The Great British Beach Clean – on from 11th-27th September – is being organized by Keep Britain Tidy – but what does this entail?
For me, the reality means extracting litter posted into prickly blackthorn bushes by those too lazy to take their party rubbish home. It’s usually made up of beer bottles and nitrous oxide canisters, which will never decompose.
I pull on a pair of gloves, grab bucket and barbecue tongs and just get on with picking up the litter. It is, however good to analyse what is found and report findings on social media.
There is so little wave action on Solent shores that broken glass remains a problem for years, endangering paddling children, beloved dogs and wildlife.
On top of this we now have PPE, endless cans and paper cups that have been in people’s mouths, along with clothing and stolen items.
I use a heavy duty bucket, rather than a black plastic bag, so I can cope with broken glass. It can end up containing 260 pieces and weighing more than 6kgs when full. Needing an extra bag is rarely a problem – I find so many.
I go out with friends and family making it fun. Teenagers always have a lot to say about the hazards of #plasticpollution especially when it has travelled a fair distance. Plymouth is 150 miles from the Solent.
The aim is to remove rubbish from sensitive coastal or riverine areas before it can damage the environment.
There are often old lighters, always micro plastics and bottle tops. It is the tiny pieces that take time to collect but small children are good at this.
I go out daily, finding helium ballons, more PPE and endless plastic bottles.
I use tongs and avoid touching the rubbish, even with gloves. It’s cleaner on the shore, since almost everything has been soaking in seawater. Most of this (above) was flotsam. Collecting up litter that others should have taken home (below) is more aggravating but it is makes a huge difference and is a job that has to be done before the wildlife suffers.
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.
I’m often ask what are the most extraordinary things I’ve found on a beach clean. This year, I came across a crate washed up on Solent shores that originated in Brittany, nearly 400 kilometres across the English Chanel.
My bucket fills with lost toys and discarded litter as I clear plastic debris brought in on the tide. There is often a piece of Lego and nearly always an old cigarette lighter. How do they get into the sea?
Plastic and PVC string gets entangled in oak trees brought down in the storms.
But, perhaps the strangest things are three unbroken fluorescent light bulbs washed up in the same place at different times.
There is always plenty to collect from tidal margins including a fair bit of rope. Most pieces are tiny. Plastic gardening waste is common.
Some of it defeats me. I couldn’t shift this marker buoy. It is difficult to imagine how it will ever be removed from such a remote spot with no vehicle access.
British mud flats, so important for wildfowl, constitute one of our last wildernesses. I long to check the whole area but birds will be breeding on the low lying islands soon.
Instead, I go inland, clearing plastic bottles and wrappers that have blown off the Solent into coastal fields where they risk being a hazard to livestock. I often find pieces of plastic that have passed through the guts of New Forest ponies. Some items have obviously been dumped by overloaded hikers such as this brand new camping gear.
Meanwhile, the Lymington river estuary seems to be regarded as a litter bin by someone who drinks Tazoo everyday. I collect what I can from the banks before the rubbish attracts even more.
The nearest McDonalds is a 25 minute drive away and yet countless people wait until they reach the bridge before tossing their cups into the tidal river. Why do they do this?
I didn’t clear nearly enough. The road flooded taking all the litter chucked onto the verge into the sea.
The shore I usually clean-up was not too bad after the storms but this is because others have begun to clear up debris.
After storm Ciara I found three old cigarette lighters at once along with other indicators of how bad things are. I learnt that one person had found 105 old lighters up on the Mersey. For a list of things found while beach cleaning in 2019, please click here.
“Hello Sophie,” a passing driver called out. “Are you still collecting plastic?”
“My first beach clean of the year!”
I managed 150 beach or riverside litter collections last year. My aim is to make it 200 for 2020. As someone wrote to ask why I stopped my last‘Diary of a lone litter-picker’ back in April, I thought I’d start it up again. It may not be that consistent but I am fuelled by rage. The first thing I picked up toady was a deflated helium balloon found on the road to the Solent shore. Isn’t helium a finite resource? Don’t we need it for medical procedures?
I came across two ‘disposable’ barbecues lying abandoned on the beach.
“Do you think someone will return for these?” I asked the only other person about on New Year’s Day.
I added the aluminium trays to the purple bucket I use to collect litter. Only one drinks can graced it’s depths today but I stopped repeatedly to pick up cotton bud stalks along with small pieces of PVC fishing twine and red, white or blue micro- plastics washed up by winter tides.
A runner ran past. Will all this bending keep me fit, I wonder. There was a little polystyrene and four boxes of fireworks left beside the municipal bin.
It was a mild but misty morning. I walked along with my dog listening to cries of seabirds. How many of them have plastic in their gullets?
On returning home, I looked up the Marine Conservation Society and see from their 2019 report that they have a number of different classifications for items such as ‘Sewage related debris’. They need more data to campaign and change Government policies. I decide to join.
Thursday 2nd January
It was windy with rain threatening, so I decided to take my dog down a lane running alongside the river marking the boundary of the Lymington Reedbeds Nature Reserve in the New forest National Park. This is just above the high tide level and prone to flooding. I cleaned the area two months ago. In about 500 yards I collected:
3 x glass booze bottles, 3 x booze cans, 3 x drink cans, 7 x plastic drinks bottles, 5 x cigarette packets and 30 x crisp/sweet wrappers. This weighed 3kgs. Apart from one sandwich the contents of the packaging could not be described as health-giving.
I had to leave a discarded boiler, a rusting wheelbarrow, a length of soggy carpet and a number of bottles lying out of my reach. This fly-tipping has languished in the ditches here for sometime but I need to commandeer help and a suitable vehicle.
Friday 3rd January
A lovely sunny day when I cleared litter from the rest of the lane running along the river. What do people expect will happen to the cans and plastic flung into the reserve? One tin was dated 2011. Four of the wrappers had been neatly knotted before being chucked in the ditch. From the evidence collected, I strongly suspect their owner to be drink-driving on his or her way to work every day.
Sadly, I will need to return with a long-poled grabber for plastic bottles chucked deep into the brambles. I need a vehicle to collect a large car part, a plastic tub and a number of ‘Bags for Life’ stuffed with litter lying abandoned near the footpath to the pub. It could be worse. I found nine different items of stolen property along this lane last year – iPhones, lap tops, two empty jewellery boxes and a handbag in which a mouse had made its nest.
It was my friend’s birthday, so I took her a card, walking along the estuary with a bucket to collect the inevitable litter. What should I do with parts that have obviously fallen off cars? I hung one up in case its grateful owner comes along along. I also hung a soggy sweatshirt from the railing, although I doubt if it will be claimed.
I was down by the water, fishing out plastic bottles when a car passed belching clouds of choking white smoke. After extracting an old carry-mat from the reeds I found two puzzled men looking under the bonnet of their car. Their glamorous passenger stood shivering by the estuary. I pointed them in the direction of the local garage but feel I should have left the mat in case they needed it.
Saturday 4th January
In an effort to record data, I sort yesterday’s litter into re-cyling bags full of tins and plastic bottles. Glass bottles go in an outside sink for washing, wrappers into my domestic rubbish bags. They should go into Council litter bins or litter bags.
I returned to the Solent and began collecting plastic deposited by winter tides. When I first moved to this area fifteen years ago, the foreshore was multi-coloured with debris. The coast now looks clean at first glance 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-fowlers. I found a baby’s dummy and a used cigarette lighter. There is often one. New Forest ponies roam here and yet I have retrieved buckets of broken glass in the past and find a jagged bottle base that could easily lame a horse. It has obviously been there for years.
Sunday 5th January
A stereo speaker was washed up on the shore this afternoon. I wouldn’t want to hit one at sea. I spied a Corona bottle, the bobbly ‘every bubble’s passed its FIZZical!’ type that we yearned for as children in the 1960s. How old would it be? 50 years-old? Could I still redeem the deposit? Hopefully soon.
Monday 6th January
I walked back from town, unable to pass litter lying on the causeway over the Lymington River. I had no bucket with me but where there is rubbish there is usually something you can use as a container. I found a broken umbrella, filling its folds with plastic cup lids, bottle tops, and assorted trash including a Pepsi Cola tin that would have otherwise rolled into the tidal river.
Tuesday 7th January
I should have rushed out early when we had two minutes of sunshine but I was distracted and the rain set in. Instead, I read through litter-picking posts on Facebook, absorbing information on bottle return schemes and the call for an end to single use plastics. I reckon we need to support anyone who is doing anything before the world is swamped in rubbish and the food chain poisoned. Do let me know what you are doing in the comments box below.
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:
You can make a difference – improving the environment very quickly.
Items that are potentially harmful to wildlife and pets get removed.
Quantities of glass, metals and plastic can be recycled instead of languishing for years.
It is an easy way of paying back the natural world and society for the good things we freely enjoy.
A huge amount of satisfaction is gained by logging findings and looking back on the results, especially when you map the area.
It is satisfying to be able to return lost or stolen items to their rightful owners.
You can find interesting or useful items – including things you’ve lost yourself.
You occasionally find money.
As your eye adjusts, you begin to notice all sorts of interesting things.
It broadens your appreciation of the natural world and can become relaxing.
It is a productive way of keeping fit especially if you bend.
It gets you outside, exploring your neighbourhood by using footpaths and lanes you might not walk along.
At times you can litter-pick while walking the dog.
It can be social and an amusing activity to do with friends.
It is a way of meeting new people with good intentions.
You invest in the future: If you take children litter-picking they are unlikely to throw it.
Once you collect litter it is less likely re-accumulate. Litter attracts fly-tipping.
You gain an insight into social problems in the area that need addressing such as theft and drink driving.
You tend to receive encouragement and moral support, especially from neighbours.
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.
‘Are you winning?’ my friend Alastair asked on the phone. I think so. The challenge to clean up Britain seems endless but once litter is collected it is less likely to re-accumulate. I’m certainly seeing a reduction of waste washed up on Solent shores.
This evening, I make my way into the muddiest location of all: the tidal estuary. Will I ever be able to clean it? Although tidal, it was been used as a sewer for years.
I walk past dinghies moored below the pavement only to come across a sodden bedspread, green with algae and seaweed. It stinks. I scoop it into my bucket, adding other rubbish – plastic bags, wrappers and stacked Costa coffee cups – before spending twenty minutes collecting broken glass. 30 minutes work. No wonder nobody walks here at low tide. It’s lethal.
The dog is so longing for a walk, I take the Solent Way up to our local monument. A stream runs from this point down into the estuary. Could it be carrying rubbish with it.
I reach the monument to find it has been renovated beautifully. The stream is running clear but why would anyone leave a can of anti-antiperspirant here? Is it being inhaled? I once found a brand new micro-wave oven, in its box, hidden under the bushes below the obelisk. It was clearly stolen. Then the dog found a large catfish. It must have been dropped by an osprey – not that I have seen one nesting here. I spend 30 minutes gathering predictable pieces of litter and walk home along the river.
I need to tackle the estuary again. After sliding down the embankment, I cautiously make my way onto the mud at low tide. Broken bottles sit in black ouse. I find a police cone encrusted with barnacles, bladderwrack and even a couple of muscles. It has become a mini-ecosystem.
I extract a number of plastic bottles, tins, a fishing float and one triangular Men at Work notice. At least two rusty road-sign stands lurk in the gunge. I go after another traffic cone but find myself being sucked into the mud and retreat clutching a wheel hub and my bucket. The heavier items are left on display for passing motorists to admire.
A multi-million pound Redrow development has risen up recently on the western shore beyond the sluice gates, offering sought after views. Did they not think about removing the rubbish that has accumulated over the decades? No wonder the flats were slow to sell. You’d think the value of the real estate would warrant a little bit of a tidy-up. It takes me 30 minutes.
‘I’ll ring if I get stuck in the mud. Please come and extract me!’ I tell my husband.
‘Don’t joke about serious issues,’ he calls back, sure that I will come to grief. ‘Are you taking the dog?’
‘I can’t. There’s too much broken glass.’
Some of the pieces of china I find are clearly Victorian, although none are of value. The shards of glass prove ancient and yet are razor sharp. There is no wave action here, only waders and seabirds searching for food, significant species such as little egrets. How many have been cut by this rubbish over the years?
I slide over seaweed and make my way around the shoreline, filling my purple bucket with litter caught under bushes or embedded in the mud. I end up finding a pristine and very modern bottle of wine. Two men mooring their boat stare as I drag a weathered traffic cone from the black mud and stagger home. If this foreshore was made up of golden sand, it would be a well known beach attracting hordes. How long will it take to recover from being a historic sewer?
I post this photo on Facebook, sharing thoughts with the local community. The men who were disembarking from their dinghy see this shot and apologise for not coming to my aid, which I appreciate. They kindly offer to help haul out anything I can’t manage, using their boat to reach the otherwise inaccessible items. Hopefully we can retrieve the bollard that defeated me earlier in the week. 40 minutes
~How long has this police cone been in the river?~
I put out rubbish for the refuse collectors – four large bags of mixed litter that can’t possibly be re-cycled. I’ll spare you the photos. My husband takes the bottles and broken glass with him to the supper-market where he has a long relationship with the re-cycling containers. He insists that I try to rescue the bedspread found in the estuary. I drag it out of the washing machine after two cycles but it still stinks. Noisome is the word. There is no chance it can possibly be of use. I make plans for the pile of vehicle parts I’ve found on verges to be taken to the town dump where useful items are sold cheaply. The only piece of litter added today is a steel cable but all this sorting absorbs 20 minutes of my time.
I log my findings with Keep Britain Tidy, since it is the last day of the Great British Spring Clean. There are no categories for the number of glass bottles, stolen items, road signs or vehicle parts found. I’ll publish the results in my next post.