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 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 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

Diary of a litter-picker – Winter beach cleaning on the Solent

I am thrilled to announce that I have been awarded a certificate as ‘Beach Picker of the Year’ by Litter Pickers of the New Forest, who presented me with a very good bottle of wine. The sea thanked my sons and three year-old helpers by presenting them with a jar of instant coffee and this ball.

The good thing about winter beach cleans is that, instead of picnic litter, you are in with a chance of finding interesting things washed up on the shore. Along with a Tescos’ ‘bag-for-life’, that we filled with pieces of rope, bottles and part of a lobster pot, I found an unopened can of larger, a decent ball and a pristine jar of Nescafe Gold, fully sealed although dated 19/5/19. It must have been floating about in the Solent for some time.

The storms tend to bring in a lot of old plastic. This fishermen’s litter (below) accumulated in the lee of the causeway, out of the wind, but in a nature reserve where otters can be found.

There was a lot to gather. I need to return for more.

PPE is getting everywhere. I’ve been stuffing the masks I find in a jar. I’ve also been picking up aged polystyrene, tampon applicators and tangled PVC rope.

I sometimes use a counter to record how many items I pick up. This purple bucketload (below) contained 140 items but can take more than 260, as many pieces of sea plastic are small. It usually ends up weighing between 3 and 4 Kgs.

How long will will it take for all this to disintegrate? It’s interesting to date elderly rubbish. Crisp packets can easily last 40 years.

These ones were only aged about 8, which was a bit disappointing.

Odd things turn up. This mallet was made with a groove along the top, which I understand is used by riggers. It looks as if it came from a fairground.

After the gales this November, I found an undamaged fluorescent light bulb washed up on the Solent. This is my third. I gather these contain mercury. Is it British? Has it been flung off a ship?

By contrast, this large lobster pot buoy obviously belongs to someone. It’s been registered as missing on Facebook but with no response.

The important thing is to keep going, collecting a little but regularly:

It’s then that your eye catches small pieces like fishing line – which we nearly missed –

This is one of three fishy lures collected recently.

It’s good to record just how much plastic pollution accumulates over time. I found about 3 Kgs of rope and micro plastics after scouring this remote beach that I had cleared a month before.

This pollution is being retrieved from ecologically sensitive areas within the New Forest National Park and British seas. Sadly, all this now has to go into landfill – apart from the ball and sealed jar of coffee. It was just what we needed at home.

Sophie Neville collecting plastic pollution from Solent shores.

To see some of the things we found beach cleaning in September, please click here

Diary of a Litter picker: 20 oldest or weirdest things I’ve found while litter picking

Rubbish - coffeemate

Did this sachet float from China to the Solent or was it chucked off a ship? It was unopened. We also found an unopened and sealed jar of Nescafe Gold that had been floating around the Solent, and often pick up brand new, full cans of beer.

Solent Rubbish

Forlorn channel markers can be heavy to shift. I had to ask what this grey gadget, below, was. It’s a compass guard. Anyone missing one?

Rubbish - Compass guard

Ancient plastic bottles often wash up on a beach. We dated the Paragon bleach as being made in 1959 but are not sure about the Fairy Liquid.

Rubbish old plastic bottles of fairy liquid

I fear this is evidence that open pen-knifes get flung from moving vehicles.

Rubbish penknife

This quivering load of extra-large incontinence pads was chucked in the nature reserve, which un-nerved me. It was incredibly heavy. I found something so unspeakable nearby I could not take a photo of it. A whole shipping container of adult nappies washed up on the south cast recently. They are heavy to move.

Rubbish Day 18 incontinence bags

This cash of antique Kilner jars was dug out of mud on the Solent. There is no wave action here, so the broken glass must have been posing a danger to paddling children, dogs, New Forest ponies and wildlife for decades.

Rubbish broken glass 13th May

I found a huge rusty gas canister on the Solent shore that looked so like a UXB that we reported it to the police. They told me WWII bombs still need to be detonated every three months or so. It was near where I have found intact fluorescent light bulbs washed up on two separate occasions. I’ve kept them as exhibits. They must have been flung off ships.

We often find crisp packets or drink cans that are more than thirty years old. This tin left in a nature reserve must once have contained UHT milk.

Rubbish UHT bottle

I come across a lot of old milk bottles. This one had converted into a nice, dry home by a mouse. I left it in situ.

Rubbish mouse nest in bottle

This 25 litre barrel washed up on the shore, that once held bleach, had been gnawed by foxes.

rubbish fox biting

What was eating this ancient plastic bottle? A mouse? How old is the design? 1990 or earlier. Thirty-five years?

Rubbish lemonade bottle

Why do people knot plastic wrappers before throwing them out of their vehicle? I think it’s weird. Most packets, wrappers or cans once clad tobacco, sugary sweets or drinks that are bad for the health. Rubbish from drug use or cannabis farms is common. I find bongs, and endless nitrous oxide canisters, which surely should be banned.

Rubbish knotted

These rather nice reading glasses were inside a stolen handbag chucked in the river. Sadly, I’ve found stolen iPhones, laptops, jewellry boxes and makeup bags.

rubbish glasses

Old traffic cones, signs and car parts are often found on verges or in the estuary. I use the purple bucket to collect broken glass.

rubbish road signs in estuary larger

I often come across half-full glasses or bottles of alcohol, presumably left as soon as the taxi arrives. I take them to the nearest pub but they don’t always want them back.

Rubbish - beer glass

There are bonuses to litter-picking. Sometimes you find money. I was thrilled to come across the mudguard from my husband’s car that had fallen off. It would have been almost impossible to replace.

Rubbish - Simon's bumper

I find loads of hats, gloves, socks, tee-shirts and shoes. They are seldom claimed.

I wash and give away the caps but underwear goes straight into landfill.

Apart from the Chinese sachet of Cremora, one plastic box from the Clyde and another from Plymouth, the item that I’ve found that must have travelled the furthest is this fishing crate that had floated 400kms from its original harbour in France.

Solent Rubbish from France

This was printed on the other side:

Solent plastic from France (2)

To see examples of elderly rubbish found by the sea, please click here

For a list of items I’ve found on Solent beach cleans, please click here

Do add descriptions of weird items you’ve found in the comments below. Fellow litter-pickers report bathtubs, credit card machines and an urn of ashes that was returned to the local undertaker. 

Meanwhile, I’m putting together a post on the most beautiful things I’ve found while litter picking.

Diary of a litter picker – coming out of the first Coronavirus Lockdown

Author Sophie Neville collecting litter in the New Forest
Sophie Neville collecting litter in the New Forest as quarantine restrictions lift

Accompanied by my purple bucket, rescue hound, two sons and their small children, I can no longer classify myself as a lone litter-picker, but as Covid-19 restrictions lifted on 4th July we set off through the New Forest to resume collecting things that have been lost or discarded. Most of what we found was scattered around the car park despite the prevalence of litter bins.

5th July, and I collected this from a causeway crossing a tidal river where some drivers think it a good idea to toss what they no longer desire into the water.  The evidence suggests they are drink driving, and perhaps not thinking clearly.

I pick up endless car parts and assorted trash whenever I venture out, believing that taking one or two pieces from the river bank has to make a difference. We collected a bucketful collected from a beach on the Solent and another from around a local landmark in the New Forest National Park.

When will people realise what they are doing to the planet? The dog now waits expectantly while I excavate plastic from the sea, often showing me something I’ve missed like a lost shoe. I was extracting three pieces of plastic guttering from the Solent when this photo was taken.

To see what I collected during the Coronavirus Lockdown, please click here.

To read about beach cleaning along Solent shore, please click here.

For a list of things I typically find on Solent beach cleans, please click here

Sophie Neville collecting litter dropped along the Solent Way in Hampshire

Diary of a Litter Picker – in the time of Corona

Before Lockdown, I was cleaning this section of the Solent shore on a daily basis, mainly collecting plastic pollution that had blown in or been deposited by the tides.

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Being isolated and difficult to reach, and yet near my home, it seemed a good place to continue taking exercise with my rescue dog, using a bucket that can  contain broken glass and handle windy conditions. I have three that I found washed-up, along with a bicycle basket.

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Each bucketful contains between 40 and 260 pieces of plastic. Some items are very small. Barbecue tongs are useful for extracting wrappers from brambles but most sea-rubbish is clean having been floating in the Solent.

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I find quite a few glass bottles, takeaway food containers, PVC fishing rope and always an old cigarette lighter.

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Some items will have been lost overboard.

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Occasionally something makes me laugh.

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I find the task of clearing the bridge across the estuary quite distressing. People have obviously been dropping litter from vehicles, including sani-wipes, plastic gloves and things that had been in their mouths. What do they imagine will happen next?

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There was a lot of drink-driving prior to Covid-19. I’ve noticed less bottles and cans of alcohol chucked out of cars but far more picnic litter. It’s a wonder we are not coping with a more formidable virus.

“What is the worst things you seen dumped in a beauty spot?”

At the beginning of Lockdown I came across this rubbish dumped in a nature reserve where otters bred. There was human faeces everywhere.

“Why do people throw litter?” I’m asked.

It’s no excuse, but think it gives them a sense of release, which is why we are being inundated right now. I have studied the issue in my depth here.

Quite a lot of rubbish blows off building sites. Here I am in my V.E. Day dress, removing builder’s plastic from a New Forest pond along with a war-time can that looked at least 75 years old.

Collector's items - Sophie Neville's litter-picking finds

“What are the most distressing things you find?”

Fly-tipping upsets me. I took my family to help clear half a ton of plastic car parts dipped in a beautiful bluebell wood a mile from our house, last night. It’s been languishing there so long that a member of a UK Litter-picking group has asked me to send him what have become ‘collector’s items’ but there are too many! I dated the haul by a 2004 crisp-packet lodged with the hubcaps.

This was a load of brand new camping gear dumped in the New Forest National Park as if it was biodegradable.

It’s always distressing finding objects that have obviously been stolen, such as handbags, empty jewellry cases, laptops and iPhones. I’ve found eight different lots chucked in the river within half a mile of my home.

Finding nitrous oxide canisters worries me. What is something goes wrong? People are obviously taking it in areas inaccessible to an ambulance.

Sea plastic found by Sophie Neville

This bucket weighed in at 4kg. It can often weigh 6kg.

This is one of the most lethal objects found on a beach frequented by children, dogs and New Forest ponies. No one from the Council is going to find this.

Photo of rubbish - lethal litter - collected by Sophie Neville

Some items seem to have travelled a long way.

“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found?”

I find long, fluorescent light bulbs washed up in the same place – intact. Here is one I found at the beginning of Lockdown. I’m assured they contain mercury and would be horrific if smashed.

“Do you do art with the rubbish?”

Not using the hub-caps, but during Lockdown I’ve begun to make abstract pictures with sea plastic. You can see the earring and beer bottle caps I found above.

This seascape is proving popular on Facebook:

Seascape - artwork by sophie Neville made from sea-plastic

Those of us collecting sea-plastic along the south coast have found a number of toy soldiers. I incorporated one into this collage:

'The end of the world' a collage made of sea-plastic by Sophie Neville

Being a writer, I usually litter-pick alone so that I can take advantage of good weather and tides while being able to loosen-up after a day typing, but friends sometime join me. It’s fun and gives us plenty to chat about as we view society from the bottom up.

To see more photos and read more about #SolentBeachClean, please click here

Sophie Neville on her 150th beach or river clean of 2019

For a list of the kind of things I find washed up on Solent shores, please click here

Solent Beach Clean