Diary of a lone litter picker – cleaning Solent shores of plastic pollution after Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis

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.

What could you do to help? Could you pick up a little litter today? Please click here to find a list of the things I might take on a beach clean.

You really can make a difference. We have the Great British Spring Clean from 20th March until 13th April. Sign up and get involved here.

The Solent coast and mudflats looking west

Diary of a lone litter-picker:

I returned to the shingle beach at Tanner’s Lane on the Solent with my friend, also called Sophie, who took care of the dog while I collected plastic pollution. Having cleaned the same beach seven days ago, all I found was a black plastic lid washed up with a number of micro plastics. I plan to return in another week and begin counting the pieces as an indication of what is being washed up on a 500 metre stretch of the Solent. I guess the amount will depend on whether we have another storm or winter picnic-ers.

Rubbish bucket with Solent plastics wased up in a week

We then walked half a mile up the only lane to the beach. I filled my feed bucket with about 5Kgs of crisp packets, cups, flowerpots, a tin and two glass bottles. My friend was interested in how much more rubbish we spotted on our way back to the car. Litter picking is like that. You see into ditches from a different perspective. Cyclists visiting the New Forest were interested to see how much had been thrown onto the verges of the National Park and were horrified to see how much we collected.

Rubbish collected on the lane to the beach

9th January

We drove through the New Forest the next day, taking note of the verge-side litter. Where does it come from? What kind of motorist can ignore the fact they are driving through a National Park? Cyclists must notice every piece.

I later extracted three items from the Lymington River. Two were cups with plastic lids and plastic straws from McDonalds. The nearest is a 25 minute drive away, yet I often find their packaging.  Is it dropped by commuters, visitors or delivery people?

Rubbish MacDonalds

11th January

I found an old carrier bag, put on gloves and collected a bag full of litter on my way into town, finding old things like a neck brace left in the street. The bag is deposited in a municipal bin, as advised. What distressed me was looking over the flood barrier to see so much rubbish dumped in the Nature Reserve.

Rubbish Nature Reserve fly tipping

I walked the dog around Bradbury Rings Iron Age Fort in the afternoon, collecting about 20 items of litter. Although ancient rubbish is the life-blood of archaeologists, I think we can spare them Coke tins.

12th January

I spent 40 minutes collecting litter, walking through the park and along the Solent Way, passing the Yacht Haven. There seemed to be more litter on the ground than a council operative was collecting from the plentiful municipal bins. I found a brand new bag-for-life before picking up two canisters of laughing gas by the Yacht Club. What can I do but re-cycle them?

Rubbish laughing gas 17 Jan 2020

15th January

Storm Brendan hit us hard for two days but the skies finally cleared and enabled me to get down to the coast to collect plastic bottles and wrappers along with two fishing buoys that had blown in from the Solent. It was a joy to be out in the New Forest National Park and felt good to be doing something worthwhile but can I make a difference?

For a list of things I take on a Solent beach clean, please click here

New Forest sunset

Diary of a lone litter-picker: cleaning the riverbank and Solent shores

Sophie Neville collecting plastic from the Atlantic Ocean
Sophie Neville on the 150th beach/river clean of 2019

Wednesday 1st January 2020

“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?

Solent beach clean 1 Jan 2020

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.

“Doubt it.”

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?

Solent Beach clean barbeque 1 Jan 2020

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:

Rubbish 2020

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.

Rubbish 4 2020

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.

Rubbish 3 2002

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.

Rubbish river 2020

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.

Rubbish river 1 2020

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.

Rubbish solent 2020

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.

Rubbish glass with dog

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.

Rubbish micro plastics

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.

Rubbish umbrella 2020

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.

For a list of things found on Solent Beachcleans last year, please click here

Lymington estuary