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: Lockdown Reflections

A rainbow of discarded cigarette lighters

For some odd reason we have seen a rise in litter since Covid-19 broke out. Why is this? Does it reflect national frustrations or just an increase in takeaway meals and outdoor parties?

Green bottles found in ditches and beaches during Lockdown, sorted for recycling

It is strange that people continue to discard PPE despite obvious health risks. Have we ceased to care about endangering wildlife and polluting the environment? Ben Deutsch described it as, ‘an act of libertarian defiance.’ Jill Crouch decided, ‘we are coming out of a me me me time – a superficial needing of more and wondering why we are not fulfilled when we get it.’

There will always be lost things but have we lost pride in Britain?

This rubber shoe was found washed up on the shore with a mask, but there has been gradually less sea plastic found on my stretch of the Solent, presumably due to fewer ferries and less shipping.

A mask and other plastics washed up on the Solent along with an elderly bottle and scaffolding parts

I have been reporting finds in the local newspaper in an effort to inspire others to begin collecting flotsam.

SophieNeville, beach-hedge-and river-saviour,” one reader commented. “It’s frightening just how much litter she removes. I’m inspired to try to emulate her.”

Articles in The Herald by Sophie Neville

Meanwhile, there have been lots of vehicle part to retrieve on dry land.

Vehicle parts dumped in a Hampshire bluebell wood

Lockdown certainly bought an increase in fly-tipping as people used time off work to clear out their sheds and attics or redecorate. At the same time, Council dumps closed during the first Lockdown and then introduced various restrictions, which proved disastrous. The New Forest National Park was hit particularly hard with bed mattresses and junk being dumped in precious wilderness areas.

Matt Rudd, writing in the Sunday Times Magazine was horrified by the increase in rubbish strewn about during Lockdown. He wrote, “There are two schools of thought on why people litter. The first is that they hate themselves for cramming all that junk food into their faces. Chucking wrappers out of the car window is just self-hatred by proxy.” Certainly, most of the litter I find has once wrapped over-sugared, over-salted, over-caffeinated food and drink of some kind. I would add tobacco and harmful drugs to his list. It’s as if people want to distance themselves from guilt and shame.

“The second,” Matt Rudd claims, “is that the further you are from home, the less you care about the environment.” And yet, he witnesses that, even in strict Lockdown, our local parks and car parks are strewn with newly dumped masks. Does the fear of contracting a virus make people more selfish?

However, the response has been amazing. Despite restrictions, individuals have used their daily exercise allowance to clean the beaches and verges of Britain. Litter-Pickers of the New Forest have gained over 1,300 volunteers in the last year, with an active Facebook Page and Justgiving site. They encourage members with sponsors delivering rewards for volunteer achievements.

A gift of encouragement from Litter-Pickers of the New Forest

If you happen upon a litter-picker, do give them encouragement, and if possible, lend them a hand. We are all fighting the same battle.

To find out about Waste Less, Live More, please click here

A pillow washed up on Solent shores

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

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

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 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

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 – 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.

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: finding lost items

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

A shuttlecock

A horseshoe

One half-chap

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

Euros 15

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.

 

Rubbish mouse nest in bottle

~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~

To read about my travels in Africa, please find a copy of ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’

The diary of a litter picker: 20 reasons why it’s good to collect trash

As a child, I collected sea shells on the beach. Now I walk by the Solent pulling rope and other litter out of the springy coastal turf, finding rubbish that has literally grown into the landscape. I often find litter that looks as if it has been previously ingested by New Forest ponies that graze the area. Some plastic had been around for years. How old is the Mars Bar wrapper or the bottle of Fair Liquid in this photo?

As I work, I’ve been thinking up reasons why it is good to collect litter:

  1. You can make a difference – improving the environment very quickly.
  2. Items that are potentially harmful to wildlife and pets get removed.
  3. Quantities of glass, metals and plastic can be recycled instead of languishing for years.
  4. It is an easy way of paying back the natural world and society for the good things we freely enjoy.
  5. A huge amount of satisfaction is gained by logging findings and looking back on the results, especially when you map the area.
  6. It is satisfying to be able to return lost or stolen items to their rightful owners.
  7. You can find interesting or useful items – including things you’ve lost yourself.
  8. You occasionally find money.
  9. As your eye adjusts, you begin to notice all sorts of interesting things.
  10. It broadens your appreciation of the natural world and can become relaxing.
  11. It is a productive way of keeping fit especially if you bend.
  12. It gets you outside, exploring your neighbourhood by using footpaths and lanes you might not walk along.
  13. At times you can litter-pick while walking the dog.
  14. It can be social and an amusing activity to do with friends.
  15. It is a way of meeting new people with good intentions.
  16. You invest in the future: If you take children litter-picking they are unlikely to throw it.
  17. Once you collect litter it is less likely re-accumulate. Litter attracts fly-tipping.
  18. You gain an insight into social problems in the area that need addressing such as theft and drink driving.
  19. You tend to receive encouragement and moral support, especially from neighbours.
  20. You become more diligent about your own recycling.

Could you add to the list? Please use the comments box below.

~ Returning used egg boxes to the community shop ~

One Thursday in May –

I decided to count how many pieces of #plasticpollution I could pick up from the Solent shore in an hour. Since this was along a section of coast that I have been cleaning for years, most of the cellophane, plastic bags and other items had been washed in on the tide, so it took longer than litter picking: 101 items in one hour.

~101 pieces of plastic pollution washed up on Solent shores ~

One Friday in May –

Tonight I walked westwards along the Solent shore, thrilled to find a plastic feed bucket, an unopened can of larger,a torch, a new tennis ball and a cap. I also picked up a helium balloon, black tubing, an empty bottle of rum and various pieces of rope from the fishing industry. My dog spotted an old flip flop.

~50 pieces of rubbish washed up on the Solent coast~

One Monday in May – 

Since New Forest ponies, wildfowl and other animals graze on Solent shores I am keen on collecting broken glass. As there is no wave action, it remains sharp for decades. I can’t bear the thought of swans’ feet being cut. I collected this much in an hour but failed to reach it all.

I met two South Africans on the beach who told me more than fifty tonnes of rubbish had recently been washed onto the shore near Durban in the recent floods.

~a cap, 2 balloons and about 50 pieces of rubbish and broken glass~

For a full list of items I’ve found on the same stretch of coastline, please click here

How many items could you collect in an hour? Were any useful? Please note your findings in the comments below.