Diary of a litter picker: Endless Evidence of Drink-Driving

We need to establish a culture of using car bins. Even when the pubs were closed people continued drinking. Bottles and cans get chucked out of vehicles, presumably whilst they are being driven along. It’s dangerous.

More than one thousand, three hundred volunteers have now joined Litter Pickers of the New Forest to counteract the growing problem. They work tirelessly to collect detritus from car parks, verges and ditches, which otherwise fill with rubbish. The litter should not be dropped in the first place. There are bins.

We find the oddest items, mostly the detritus left by addicts, such as empty packets of tablets. I’m told the prevalence of aerosols is thanks to sniffers.

A lot of litter is smoking related. Every day, I usually find an old lighter, packets of tobacco and Rizla papers, sometimes syringes, once a bong. I have spotted about three vapour producers.

The sheer amount of drink cans littering the verges of Britain must be staggering. Most once contained alcohol. We can tell which are flung from large vans or lorries, presumably while the drivers are working or returning home from work. It all amounts to evidence of drink-driving.

In the New Forest National Park, we have an additional problem: bottles get left on the open heath, where they can start fires. The glass is heavy. It’s not as if it will ever decompose. Every bottle should be recycled. We could certainly do with a deposit return scheme.

I found endless small bottles of Prosecco, noteably before Christmas.

The lid is carefully replaced on each one before it’s chucked into the countryside, along with masks and takeaway food containers.

We have wild ponies, deer and domestic animals roaming the forest. I often find small mammals trapped inside the bottles and am forever finding broken glass.

A stolen ? glass found on a verge within the New Forest National Park

All this is hazardous. Surely, if you are in a vehicle it is not difficult to take your litter home?

Why is this happening? Is this an illustration of guilt and shame?

I conclude by stating: If a driver hits you, be sure to insist their blood it tested for drugs or alcohol – especially if the inside of their vehicle looks litter free.

To see some of the things we have found when beach cleaning, please click here

Ten year-old cans and bottles found by a lane running through the New Forest National Park

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: Roadside survey for ITV’s ‘Tonight’ programme

Surely this is ‘medical waste’ and should be disposed as such?

I was asked to take photos of pieces of litter for ITV’s ‘Tonight’ progamme who were conducting a survey. This took me twenty-five minutes and left me fuming.

A second recently discarded ‘disposable’ face mask greeting visitors

Forgive my rant, but cars never stop while driving out of town around this bend. These items were thrown from moving vehicles, into a Nature Reserve within the New Forest National Park, in the space of a few weeks while Lockdown measures were in place.

Those intelligent enough to pass the Highway Code, obviously think plastic bottles and tin drinks cans are bio-degradable, that there is no need to take responsibility for items that have been in their mouths during a pandemic.

This is not the first time I have found Lynx Africa in the New Forest. I am assured it is sniffed as a recreational drug. This canister was undoubtedly chucked out of a vehicle. Are drivers sniffing it as well as consuming alcohol?

You get three points deducted from your driving licence if something accidentally falls off your roof rack. How many points do lorry drivers get for losing a load – nine? Surely, litterers and fly-tippers should have points deducted inline with this policy? Fly tipping and throwing litter from movie vehicles is hazardous. Being abandoned, the repercussions are endless.

What hope is there for the planet when people can’t be bothered to recycle their own drinks cans?

This McDonalds carton probably came from the Southampton takeaway 19.9 miles away. There is a nearer outlet 12 miles away but it would still have been carried for twenty minutes in a vehicle.

Everyone knows that plastic rings can choke wildlife. There is a sign on this bridge saying ‘Otters Crossing’ but I see cars speeding across at 50mph.

So much of the litter I find could be fatal to wildlife. We all know plastic rings can be lethal:

This rope was found the other side of river, looking north. You can see the wildfowl near the reedbeds.

Litter-picker kindly supplied by Litter Pickers of the New Forest

It goes on and on. This is litter collected in an area frequently cleaned by volunteers. I ended up dragging this traffic cone out of the estuary and adding another face mask to my haul.

Items removed from the Lymington river Estuary – May 2021

To see photos of items retrieved from this estuary two years ago, please click here

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

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

Diary of a litter picker – on a beach clean

I was told the beach was free of litter. It took me ten minutes to fill my builder’s bucket with flotsam. Do people simply zone out sea plastic and litter?

Some was old, but how long have PPE masks like this been floating around the Solent? I found two, along with the usual plastic bottles.

It is interesting to count and categorise what you find. The Marine Conservation Society list: litter, sewage and fishing gear but the reality can be hundreds of small pieces known collectively as micro-plastics.

Picnic litter is inexcusable.  With well-designed bins near the gate to the beach there is no excuse for this. Although some plastics, such as the straws and bottle-tops, have floated in on the tide, I found a neatly folded crisp packet tucked into the sea wall. Why?

Cotton bud stalks and plastic tampon applicators classify as ‘sewage’ since they are flushed down the loo – with things too revolting to photograph – and yet this is where our children play.

Fishing line makes up the majority of plastic pollution in the seas. We found an angler’s hook and line as well as commercial netting and floats. The fishhook, lying on the float, caught on my own finger.

We tried digging out one section of PVC rope but failed and had to bury it.

The reward for our work was finding a killer whale, a toy orca.

Since ‘Baby Shark’ has been popular in our family, this made our spirits soar, coming almost as a thank you from the sea.

We returned two days later to find half a bucketful of assorted detritus had either come in on the tide or been missed in earlier searches. Spotting a toy soldier amused me this time. I’ve found a couple of others further along the Solent coastline within the New Forest National Park.

For a list of really weird things found on previous beach cleans, click here

One thing is certain. I can no longer walk along the shore without collecting as much plastic pollution as I can carry. It always proves fun and gives us a sense of purpose higher than ourselves.