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 – on Solent Shores

This winter we took it upon ourselves as a family to dig these abandoned buoy anchors out of the mud.

We extracted four, all of which were so heavy it was near impossible to carry them away. There has been less litter but the storms bring in all sorts of things.

Plastic pollution has been unremitting but it is good to be making a contribution. It is such a beautiful area, so important to wildlife.

Some of the items are dangerous.

Others have travelled a long way, possibly dropped off ships.

Most pieces are small, some tiny, others revolting. It is satisfying to go out after a storm.

It is then that a lot of PVC rope comes in. It can do a great deal of damage.

I use a bucket as bags flap in the wind and there are often sharp pieces of glass.

Plastic pollution collected from Solent shores Dec 2020 - photo Sophie Neville

They can weigh 4kgs when full. This one contained a lot of old fishing line.

I often find unopened drinks or packets of food.

Almost every day there is a helium ballon and a mask to pick up or extract.

It’s as if the sea is spitting them out.

We sometimes come across amusing pieces, often toys or balls of some kind.

The best thing about collecting plastic pollution is that it gets us out there.

For a full list of things we’ve found washed up on the Solent – click here

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 – 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