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.
“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?
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Almost every day I go litter picking it proves to be an adventure. Truly. I find lost things, usually gloves or vehicle parts but treasures too. I return what I can to the rightful owners using the local community Facebook page – within reason.
I have found:
A selection of balls – lots of tennis balls
Unused cable ties
A marine pump accepted by grateful boat owner
The guard for a yacht’s compass:
~I had to ask what this item was. It is unbroken~
Amusing children’s toy that flashes and bounces
2 x bags that once held camping equipment
A picnic chair folded into a sleeve
A brand new ‘disposable barbecue’
Pair of secuteers, rather blunt – so possibly chucked
Brand new tube of Ibuprofen gel
Toy sand moving vehicles
A selection of yachting caps – most have to be thrown away but some can been redeemed. One was labelled and returned to its owner.
When is a half-used can of Jungle Formula insect repellent lost and when is it litter?
I once came across a red plastic chopping board washed up on the coast. Lost or discarded?
I’m sure you will have seen abandoned pub glasses, left behind when the taxi arrives. I could equip my kitchen if I didn’t return them to nearby pubs. How many are taken outside and left for others to gather?
~Stolen, abandoned or both? This was returned to the nearest pub~
And then there is the manna:
2 x unopened bars of chocolate
Huge quantity of potatoes that fell off a lorry that drove past while I was wondering what to cook for supper
2 new unopened cans of larger
Total of 5 x unopened and brand new bottles of larger
A large bottle of Dutch beer. Litter might prove my salvation.
~A mouse’s nest made in an old milk bottle. I left it alone~
But what of the risks?
How many people are injured or killed by litter?
I spent twelve years living in southern Africa. We noticed that mosquitoes breed in stagnant water found in old car tyres and drink cans. If we removed the litter from an area the mosquito population dropped overnight, often to zero. Malaria is one of the biggest killers in the world. It was once prevalent in the UK. We need to stop litter and control rubbish worldwide to reduce the spread of this disease alone. To read a litter about recycling accomplished by Environment Club members in a corner of rural South Africa, please click here.
~Broken bottle found where New Forest ponies graze~
~Tavistock Festival – from the original painting by Celia Duncan~
The Tavistock Music and Arts Festival is in full swing. Do take a look through the brochure and take part in some of the events on offer, especially if you are planning to visit Dartmoor over the next few weeks. You can find the online brochure here.
The talk and Q&A on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ went down well, with audiences made up of Arthur Ransome enthusiasts, those who loved both the old film and the Lake District. There were also young people interested in acting and film-making who said they had watched the DVD a number of times. One couple remembered Titty Altounyan who had lived in Coniston and was so well-loved by the people of the Lake District.
On Sunday 22nd April, the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was screened at The Wharf Cinema on the Tavistock Canal. We held a book signing directly afterwards, when festival members gathered to chat about films and film reviews, books and book reviews, along with all manner of things.
I met David Harrison, the projectionist, who told me that he first screened the movie when it came out in 1974. He worked at the Drake Cinema in Plymouth from 1967 to 2000 and is quite an expert on film with what sounded like an impressive private collection of DVDs. Dave told me I was ‘His favourite girl’ in the movie and presented me with a bunch of narcissi.
~Sophie Neville at the Wharf cinema with David Harrison~
In the foyer of The Wharf, where Virginia McKenna once gave a talk on making her iconic movie ‘Born Free’, they have new star: a glitzy otter called Rosie who was happy to pose wearing a red Amazon hat. She is one of many otters made for the Moor Otter Trail, that is becoming popular with visitors. You can read how they raised £126,000 for Dartmoor National Park here.
~Sophie Neville, Patron of the UK Wild Otter Trust: photo-Helena Ancil~
You can see pictures of the otters hand-reared by my family here
The Chairman of the Tavistock Festival, Christopher Kirwin, chatted to Belinda Dixon on BBC Radio Devon’s Sunday morning programme for about thirty minutes. You can listen to this, 1hr.26mins into the programme here:
The 4th Waterberg Trust Challenge Ride, which set off on 21st January 2018, proved fast, fun and fulfilling. Thanks go to all those who sponsored me on Justgiving.com and helped me to raise funds in other ways.
Crossing the game reserves of South Africa was a joy, especially since we encountered a number of newborn animals.
The story begins at Pin Mill where the Swallows – John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker, along with their mother and Bridget-the-ship’s-baby, are waiting for their father to take up a Naval posting nearby at Shotley. The four children didn’t mean to go to sea at all but somehow ended up sailing to the Netherlands in a terrific storm. I was asked to read the last chapter.
~Gryff Rhys Jones and Sophie Neville appearing on Anglia Television~
Going back twenty years: Members of The Arthur Ransome Society alerted me to a BBC Children’s Television programme, which shows Griff Rhys Jones at Pin Mill in 1997 when he met Taqui Altounyan who knew Ransome when she was a girl. The Swallows were originally based on her family who learnt to sail in two clinker-built dinghies called Swallow and Mavis when they stayed at Bank Ground Farm (Holly Howe) above Coniston Water in the Lake District. I recently discovered the secret that Taqui was also the model for Captain Nancy in Ransome’s well-loved books.
I have been lying in the bath dreaming up a poem to enter this wonderful competition. So far, I have:
If you ever go for tea
at Bank Ground Farm, you’re sure to see
the field where the Swallows waited
for the telegram that stated
they could go to sea.
IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN
has become quiet well renowned
as a response to Health and Safety
when adult natives get too hasty
or turn adventure down.
Did Arthur Ransome ever think
that a feature film might one day link
Lucy Batty to a famous movie star
like sweet Virginia McKenna
while at her kitchen sink?
‘I put a paddlock on the gate,
obliging them to wait
until they paid a decent fee
to use my property
But if you stay at Bank Ground Farm’s
rooms in the house, the stable block or barns
you’ll be certainly
with open arms.
I think I need to try I littlhe harder. Here are the competition details:
A new competition for poets is being launched at a Lake District farm with a strong literary heritage.
The owners of Bank Ground Farm, on the eastern shore of Coniston, are asking poets to write about their visit – or about Swallows and Amazons, the children’s classic story which is set in the area.
The entries will be judged by American poet and author David Whyte who is visiting this summer to run a residential school. Whyte, the Anglo-Irish poet now living in the USA, is the author of eight books of poetry and four books of prose. With a degree in Marine Zoology, he has traveled widely, including living and working as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands and leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, Amazon and Himalaya.
Swallows and Amazons, loved by generations of children – and adults – opens at a farm called Holly…