Diary of a Litter Picker: The final legs of the Race for Reading

Finishing the #Race4Reading 2022

Thanks to my kind donors, I have raised £625 in sponsorship for Schoolreaders, which will be matched by my company.

The charity have also been promised matched funding, so my grand total will be £2,500.

If you are able to add a little, it would be hugely appreciated. You £5 would be magnified into £20. The link to my Justgiving page can be found here.

The last weeks of SchoolReaders’ Race for Reading have been tough for me. Back from holiday and the fresh winds of west Wales, I came into contact with numerous people testing Covid + and went down with fatigue, possibly fending off the virus. I was persuaded to take things slowly and do a little at a time but I have walked a total of 92 miles, collecting sea plastic and litter.

It’s an honour to be an author supporter of Schoolreaders who have organised this fantastic marathon. So many have taken part in it that the total number of miles covered nearly 24,000 miles.

Collecting litter along the Solent Way

Here is my progress since my last post:

Day 27 – May 14th 2022 – 1.8km – I collect Easter bunnies encased in plastic lying discarded along the Solent Way.

Day 28 – May 15th – 2.22km – I extract a cheerful orange case from the mudflats. It once held sunglasses.

Day 30 – May 16th – 1 km – cleaning up after a tramp who had been sniffing air freshner in the bluebell woods.

Day 31 – May 20th – I km – finding MacDonald’s packing on Tanner’s Lane Beach.

Collecting broken glass from a beach where children paddle and dogs play

Day 32 – May 24th – 2.2km – finding builder’s gloves chucked into the ditch running alongside the river

Day 33 – May 26th – 1 km – no litter! as I take the footpath up the hill to the pub

Day 34 – May 27th – 0.8km – but spend ages excavating elderly bottles from newly dug drain that flows into the river

Found on the Foreshore

Day 35 – May 28th – 3km – along the coast with a friend collecting broken glass and plastic, a clothes peg and a slip-on shoe.

Day 36 – June 7th – 2km – along a lane by the river collecting driver’s litter.

Day 37 – June 12th – 1km – along country lanes and into a village.

Sophie Neville collecting litter from Solent Shores

Day 38 – June 15th – 1.6km – along the Solent Way collecting a bucketful of fast food containers and empty packets of cigarettes.

Day 39 – June 16th – 2.2km walking along the Solent foreshore collecting old PVC rope and muddy plastic bags. I find a pot shard in a dyke that could be rubbish from long ago.

Day 40 – June 18th – 3.km found a huge PVC rope whilst walking along the Solent and lugged it home with a bucket of flostam.

As you can see, I use an old feed bucket to collect litter but these bags made out of old sails can take broken glass and cope well in the wind. I was kindly given one by Litter Pickers of the New Forest to keep me going.

Rubbish - A camera no one will want
A camera washed up on the Solent

We all need to keep collecting litter and sea plastic. You can hear news for the oceans here:

Collecting coastal litter on the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on the Solent

The Race for Reading is going well and my litter picking is bearing results.

Schoolreaders is such a great charity. I’m one of their author supporters along with Joanna Trollop and Sophie Kinsella. They have been incredibly supportive, tweeting:

@Sophie_Neville has been an absolute star of #RacefoReading this year! Not only has she collected a massive amount of #litter from our coastlines she’s raised over £550 to support children’s #literacy via #Schoolreaders, which she hopes to get match funded!

An improvement can be seen as I walk the coast collecting plastic pollution, but change is slow. In the last few decades, micro plastics have got everywhere. I list some of the weirdest things I’ve found in the past here.

Orange and green that should not be seen

Day 21 – of my personal challenge

U is for Unbelievable how much litter there is in Britain

Unless each one of us do something useful, we’ll be burrowing through unbearable rubbish. I embark on an uplifting walk of about 12.5kms, up and down the river, collecting useless plastic before it is washed into the unforgiving sea.

It’s not unusual for litter to last for decades. You can see some of the elderly items I’ve found by the coast here.

Day 22 –

V is for Victory

I walk vigilantly along the tideline, through the sand dunes, along the verdant estuary where flotsam gathers, and into town finding very small pieces as I cover 6.5kms.

Day 23 –

W is for Why Worry?

Why use a dog poo bag if you are going to leave it in the countryside? It is worrying. They do not decompose and have been known to kill animals attracted to grain in the dog poo. Foals have died. A vet found 20 dog poo bags in the stomach of a deer.

I wander through tide wrack finding a number of dog poo bags washed up by the sea. How many kill dolphins? I return via the windswept sand dunes crossing an ancient midden or rubbish dump. 4 km + 9km = 13km walked today.

W is for Waterhaul – I use this old feed bucket for collecting litter but it is better to take a bag when it’s windy. You need a strong one that can take broken glass. Waterhaul are making beach clean bags out of old sails and are up-cyling amazing things out of discarded fishing net. You can find their website here.

Day 24

X is for sea Xs – I find a huge number along the coast – the result of torn fishing net being shredded and discarded at sea. It is too costly to mend or dispose of them on land. Theses strands of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) are known as sea-kisses when an X is formed by the knot. Please collect any and report your findings to Marine Management.

PVC fishing net purposely shredded and discarded at sea

I stop for a rest to look back on what’s been achieved, appreciating all the encouragement I’ve been given.

Rebecca Holmes left a message saying: “only 3.5km” only this only that. NO, it’s not only. It’s brilliant, every single step counts.

Liz Downs Wow. This is the first I’ve heard of this. What an achievement 👏💖

Stephen Green Such a worthwhile cause, I commend you Sophie well done, I don’t know where you get the energy from.

Sophie Neville collecting marine plastic on the r4r2022

Day 25

Y is for Yucky

Are young people to blame or drivers? If you take a lane running alongside your local river, you soon notice that most roadside litter is made up of the bright packaging of things that are bad for people: tobacco, sweets, over flavoured snacks, drugs, sugary carbonated drinks and alcohol. Somehow the caffeine fails to give people the energy to take their rubbish to a bin.

I took part in Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean when we counted cans collected and found twice as many alcohol containers as soft drinks. The highways of Britain are lined with tins and bottles that have been in people’s mouths. What are the consequences?

I walk 1.3km along our tidal river within the National Park, collecting a couple of large bottles that would have been hazardous if flung from a vehicle. These are added to my glass recycling bin, which has become embarrassingly full. I have a container of old oil I do not know how to dispose of. There are two 25 litre drums of chemicals, a car bumper and a metal table lurking in the estuary. I’ve reported them to the Council twice but nothing has been done.

I feel discouraged but am delighted to announce that a colleague from Litter Pickers of The New Forest, renown for covering a huge distance, has signed up for the Race for Reading 2022 and will be picking up the baton. Another volunteer promises to help me extract the fly-tipping and take it to the dump.

Day 26

Z is for Zonked. I’m getting tired but zoom along the shore zealously collecting muddy rubbish and tiny pieces of litter covering 4.1km.

Z is for Zero plastic waste. I sign up for The Big Plastic Count. We have to stop producing so much single use plastic. I’m told that a truckload of rubbish enters the sea every second of everyday. I will continue to pick pieces up from the coast but we have to stop it getting into the sea.

I log my fitness to find I have covered over 78 miles on the Race for Reading 2022. I’ve only collected one wheely bin of litter, a tub of glass bottles and another of tin cans but the coast is clear.

Sophie Neville - an author supporter of Schoolreaders

Thanks to my generous sponsors, I’ve raised £445 for School Readers so far. My company will double any money I can raise in sponsorship, so any donations given to School Readers via my Justgiving page will be doubled.

Schoolreaders is a children’s literacy charity which provides volunteers to partner primary schools nationwide to listen to children read. Even before Covid 19, 1 in 4 children left primary school unable to read properly1. Currently, our dedicated volunteers support over 7,000 children every week with one-to-one reading support, boosting their reading ability, fluency, comprehension and enjoyment.

Why Schoolreaders is needed:

  1. Inequalities in literacy levels have widened since the pandemic. 5-7 year old disadvantaged pupils are 7 months behind non-disadvantaged peers2
  2. One in seven adults (7 million people) have poor literacy and are unable to fill in a job application form, read a medicine label or understand written instructions. This can affect their mental health, contribute to unemployment, homelessness and crime – 48% of UK prisoners have reading ages of 11 or under.3
  3. Illiteracy costs the UK economy nearly £40 billion every year.4
  4. More than 10% of primary schools in England have registered with Schoolreaders to help their pupils catch up on vital reading skills.

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

N is for Never give up – you can still join the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on r4r2022

No regrets! It’s not too late to register for the Race for Reading.

I’ve been going slowly but nothing is stopping me. My quest is to collect litter and marine plastic as I walk along the coast of the UK to raise funds for the charity Schoolreaders.

As you can see on my earlier posts, I’ve been using the alphabet as a theme.

N is for Nothing changes unless we take action

Day 14 – Another nice walk along the estuary into the small town of Newport collecting numerous wrappers and a noxious nappy dropped by numbskulls.

I walk another 3km later, cleaning the high tide line along the beach finding, amongst the rope and fishing line, a spoon, a sock and five poo bags. Why dog owners use tennis balls is a mystery. They contain lead and can choke large dogs.

Rubbish - old tennis balls
Old tennis balls and shredded fishing net

O is for Obviously old things get outdated or ousted and litter becomes an ordinary occurrence rather than an outrage.

Day 15 – I only cover 2 kms following the coastal path to a lifeboat station but collect three old socks, a pair of knickers and half a bucket of litter. I later search the tide line for flotsam and mainly find dog poo bags and obsolete fishing line while covering another 3.5kms.

P is for Plastic

Day 16 – I plod past a harbour collecting picnic litter, pondering on the fact I’ve probably covered 2 kms. Later I pace the tide line for 3.7kms returning with a heavy bucketful of party rubbish: plastic packaging, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic straws and 6-pack plastic that litters the coast. I find plenty of plastic cotton bud stalks, panty liners and packets of condoms along the shore – an indication of sewage entering the sea. PVC rope and polystyrene discarded by the fishing industry is common.

Plastic, polystyrene and PVC

Patience is needed. PPE, party poppers, plasters and ear plugs fill me with fury. I prefer picking up paddles, pegs, paintbrushes, pens and pencils since there’s a possibility they were simply lost. There’s a litter-picking prize for finding pairs of pants.

Day 17 –

Q is for quayside

but as that is now clean, I walk up the estuary into a quaint market town. It’s quiet but I find a lot of wrappers, covering 3.9kms as I collect a bucketful of litter. The skate park posed quite a challenge. The drains there wash straight into the estuary.

After lunch, I set out across the sand dunes finding a quantity of drink cans and glass bottles left by camp fires. The 20 bottles are heavy to lug back.

filling my bucket with picnic litter

I’ve learnt a lot since collecting litter. You see what’s happening from the underside of society. Alcohol containers are often discarded from high vehicles , rural drug taking is rife and fishing vessels are shredding nets at sea. The arterial roads of Britain are strewn with rat-infested litter loaded with human DNA. It’s surprising we are not threatened by a more serious pandemic.

Day 18 –

R is for re-cycling on the Race for Reading

I have been putting bottles or clean drink cans in the recycling bins but most coastal plastic needs to go to landfill. I scan the mudflats for ancient litter including heinous broken glass covering about 2.5km.

Day 19 –

S is for Sunshine

Silvery skies lift my spirit as I search the seashore for seven kilometers without seeing much flotsam. We seem to be making progress. If people see no rubbish they are less likely to drop litter.

Day 20 –

T is for tidying

I retrace my tracks traversing three kilometers to town coming across little litter. Two more kilometers with the dog and I’m tired but happy. Another two kilometers in the evening take us to a running total of 55 miles covered litter-picking so far. Logging my progress with the Race for Reading has been motivational.

Sophie Neville on Schoolreaders Race for Reading 2022 – photo by Caspar aged 7

If you would like to sponsor me on the Race for Reading 2022, I have a Justgiving page here and there are alternative ways of donating to the charity here.

Each donation will be matched by my company, and then again by SchoolReaders matched funding, so if you can donate £5 it will be magnified to £20.

Every small amount is an encouragement and will make a difference, enabling slow readers to catch up at school and gain a love for books.

You can hear about the work of the charity here:

Diary of a Litter Picker: the Race for Reading continues

I’m walking along the coast on a sponsored beach-clean, using the alphabet as my theme.

The aim is to raise funds for the charity Schoolreaders who aim to ensure every child in the UK can read fluently by the age of eleven. Shockingly, 25% fall behind. It jeopardizes their future.

Could you take part in the Race for Reading too?

Day 7 – H is Hard work – I head out along hedgerows just above the high tide’s reach to harvest horrific litter that could wash into the sea. I cover 2.1km and only collect 35 pieces but haul three discarded containers of chemicals that were chucked into the river.

One of three chemical containers chucked into the nature reserve

Day 8 – I is for I have to do something. Imagine our coastlines covered in rubbish. It’s impossible to ignore wanton trash. I’ve found three intact fluorescent light bulbs washed up before now.

Ice cream left for the fairies

We go down to the foreshore to see what recent storms have brought in. When I first moved to the Solent eighteen years ago it was multi-coloured with bottle tops. Volunteers have slowly cleared it but the sea coughs up unwanted plastic on every tide. As we collect flotsam, a £20 note floats up to us!

Day 9 – J is for Just pick it up

We need to keep picking up litter before it is blown into the sea and this nature reserve

I cross a causeway over a tidal river where drivers obviously chuck rubbish while waiting for the level-crossing to open on the far side. Having a litter-picker makes the job easier and safer. I collect a bagful and continue into town, putting litter straight into council bins. Despite plenty of these, I find a significant amount of cellophane on the quay about to be blown into the harbour. I cover 3.5km collecting litter over 90 minutes.

The Co-op carrier bag is compostable, the plastic pollution is not

Day 10 – K is for keep fit – and keep going. We arrive in Pembrokeshire for a family holiday. I’m tired after the journey but walk about two miles in 90 minutes, collecting a carrier bag full of coastal litter.

Day 11 – L is for Litter – loitering in the tide wrack of Wales, but I’m joined by friends from The Dog House which is fun. We walk 5 kms along a sandy beach where the smallest dog is rather good at finding litter.

Joined in my quest by The Dog House

Day 12 – M is for mission to rid the cost of plastic pollution. I walk up an estuary for only 2kms but collect a bucketful of PVC rope and plastic wrappers. I repeat the same distance at low tide when the landscape looks quite different.

Would you like to join the challenge? It’s not too late.

The charity SchoolReaders are still looking for runners, swimmers, riders and walkers keen to take part in their Race for Reading.

Run, walk, cycle, swim, ride, wheel, litter-pick

Every pound raised in sponsorship makes a difference and provides more children with vital reading help. They send out T shirts to those who reach £100 in donations along with a R4R 2022 medal to everyone who has raised over £15 and a gold medal to those who have raised over £1,000.

My company will match any sponsorship I personally raise, so any money given via my Justgiving page will be doubled.

Thanks to my very kind supporters I’ve raised £355 so far, which will be doubled to make £710! This will be enough to ensure twenty volunteers are able to listen to children read and give them a love of books, improving their life chances.

Sophie Neville cleaning the mudflats of PVC rope and old fishing line.

And, I’ve stopped litter from threatening wildlife and polluting our seas. For a full list of things I’ve found washed up on the Solent over the years, please click here

Thanks go to Schoolreaders who change the life stories of so many children.

A is for Action – All set for the Race for Reading 2022

Sophie Neville taking part in Race for Reading run by the charity SchoolReaders

A – is for And The Race for Reading has officially begun!

We’re asking you to step up for children’s literacy!

Over the next 80 days, supporters around the world will run, cycle, swim, row and walk to raise funds for the national charity Schoolreaders. They are encouraging litter-pickers to join their virtual race.

Spring Clean the coastline with Keep Britain Tidy

As an ambassador for Keep Britian Tidy, I have been litter-picking as I walk along the coast, cleaning beaches and shorelines of the United Kingdom on the Great British Spring Clean from 25th March to 10th April. I’m happy to extend this until 19th June 2022 when Schoolreaders virtual race ends.

Please click her for my Schoolreaders Just Giving page if you would like to sponsor me.

Last year, a total of over 34,000 miles was covered by the registered participants. I kept a tally of miles walked while litter picking, clocking up 32 miles. My distance covered was not very impressive – but collecting flotsam takes time and my bucket can get heavy.

Litter collected whilst walking along the Solent shore

Somewhere I have a tally of the amount of rubbish collected. I certainly took a lot of photos. I’m hoping friends will join me this year as I’m aiming to walk a lot further.

I’m not sure if I will find anything that relates to books or reading but it is possible.

I quite often find reading glasses when I’m litter picking

If you would like to support children’s reading in the UK there are many ways you can do so:

Litter being collected on a coastal path

Funds raised will provide weekly one-to-one reading support sessions from Schoolreaders volunteers across the country. We are hoping to be able to help over 2,500 children who may have fallen behind with their reading during Lockdown.

Diary of a litter picker: 20 unusual finds

Sophie Neville searching for marine plastic on the Solent

As a child, I longed to find a unicorn. Nowadays they litter the New Forest.

Unicorns seem to be popping up everywhere, along with Disney princesses.

A stranded mermaid illustration how helpless most of us feel about sea plastic

And underpants. We find a lot.

Men’s underpants caught in the brambles
Frilly knickers found in a church car park within the New Forest National Park
Anti-perspirant and after shave is often discarded by a sniffers in the New Forest
A garden rake, the second I’ve found of this type, possibly from a cannabis farm
An elf’s shoe – the pencil is just for scale, although I sometimes find them
I often find fenders and floats washed up on the Solent
Did the peak drift across the English Channel by itself?
A pin from a sailing pontoon that has been washed down the coast
Small pieces of asbestos roofing washed up on the Solent
It is not unusual to rubber lining the coast. Helium ballons are washed up almost every day
Intact fluorescent light bulbs found washed up on the Solent
Fluorescent tubing found washed up intact on the Solent foreshore

Shockingly, I have been told, ‘we get ORDERED to throw them overboard as sending them back ashore is expensive due to them been classified as hazardous waste. Happens everyday in some way or another. 200 old fire extinguishers once but there’s a lot worse.’

You get used to spotting things

It looks like a broken branch but it’s the remains of a ‘hangman’s noose’ or swing found on the coast with polystyrene, PPE masks and a discarded picnic mug

Here is a tree bearing three, although you can only just see the remains of a blue rope. It’s killed the branch.

Ropes hung from trees on private land within the New Forest National Park

‘Why do people litter?’

  • Annie Soulsby says, “It’s about caring. If someone doesn’t care about themselves they tend to not care much about anything else, including the environment. “
  • “The crux of the problem is that all sorts of people litter all sorts of items for all sorts of reasons” says Samantha Harding, the director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s litter campaign. “Men aged 18-25 often see it as cool to drop litter, but hauliers, smokers, users of fast food outlets and drive-through takeaways and commuters are all groups of society who litter”.
Litter on a stick

The animals seem to resent rubbish left in their pristine environment. The rabbits excavated these cans.

Unwanted lager cans excavated by rabbits?

May be its because people use holes as litter bins.

A plastic bottle repulsed from a rabbit hole

Litter pickers often encounter wildlife – especially lizards or wood mice, snails and insects, which use the litter or become trapped inside it. I found this healthy slow worm under a water trough when I was cleaning a field.

A slow worm found whilst collecting plastic from a field

Our most exciting and treasured find was a brand new basket ball with plenty of bounce, washed up on a remote Solent shore.

A fine find – a new basket ball, washed up on a remote sandbank

Litter is pollution. It’s vital that we remove it. Dave Regos has asked to show you an award-winning documentary entitled ‘A Fist Full of Rubbish’:

Meanwhile, I continue to patrol the strand.

Here are some odd things I found earlier

Showing a teacher shoes found on a beach clean

Save the date!

And contact Keep Britain Tidy about The Great British Spring Clean

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

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