Diary of a Litter Picker: Braving the sea

One brief storm and a significant amount of rubbish is washed up on the south coast of England.

I joined two other Litter Pickers of the New Forest to clear litter on the gravel spit to Hurst Castle in Hampshire. Rubbish gets caught in the artificial sea wall.

You have to take care not to slip on the rocks, or lose your phone between the boulders as one of us did. I ventured too near the waves and got soaking wet.

Along with wrappers, ropes and tin cans, Jill found a plastic funnel that had been in the sea for sometime.

At first glance, the beach looked clean but we found part of a long fishing rod holder and numerous small items.

While Jill picked up a golf ball, I found used lighters, a small green monster and a child’s rake.

Some of the plastic and tins defeated us. They were too deeply buried or trapped between the rocks.

It is amazing how much there is on the footpath given that the Council provides huge waste bins where we deposited our findings.

I returned on another day to collect more,

And yet more. This is a typical cashe: a plastic bottle, a pen, old polystyrene and hard, blue plastic. I often find a shoe washed up on the shore. It’s important to keep going.

Rubbish - a shoe washed up on the beach

Another member of our group spent an hour collecting rubbish from Hurst Castle beach on Christmas Eve. “Quite depressing that there is so much litter: mainly plastic and polystyrene. A few interesting finds like a Santa hat, mask, Lego brick, toy soldier, tennis ball….but why so many plastic coffee cups?” he asked.

Richard Brook-Hart’s haul of plastic pollution

He returned on 14th January with another haul. “Lots of plastic bottles, coffee cups, the ubiquitous face masks, beer cans, sweet wrappers, poo bags, fishing line, a tube of toothpaste, and much more. I think that this can be partly attributed to littoral drift, particularly on the western shore, but on the eastern shore it is probably local littering.”

Unless we persevere, the rubbish will blow into the nature reserve where a multitude of native birds and migrant waders congregate. We counted 19 swans living there.

Next time you go for a walk, wear plastic gloves and take a litter bag with you. It is surprising what you can find. If you live in the New Forest, think of joining Litter Pickers of the New Forest who can provide High Vis vests and litter pickers. They are on Facebook here

Litter Pickers of the New Forest on an informal beach clean

Litter Pickers of the New Forest say:

‘Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we can now report some of the impact the local litter heroes, volunteers and staff, had in 2021. Our work with our partners including the National Park Authority, Forestry England, the police, and fire and rescue, saw:

10,000 hours of patrols,

a 40% drop in fires in the New Forest

Over 50 retailers stopped selling disposable BBQs

The New Forest Code was shared with over 2.7 million people

1,000 litter picking kits created

Over 700 New Forest Ambassadors signed up

230,000 bags given out to encourage people to take litter home.

An 8% drop in litter at coastal locations despite visitor numbers being up by 60%

New signs and information across all Forest car parks.

400 social media posts

1.6 million plus newsletters to subscribers

Digital signs at key roads.

‘Thank you to everyone who has done so much to support the New Forest this year, working together, right across the community.’

Keep Britain Tidy have more information here.

Looking back in gratitude – Highlights of 2021

Litter Art made from sea plastic I’ve collected

Walking the Solent Way – in search of plastic pollution washed up on the shore

Winter walks along the coast litter-picking

Contributing to an anthology about Lockdown life

Becoming a Patron of the charity ‘Covid Reflections’

Speaking on BBC Radio Cumbria’s Saturday morning Breakfast Show

Appearing on BBC Antiques Roadshow with ‘Swallows and Amazons’ movie memorabilia including a hazel bow and arrow.

Taking Part in School Readers ‘Race for Reading’ challenge 2021, collecting litter on a section of the Welsh coastline

Collecting sea plastic whilst walking along the south coast of England

Writing articles for The Herald to encourage people to beach-clean

Representing Litter Pickers of the New Forest

Interviewed by JJ Walsh in Japan for a podcast on beach cleaning and meeting the head of Eco-Bricks UK who took some of my fishing net finds for a talk.

Having my unpublished novels placed in a number of literary awards:

Two historical novels Long-listed by Retreat West, 2021

Semi-Finalist in ACFW Genesis novel writing contest in the USA, 2021

Page Turner Finalist, 2021

Reaching the finals of the 2021 Eyelands Book Awards for an unpublished historical novel

Sophie Neville Eyelands Book Awards 2021

Long-listed by Roadmap’s Write Start Competition in the USA, 2021

Longlisted for Adventures in Fiction New Voices, Flash 500 first page competition and The Eludia Awards in the USA.

Mounting my sketchbook drawings on Instagram – here’s one that got away (the aspect ratio didn’t fit)

My sketchbook paintings

A few sporting achievements:

Worcestershire Archery Society’s prize for Lady’s Most Hits

First Lady’s Gold at the West Berks Archery Society

Best Lady’s Gold at Meriden

Lady’s Championship Trophy for highest score Worcestershire Archery Society

Grateful for the harvest from our lockdown vegetable garden: cucumbers, courgettes, marrows, beans, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs

Celebrating the first wedding after Lockdown lifted

Sailing to the Isle of Wight while Lockdown was eased

Visiting the Yarmouth and the Needles

Cleaning Solent beaches

Giving a talk at ‘The Late Summer Festival of Romantic Books and Writing’

Contributing to a handbook for Christian Writers entitled ‘Write Well’ published by Instant Apostle and released in Westminster on 9th October

Taking time out to ride across the wild areas of Sicily

Riding up Mouth Etna in Sicily

Writing a Foreword to ‘Boats Yet Sailing’ by Trevor Boult

Waking up one morning to find a bid of £251 on a signed first edition paperback of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ in an online book auction in aid of BBC Children in Need

Bringing out a second edition of ‘Funnily Enough’ with added illustrations

Being able to go to restaurants with my family – if only for one birthday lunch

Raising funds for welfare projects in the Waterberg, South Africa

Fighting period poverty in rural South Africa

And helping to rebuild the church that burnt down

Being interviewed about my dog, Flint

Sadly the plastic pollution keeps flowing onto Solent shores but I was honoured to be awarded ‘New Forest Litter Picker of the Year’

You can see photos of flotsam on an earlier post here

Very many thanks to all my readers who have reviewed my books

An online book review on the Waterstone’s site

A total of 180 comments and reviews have appeared on Amazon for ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ in its various editions, which is hugely appreciated. It would be wonderful if you could leave a short comment on my Goodreads site here.

'The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville'
Different editions of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) by Sophie Neville’

Diary of a Litter Picker: My New Year’s Commitment to Keep (the coast of) Britain Tidy

Solent mudflats where wild geese graze

This is the Solent foreshore within the New Forest National Park in Hampshire where wildfowl gather and ponies wander free. Looking ahead to 2022, I have made a commitment to spend a total of 25 hours clearing this area of plastic pollution as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Million Mile Mission. They reckon I will be walking nearly 75 miles, whilst collecting litter.

This is not difficult as I live near the Solent shore. It is a beautiful area, part of the Crown Estates, but sadly we have to continually clear it of rubbish washing in on the tide.

Danger, in the form of broken bottles, lies in the mud.

I need to take great care when looking for flotsam with my dog. What of the wild animals – geese, swans and egrets? They need their feet.

We always collect a bucket full of plastic pollution, usually removing 2-4Kgs a day, made up of about 160 pieces, many of which are tiny.

Rubbish - plastic pollution washed up on a beach Oct 2021

The short pieces of green PVC rope are known as ‘sea-kisses’, the remains of old fishing nets shredded and discarded at sea.

Can you see the glinting shard of green glass (above)? It could easily be missed. I find a lot of tennis balls used by dog walkers despite the lead content being toxic.

cephalopod and palsticopod

It’s no wonder that seabirds die with stomachs full of plastic. You can see they have been pecking this inner sole looking for calcium normally gained from cephalopods.

There is always heavy plastic and glass, often a cap.

This peak may have floated over from France. There are sometimes larger items.

This canvas deck cover was 6 metres long and too heavy for me to carry home. Custom-made, it must be sorely missed and expensive to replace.

I must report this enormous marker buoy. It’s the third I’ve found.

People are naughty. Someone shoved a large metal baking tray smelling of fish under one of these bushes. It was heavy – too big for my bucket.

Odd things like forks are often left on the beach.

I have no idea what distance this crate has floated but Box Pool Solutions are based in Peterhead, north of Aberdeen, about 650 miles from the beach where this ended up.

How far has this bottle floated? It was made in South Korea.

Some of the litter is quite elderly.

Rubbish - A drinks can from the 1980s?

This polystyrene beam had been languishing on private land bordering the shore for years.

I reported this to the estate manager but it was not collected and broke into pieces, which are time consuming to collect.

Some of the rubbish has grown into the landscape and is not easy to extract.

Why people keep leaving litter on beaches astounds me. Someone was obviously having a Funki cocktail party on the beach. One of the bottles was half full. The Council bin can’t be missed.

Far more worrying are the florescent light bulbs I keep finding washed up on the shore. Over the years I have come across these four, washed up on the Solent – intact! If broken the toxins within are said to pollute 30,000 litres of water. It’s illegal to throw anything off a ship but I’m told that men are ordered to chuck these off rigs, despite the fact they contain mercury.

Intact fluorescent light bulbs found washed up on the Solent

How long will it be before we are unable to consume fish from the sea? I’m also finding blobs of sewer fat and palm oil, dangerous to dogs.

White blobs of palm oil and micro plastics found on one beach clean

The important thing is to keep going. Our wildness areas will turn into rubbish dumps if we don’t. If you would like to take action and join Keep Britain Tidy’s Million Mile Mission, please click here.

You can read about the Million Mile Mission here

I have more photos of flotsam on an earlier post here

New Forest Litter Picker of the Year 2021

and

Litter Pickers of the New Forest Beach Picker of the Year 2020

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

Litter Pickers of the New Forest Beach Picker of the Year 2020
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