Diary of a litter picker: 20 unusual finds

As a child, I longed to see a unicorn. Nowadays they seem to be popping up everywhere, along with Disney princesses and discarded clothing.

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: Braving the sea

One brief storm and a significant amount of rubbish is washed up on the south coast of England.

I joined two other Litter Pickers of the New Forest to clear litter on the gravel spit to Hurst Castle in Hampshire. Rubbish gets caught in the artificial sea wall.

You have to take care not to slip on the rocks, or lose your phone between the boulders as one of us did. I ventured too near the waves and got soaking wet.

Along with wrappers, ropes and tin cans, Jill found a plastic funnel that had been in the sea for sometime.

At first glance, the beach looked clean but we found part of a long fishing rod holder and numerous small items.

While Jill picked up a golf ball, I found used lighters, a small green monster and a child’s rake.

Some of the plastic and tins defeated us. They were too deeply buried or trapped between the rocks.

It is amazing how much there is on the footpath given that the Council provides huge waste bins where we deposited our findings.

I returned on another day to collect more,

And yet more. This is a typical cashe: a plastic bottle, a pen, old polystyrene and hard, blue plastic. I often find a shoe washed up on the shore. It’s important to keep going.

Rubbish - a shoe washed up on the beach

Another member of our group spent an hour collecting rubbish from Hurst Castle beach on Christmas Eve. “Quite depressing that there is so much litter: mainly plastic and polystyrene. A few interesting finds like a Santa hat, mask, Lego brick, toy soldier, tennis ball….but why so many plastic coffee cups?” he asked.

Richard Brook-Hart’s haul of plastic pollution

He returned on 14th January with another haul. “Lots of plastic bottles, coffee cups, the ubiquitous face masks, beer cans, sweet wrappers, poo bags, fishing line, a tube of toothpaste, and much more. I think that this can be partly attributed to littoral drift, particularly on the western shore, but on the eastern shore it is probably local littering.”

Unless we persevere, the rubbish will blow into the nature reserve where a multitude of native birds and migrant waders congregate. We counted 19 swans living there.

Next time you go for a walk, wear plastic gloves and take a litter bag with you. It is surprising what you can find. If you live in the New Forest, think of joining Litter Pickers of the New Forest who can provide High Vis vests and litter pickers. They are on Facebook here

Litter Pickers of the New Forest on an informal beach clean

Litter Pickers of the New Forest say:

‘Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we can now report some of the impact the local litter heroes, volunteers and staff, had in 2021. Our work with our partners including the National Park Authority, Forestry England, the police, and fire and rescue, saw:

10,000 hours of patrols,

a 40% drop in fires in the New Forest

Over 50 retailers stopped selling disposable BBQs

The New Forest Code was shared with over 2.7 million people

1,000 litter picking kits created

Over 700 New Forest Ambassadors signed up

230,000 bags given out to encourage people to take litter home.

An 8% drop in litter at coastal locations despite visitor numbers being up by 60%

New signs and information across all Forest car parks.

400 social media posts

1.6 million plus newsletters to subscribers

Digital signs at key roads.

‘Thank you to everyone who has done so much to support the New Forest this year, working together, right across the community.’

Keep Britain Tidy have more information here.

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: 20 oldest or weirdest things I’ve found while litter picking

Rubbish - coffeemate

Did this sachet float from China to the UK or was it chucked off a ship? It was unopened. We also found an unopened and sealed jar of Nescafe Gold that had been floating around the Solent, and often pick up brand new, full cans of beer.

Solent Rubbish

Forlorn channel markers can be heavy to shift. I had to ask what this grey gadget, below, was. It’s a compass guard. Anyone missing one?

Rubbish - Compass guard

Ancient plastic bottles often wash up on a beach. We dated the Paragon bleach as being made in 1959 but are not sure about the Fairy Liquid.

Rubbish old plastic bottles of fairy liquid

I fear this is evidence that open pen-knifes get flung from moving vehicles.

Rubbish penknife

This quivering load of extra-large incontinence pads was chucked in the nature reserve, which un-nerved me. It was incredibly heavy. I found something so unspeakable nearby I could not take a photo of it. A whole shipping container of adult nappies washed up on the south cast recently. They are heavy to move.

Rubbish Day 18 incontinence bags

This cash of antique Kilner jars was dug out of mud on the Solent. There is no wave action here, so the broken glass must have been posing a danger to paddling children, dogs, New Forest ponies and wildlife for decades.

Rubbish broken glass 13th May

I found a huge rusty gas canister on the Solent shore that looked so like a UXB that we reported it to the police. They told me WWII bombs still need to be detonated every three months or so. It was near where I have found intact fluorescent light bulbs washed up on two separate occasions. I’ve kept them as exhibits. They must have been flung off ships.

We often find crisp packets or drink cans that are more than thirty years old. This tin left in a nature reserve must once have contained UHT milk.

Rubbish UHT bottle

I come across a lot of old milk bottles. This one had converted into a nice, dry home by a mouse. I left it in situ.

Rubbish mouse nest in bottle

This 25 litre barrel washed up on the shore, that once held bleach, had been gnawed by foxes.

rubbish fox biting

What was eating this ancient plastic bottle? A mouse? How old is the design? 1990 or earlier. Thirty-five years?

Rubbish lemonade bottle

Why do people knot plastic wrappers before throwing them out of their vehicle? I think it’s weird. Most packets, wrappers or cans once clad tobacco, sugary sweets or drinks that are bad for the health. Rubbish from drug use or cannabis farms is common. I find bongs, and endless nitrous oxide canisters, which surely should be banned.

Rubbish knotted

These rather nice reading glasses were inside a stolen handbag chucked in the river. Sadly, I’ve found stolen iPhones, laptops, jewellry boxes and makeup bags.

rubbish glasses

Old traffic cones, signs and car parts are often found on verges or in the estuary. I use the purple bucket to collect broken glass.

rubbish road signs in estuary larger

I often come across half-full glasses or bottles of alcohol, presumably left as soon as the taxi arrives. I take them to the nearest pub but they don’t always want them back.

Rubbish - beer glass

There are bonuses to litter-picking. Sometimes you find money. I was thrilled to come across the mudguard from my husband’s car that had fallen off. It would have been almost impossible to replace.

Rubbish - Simon's bumper

I find loads of hats, gloves, socks, tee-shirts and shoes. They are seldom claimed.

I wash and give away the caps but underwear goes straight into landfill.

Apart from the Chinese sachet of Cremora, one plastic box from the Clyde and another from Plymouth, the item that I’ve found that must have travelled the furthest is this fishing crate that had floated 400kms from its original harbour in France.

Solent Rubbish from France

This was printed on the other side:

Solent plastic from France (2)

To see examples of elderly rubbish found by the sea, please click here

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

Do add descriptions of weird items you’ve found in the comments below. Fellow litter-pickers report bathtubs, credit card machines and an urn of ashes that was returned to the local undertaker. 

Meanwhile, I’m putting together a post on the most beautiful things I’ve found while litter picking.

Diary of a Litter Picker – in the time of Corona

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.

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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.

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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.

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I find quite a few glass bottles, takeaway food containers, PVC fishing rope and always an old cigarette lighter.

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Some items will have been lost overboard.

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Occasionally something makes me laugh.

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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?

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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.

Collector's items - Sophie Neville's litter-picking finds

“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.

Sea plastic found by Sophie Neville

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.

Photo of rubbish - lethal litter - collected by Sophie Neville

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 is proving popular on Facebook:

Seascape - artwork by sophie Neville made from sea-plastic

Those of us collecting sea-plastic along the south coast have found a number of toy soldiers. I incorporated one into this collage:

'The end of the world' a collage made of sea-plastic by Sophie Neville

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

Sophie Neville on her 150th beach or river clean of 2019

For a list of the kind of things I find washed up on Solent shores, please click here

Solent Beach Clean

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