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 we people ever 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.
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.
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.
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.
I find quite a few glass bottles, takeaway food containers, PVC fishing rope and always an old cigarette lighter.
Some items will have been lost overboard.
Occasionally something makes me laugh.
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?
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.
“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.
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.
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 has gone is proving popular on Facebook:
Those of us collecting sea-plastic along the south coast have found a number of toy soldiers. I incorporated one into this collage:
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
For a list of the kind of things I find washed up on Solent shores, please click here
“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?
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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Sophie Neville on a beach clean – photo copyright Daily Mail
Why litter? It is illegal. Why is rubbish chucked out of vehicles passing through an area like the Lake District, where jobs and businesses depend on the beauty of the surroundings?
Is littering an instinctive reaction? Early man must have dropped what he didn’t need without a second thought. Hunter-gatherers are active agents of seed dispersal, spitting out seeds and chucking vegetable matter away as they walk about. Do we, as humans, improve our chances of survival by discarding unwanted items that weigh us down?
My peers counter this. In answer to my question, they say:
‘I care for the environment. It angers me when people don’t do the same!’
‘Pure laziness, they think, ‘Oh well, the local authorities employ someone to clear up behind me and throw rubbish out of vehicles as they drive along while on their mobiles.’
‘Smokers mindlessly drop the cellophane, then the butt, then the packet…’
‘Selfishness and laziness, with no love for nature.’
They feel entitled.
‘No respect for the environment, other people or themselves.’
‘Smokers are by far away the worst. Cigarette butts are litter.’
‘Bitterness. They feel let down by society and have given up caring.’
‘Combo of laziness and the belief that somebody else will be around to pick up after them. My father once threw a candy wrapper on the ground on my college campus. I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket for later disposal. He saw me and asked, “Did you pick that up?!” I said, “Yes.” And I never saw him throw trash on the ground again.’
‘Mindless behaviour. Education is needed: education, education.’
Littering – or taking responsibility for rubbish – is a learned activity.
Keep Britain Tidy’s litter ambassador Jim Honeychuck quotes an academic paper: ‘There’s a kind of scale. On the one end you get mindless littering by those with little or no mind like junkies, drunks, and toddlers. At the other end you see deliberate, bloody-minded littering, as in holding litter until there is a clean area to foul. That’s a sign of hatred for the community, and perhaps for oneself. (“This is how I see my life, a mess…”) The behaviour at those two ends of the scale can’t be influenced much. In between are those who have always used the floor as a bin, those who would use a bin if there were one, those who use “virtual” litter bins, like planters, walls, the top of shrubbery… That is where improvement can occur.’
‘Some people need a lead; the more good examples set, the better it will be.’
Producers could help by using bio-degradable wrapping.
Now that plastic pollution has become a worldwide problem, endangering wildlife and threatening marine fish stocks, we need to guard against litter and pick it up. Every year the RSPCA is called out to rescue thousands of animals caught in rubbish. One cigarette stub will pollute seven litres of water. While collecting litter costs millions of pounds a year, it costs us nothing to bend down and collect a few items a day.
Could you collect litter or go on a beach clean? It can be fun! You get to keep fit, walk the dog and make a huge difference. The finds often prove interesting. I have quite a collection of tennis balls and come across lost or stolen items that have been returned to grateful owners. Keep Britain Tidy have advice on safety and useful kit here: www.keepbritaintidy.org
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
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
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.
~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~
I found this heavy duty bucket, a pink feed bucket and an orange one, washed up on the Solent shore where I’ve been collecting #plasticpollution over the years. They are not that big but, since it is important to collect small pieces of plastic, each one often holds 250 pieces of marine rubbish by the time I head home. Two of these prove all I can carry when full, especially if I come across glass.
My aim is to collect litter every day rather than exhaust myself by doing too much at one time. I find buckets better than bags that blow about in the wind. I can collect broken glass, setting the bucket down to reach difficult pieces. A larger pannier with flip-up lids, might be good for windy beach-cleans but I use these feed buckets gifted to me by the sea. They make picking up bags of other people’s dog poo bearable.
I usually put on Wellington boots, an old jacket with pockets for things I might keep and wear a hat suitable for getting under bushes. I take a mobile phone in case I get stuck in the mud or need help. This is used to photograph and record my findings. That’s it. The rubbish has been washed clean by the sea, so I only wear gloves when it’s cold.
Having said this, I am very careful how I pick up harmful waste. Batteries and old flares can leak caustic chemicals.
I find odd things that have grown into the landscape and require tools before they can be extracted. I needed to take a pair of secuteers to cut a polystyrene tray out of a black thorn bush on the coast. The vegetation had grown around it.
At times, I find so much rubbish that my pink bucket is often not large enough but I can’t carry more back from remote areas. I return for glass bottles. They don’t blow away.
Traffic makes it dangerous to collect litter from roadside verges, even on country lanes. It can be terrifying. I have decided to avoid certain main roads. Do look up the Keep Britian Tidy website and gen-up on safety issues if you decide to go litter-picking. You need to wear a high-vis jacket of some kind. I take my orange bucket, wear rubberised gloves and barbecue tongs to reach into hedges. I prefer tongs to a litter grabber.
Litter-pickers working in groups along roadsides tell me it is essential to wear High Vis tabbards and have Men at Work signs put out if possible. Apart from offering safety, the jackets give you status, encourage PR chat and interaction with the public. The litter can be filthy. Some take a bottle of hand sanitiser.
~Litter collected from a 100 meters along a lane in the New Forest National Park~
I sometimes take three buckets: one for tins, one for plastic and glass bottles and one for general waste. It cuts time when it comes to sorting the rubbish for recycling afterwards when I’m tired.
I re-use old plastic containers with decent lids to dispose of ‘sharps’ and keep a stock of plastic bags supplied by the council. I have hand-held luggage scales to weigh them. A full black plastic bag can weigh between 5kgs and 10 kgs.
I have just bought a small tally counter. Once you get used to clicking in with the same hand that is holding the bucket and the dog lead, it is a huge encouragement. See if you can guess how many items are in this bucket before looking at the counter, bottom right.
Problem items include road signs, bollards and sand bags that the council don’t regard as their property. They get left by contractors. I find a huge number of car parts that need to be taken to the dump. I would have loved to send all these things to build a stage at Glastonbury or something that would be of use.
Some councils are very well organised. Please click here for an example. They request that you ask permission before collecting rubbish. Whilst I have checked with my local nature reserve, my own council didn’t respond. Not with-standing this, I walk the pavements and pick up what is not meant to be there. I can’t think who would object.
It is good to survey an extreme area before you begin. There is one filthy bay on the Solent I still need to tackle. It requires a planned attack, removing the broken glass first.
Do record, what you find, keeping lists and a map of where you have been. We now have an informal network of people in our community who look after different roads in the area. Do register with Keep Britain Tidy, who will send you details of Health and Safety, posters and more info.
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. There is no wave action, so 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.
Why do people drop litter? Name the sin. Is is because they are lazy or something more? What do they think will happen to a broken umbrella left in a country lay-by? I find plastic that has been carefully folded before being chucked into the New Forest National Park.
Does throwing unwanted stuff away give people a carefree feeling? Does it give them release, a drop of dopamine? Make them feel cleansed? Is it a symptom of something more? In her autobiography, Michelle Obama cites ‘bitterness’ as one outcome of what Barack Obama described as ‘a cynicism bred from a thousand small disappointments over time.’
I find quite a few glasses taken out of pubs and abandoned rather than returned. What’s this defined as? Isn’t it petty theft? Incarnate laziness? Drunken, callous behaviour that is becoming seen as normal, even acceptable? Or a mixture of all three. And what is the outcome? Broken glass on the pavements?Surely an increase in prices to cover the cost. I found a glass and took it to the local pub only to be told they didn’t want it back. A perfect, straight-sided glass tumbler that just needed washing. Their plan was to break and re-cycle it. I was shocked by the abject acceptance of waste. Break up a perfectly good glass? The bar staff gave it back to me. I filled it with flowers and gave it to a friend.
Tonight I decided to walk in the bluebell wood – possibly one of the most beautiful sites on this planet. I took my bucket doubting whether I would find much. I soon began collecting empty bottles of alcohol that had been tossed out of high vehicles into the wood. Had people been drinking while driving work vehicles such as vans or trucks?
I then came across more than I could possibly carry. Hub caps, lights and other vehicle parts had been dumped on this private property, just a little way from the road. I could tell by the date on the crisp packets that accompanied them that they had been there since 2005. It was heartbreaking. Most were still in good condition and looked to me as if they might have re-sale value. Was this theft or had someone been instructed to dump them? I have found more than seven different lots of stolen items in the past. You can find the list here.
When does throwing litter become fly tipping? In the relatively small area where I have been collecting litter I have found:
A broken security light
A piece of carpet and a bedspread
Huge bag of unused incontinence pads
Clothing of a dubious nature and an umbrella
A life-sized doll
A large rusty metal wheel-barrow
A huge number of vehicle parts including wheels
25 litre drums that once held bleach or other chemicals
~a drum that once held chemicals bitten repeatedly by a fox~
Fly tipping is outraging the New Forest community, where the National Park receives helpings of heinous proportions. It costs the New Forest District Council thousands of pounds. Why do people dump rubbish in beautiful, fragile areas? Is it because they find the municipal dump too expensive? or can’t get there? or are too lazy? Do they not understand that ditches are needed to carry flood water? Do they not see fly-tipping as a crime against farmers and the natural world? Or is it a form of rebellion? Do they mean to hurt us, cost society effort and money moving it on? Name the sin.
Some sites would be classified as abandoned, rather than chucked. You do find evidence of emotional distress. Can you see the pair of brand new walking boots to the right of this photo? Make out the tent? Much of the rubbish I pick up has been left by tramps. What’s the sin? Is it ours? Are we neglecting those in need? Not reaching out to the homeless and addicted?
~the result of homelessness and alcohol abuse~
This litter and rubbish is growing into the landscape. I find myself pulling plastic and rope out of the earth, especially in places once inhabited by tramps who are apt to pick quite scenic spots. I need help from someone with waders and crowbars to dig plastic out from the Solent shoreline.
Most of the litter I found related to alcohol had been flung out of vehicles. How many people are over the limit whilst driving? If I can find 200 empty bottles and cans in lone lane how many thousands lie forgotten in the New Forest? What’s the sin? Drunk while driving.
We need rubbish bins fitted in vehicles as standard.
John Wesley said, ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’