative of our time of Corona. How long has it been floating around the Solent? Fifty years?

The Litter Pickers of the New Forest found me this 1960s advert for the original bottles with the same cream metal cap.

The Deposit Return Scheme running at the time ensured that most were returned to the manufacturers but I’ve found a couple on the shore. One that held ‘Limeade’ with a 3d deposit return label is selling for £23 on Ebay where it is described as ‘a lovely piece of nostalgia.’

A year later I found this vintage bottle (above) washed up in exactly the same place. How many more will arrive there?

How old would this re-useable Unigate milk bottle be? 1980s? Forty years? They have also become collectors’ items. One like this is valued at £15 on eBay. It was found in these willow trees just above the high tide mark. It might have come over from the Isle of Wight where ‘Milk and More’ ran deliveries.

You can just see a brand new mask in this photo (above) but the bottles and plastic containers were hauled out of bramble bushes a few feet from the sea where they have languished for years.

Here is a photo of the same footpath with more plastic bottles that have blown in, together with old glass bottles the earth seems to be spitting out. The message inside them is clear: this has to stop.

I found a Wellington boot, washed up or discarded, which must have been around for some time. It had a field-mouse living inside so, I left it for now, but there is plenty more like it.

This Walker’s Crips packet, found recently, is 24 years old. I have quite a collection.

Plastic is amazing stuff. My father manufactured products made from PVC. He said that back in the 1970s, his company never considered what would happen when the items they made reached the end of their useful lives.

Found on the Solent

What date did the squarish plastic milk bottles come in? How many are disposed of daily in the UK alone? How many are recycled? How long does it take for them to decompose? They tend to flake.

How long does it take for a Tescos ‘bag for life’ to deteriorate? I often find them in the Solent.

Fishing line undoubtedly lasts a long time. It can be difficult to spot.

I often find individual plastic pegs. Why is this? Do they fall off boats?

Collecting the old rubbish is satisfying. You can see more beach cleaning photos here

The Wombles of Hambleton have made up a list of how to age vintage litter:

* cans with an old style ring pull – the new style was used from 1989

* cans that pre-date the bar code (approx 1970s) are measured in fl oz

* older style names, disused names or products eg: Marathon

* pre-decimal prices – dated before 1971

* glass bottles before the switch to plastic eg: older Lucozade glass bottles

* look for competitions advertised on the packaging, which are dated

* products advertising sporting events eg: Mexico World Cup Coca Cola

What is this flotsam doing to the planet? Could you help clear it up? Would you join The Great British Spring Clean or other schemes run by the charity Keep Britain Tidy?

For a full list of things I found on beach-cleans please click here

A fourteen year old can of Coke – found unopened – on the Solent, along with many shotgun cartridges.

Diary of a litter picker on Solent shores where I’m told, ‘There is no rubbish.’

‘I didn’t see any rubbish on the beach,’ I was told by a walker as I extracted plastic bottles and tins from the ditch leading down to it. I was glad. I’d cleaned it just before New Year.

Once by the sea I found a Christmas tree and collected half a bucketful of small pieces of PVC rope and elderly plastic that had been washed up on the shore.

Since this is an isolated beach, it shows how much plastic is floating around the Solent. Someone might like their plumb line returned.

While a few things are clearly dropped by mistake,

the amount of litter and ageing plastic on public beaches remains unacceptable. I cannot walk by without collecting it.

It takes a good hour to fill each of these buckets, which contain bags of dog poo and dangerous broken glass. They can end up weighing 4Kgs each.

What are helium balloons doing to the environment? I find one a day.

‘There’s no rubbish on the beach,’ I’m assured by walkers, the next week. I agree that it looks okay. It should be fine. I’ve cleared it a hundred times.

But, almost immediately, I find bottle ring and other items dangerous to wildlife. Then I come across fishing line, the fish hooks bound up in weed.

By the time I reach the end of the beach, I have filled my bucket, finding evidence of nitrous oxide canisters chucked into fires. The ghost rope alone could have caused havoc to shipping.

About this much plastic and glass washes up on a half-mile stretch of the Solent every twenty-four hours. It is not always easy to see it, but it’s there.

‘There is no litter,’ I’m told on approaching the foreshore with my dog-walking neighbour. We keep looking anyway. My friend spots this:

Before long, I had a filled my bucket. Again. Perhaps it’s only when you begin litter picking yourself that you appreciate how bad the problem is. Do join us!

And yet, we didn’t retrieve everything. Can you see what I see?

To see more photos of the odd things we find, please click here

Diary of a Litter picker – on Solent Shores

This winter we took it upon ourselves as a family to dig these abandoned buoy anchors out of the mud.

We extracted four, all of which were so heavy it was near impossible to carry them away. There has been less litter but the storms bring in all sorts of things.

Plastic pollution has been unremitting but it is good to be making a contribution. It is such a beautiful area, so important to wildlife.

Some of the items are dangerous.

Others have travelled a long way, possibly dropped off ships.

Most pieces are small, some tiny, others revolting. It is satisfying to go out after a storm.

It is then that a lot of PVC rope comes in. It can do a great deal of damage.

I use a bucket as bags flap in the wind and there are often sharp pieces of glass.

Plastic pollution collected from Solent shores Dec 2020 - photo Sophie Neville

They can weigh 4kgs when full. This one contained a lot of old fishing line.

I often find unopened drinks or packets of food.

Almost every day there is a helium ballon and a mask to pick up or extract.

It’s as if the sea is spitting them out.

We sometimes come across amusing pieces, often toys or balls of some kind.

The best thing about collecting plastic pollution is that it gets us out there.

For a full list of things we’ve found washed up on the Solent – click here