Collecting coastal litter on the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on the Solent

The Race for Reading is going well and my litter picking is bearing results.

Schoolreaders is such a great charity. I’m one of their author supporters along with Joanna Trollop and Sophie Kinsella. They have been incredibly supportive, tweeting:

@Sophie_Neville has been an absolute star of #RacefoReading this year! Not only has she collected a massive amount of #litter from our coastlines she’s raised over £550 to support children’s #literacy via #Schoolreaders, which she hopes to get match funded!

An improvement can be seen as I walk the coast collecting plastic pollution, but change is slow. In the last few decades, micro plastics have got everywhere. I list some of the weirdest things I’ve found in the past here.

Orange and green that should not be seen

Day 21 – of my personal challenge

U is for Unbelievable how much litter there is in Britain

Unless each one of us do something useful, we’ll be burrowing through unbearable rubbish. I embark on an uplifting walk of about 12.5kms, up and down the river, collecting useless plastic before it is washed into the unforgiving sea.

It’s not unusual for litter to last for decades. You can see some of the elderly items I’ve found by the coast here.

Day 22 –

V is for Victory

I walk vigilantly along the tideline, through the sand dunes, along the verdant estuary where flotsam gathers, and into town finding very small pieces as I cover 6.5kms.

Day 23 –

W is for Why Worry?

Why use a dog poo bag if you are going to leave it in the countryside? It is worrying. They do not decompose and have been known to kill animals attracted to grain in the dog poo. Foals have died. A vet found 20 dog poo bags in the stomach of a deer.

I wander through tide wrack finding a number of dog poo bags washed up by the sea. How many kill dolphins? I return via the windswept sand dunes crossing an ancient midden or rubbish dump. 4 km + 9km = 13km walked today.

W is for Waterhaul – I use this old feed bucket for collecting litter but it is better to take a bag when it’s windy. You need a strong one that can take broken glass. Waterhaul are making beach clean bags out of old sails and are up-cyling amazing things out of discarded fishing net. You can find their website here.

Day 24

X is for sea Xs – I find a huge number along the coast – the result of torn fishing net being shredded and discarded at sea. It is too costly to mend or dispose of them on land. Theses strands of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) are known as sea-kisses when an X is formed by the knot. Please collect any and report your findings to Marine Management.

PVC fishing net purposely shredded and discarded at sea

I stop for a rest to look back on what’s been achieved, appreciating all the encouragement I’ve been given.

Rebecca Holmes left a message saying: “only 3.5km” only this only that. NO, it’s not only. It’s brilliant, every single step counts.

Liz Downs Wow. This is the first I’ve heard of this. What an achievement 👏💖

Stephen Green Such a worthwhile cause, I commend you Sophie well done, I don’t know where you get the energy from.

Sophie Neville collecting marine plastic on the r4r2022

Day 25

Y is for Yucky

Are young people to blame or drivers? If you take a lane running alongside your local river, you soon notice that most roadside litter is made up of the bright packaging of things that are bad for people: tobacco, sweets, over flavoured snacks, drugs, sugary carbonated drinks and alcohol. Somehow the caffeine fails to give people the energy to take their rubbish to a bin.

I took part in Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean when we counted cans collected and found twice as many alcohol containers as soft drinks. The highways of Britain are lined with tins and bottles that have been in people’s mouths. What are the consequences?

I walk 1.3km along our tidal river within the National Park, collecting a couple of large bottles that would have been hazardous if flung from a vehicle. These are added to my glass recycling bin, which has become embarrassingly full. I have a container of old oil I do not know how to dispose of. There are two 25 litre drums of chemicals, a car bumper and a metal table lurking in the estuary. I’ve reported them to the Council twice but nothing has been done.

I feel discouraged but am delighted to announce that a colleague from Litter Pickers of The New Forest, renown for covering a huge distance, has signed up for the Race for Reading 2022 and will be picking up the baton. Another volunteer promises to help me extract the fly-tipping and take it to the dump.

Day 26

Z is for Zonked. I’m getting tired but zoom along the shore zealously collecting muddy rubbish and tiny pieces of litter covering 4.1km.

Z is for Zero plastic waste. I sign up for The Big Plastic Count. We have to stop producing so much single use plastic. I’m told that a truckload of rubbish enters the sea every second of everyday. I will continue to pick pieces up from the coast but we have to stop it getting into the sea.

I log my fitness to find I have covered over 78 miles on the Race for Reading 2022. I’ve only collected one wheely bin of litter, a tub of glass bottles and another of tin cans but the coast is clear.

Sophie Neville - an author supporter of Schoolreaders

Thanks to my generous sponsors, I’ve raised £445 for School Readers so far. My company will double any money I can raise in sponsorship, so any donations given to School Readers via my Justgiving page will be doubled.

Schoolreaders is a children’s literacy charity which provides volunteers to partner primary schools nationwide to listen to children read. Even before Covid 19, 1 in 4 children left primary school unable to read properly1. Currently, our dedicated volunteers support over 7,000 children every week with one-to-one reading support, boosting their reading ability, fluency, comprehension and enjoyment.

Why Schoolreaders is needed:

  1. Inequalities in literacy levels have widened since the pandemic. 5-7 year old disadvantaged pupils are 7 months behind non-disadvantaged peers2
  2. One in seven adults (7 million people) have poor literacy and are unable to fill in a job application form, read a medicine label or understand written instructions. This can affect their mental health, contribute to unemployment, homelessness and crime – 48% of UK prisoners have reading ages of 11 or under.3
  3. Illiteracy costs the UK economy nearly £40 billion every year.4
  4. More than 10% of primary schools in England have registered with Schoolreaders to help their pupils catch up on vital reading skills.

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

N is for Never give up – you can still join the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on r4r2022

No regrets! It’s not too late to register for the Race for Reading.

I’ve been going slowly but nothing is stopping me. My quest is to collect litter and marine plastic as I walk along the coast of the UK to raise funds for the charity Schoolreaders.

As you can see on my earlier posts, I’ve been using the alphabet as a theme.

N is for Nothing changes unless we take action

Day 14 – Another nice walk along the estuary into the small town of Newport collecting numerous wrappers and a noxious nappy dropped by numbskulls.

I walk another 3km later, cleaning the high tide line along the beach finding, amongst the rope and fishing line, a spoon, a sock and five poo bags. Why dog owners use tennis balls is a mystery. They contain lead and can choke large dogs.

Rubbish - old tennis balls
Old tennis balls and shredded fishing net

O is for Obviously old things get outdated or ousted and litter becomes an ordinary occurrence rather than an outrage.

Day 15 – I only cover 2 kms following the coastal path to a lifeboat station but collect three old socks, a pair of knickers and half a bucket of litter. I later search the tide line for flotsam and mainly find dog poo bags and obsolete fishing line while covering another 3.5kms.

P is for Plastic

Day 16 – I plod past a harbour collecting picnic litter, pondering on the fact I’ve probably covered 2 kms. Later I pace the tide line for 3.7kms returning with a heavy bucketful of party rubbish: plastic packaging, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic straws and 6-pack plastic that litters the coast. I find plenty of plastic cotton bud stalks, panty liners and packets of condoms along the shore – an indication of sewage entering the sea. PVC rope and polystyrene discarded by the fishing industry is common.

Plastic, polystyrene and PVC

Patience is needed. PPE, party poppers, plasters and ear plugs fill me with fury. I prefer picking up paddles, pegs, paintbrushes, pens and pencils since there’s a possibility they were simply lost. There’s a litter-picking prize for finding pairs of pants.

Day 17 –

Q is for quayside

but as that is now clean, I walk up the estuary into a quaint market town. It’s quiet but I find a lot of wrappers, covering 3.9kms as I collect a bucketful of litter. The skate park posed quite a challenge. The drains there wash straight into the estuary.

After lunch, I set out across the sand dunes finding a quantity of drink cans and glass bottles left by camp fires. The 20 bottles are heavy to lug back.

filling my bucket with picnic litter

I’ve learnt a lot since collecting litter. You see what’s happening from the underside of society. Alcohol containers are often discarded from high vehicles , rural drug taking is rife and fishing vessels are shredding nets at sea. The arterial roads of Britain are strewn with rat-infested litter loaded with human DNA. It’s surprising we are not threatened by a more serious pandemic.

Day 18 –

R is for re-cycling on the Race for Reading

I have been putting bottles or clean drink cans in the recycling bins but most coastal plastic needs to go to landfill. I scan the mudflats for ancient litter including heinous broken glass covering about 2.5km.

Day 19 –

S is for Sunshine

Silvery skies lift my spirit as I search the seashore for seven kilometers without seeing much flotsam. We seem to be making progress. If people see no rubbish they are less likely to drop litter.

Day 20 –

T is for tidying

I retrace my tracks traversing three kilometers to town coming across little litter. Two more kilometers with the dog and I’m tired but happy. Another two kilometers in the evening take us to a running total of 55 miles covered litter-picking so far. Logging my progress with the Race for Reading has been motivational.

Sophie Neville on Schoolreaders Race for Reading 2022 – photo by Caspar aged 7

If you would like to sponsor me on the Race for Reading 2022, I have a Justgiving page here and there are alternative ways of donating to the charity here.

Each donation will be matched by my company, and then again by SchoolReaders matched funding, so if you can donate £5 it will be magnified to £20.

Every small amount is an encouragement and will make a difference, enabling slow readers to catch up at school and gain a love for books.

You can hear about the work of the charity here:

Diary of a litter picker: 20 unusual finds

Sophie Neville searching for marine plastic on the Solent

As a child, I longed to find a unicorn. Nowadays they litter the New Forest.

Unicorns seem to be popping up everywhere, along with Disney princesses.

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.’

Plastic pollution collected from Solent shores Dec 2022 - photo Sophie Neville
plastic effecting wildlife

These look like regurgitated owl pellets comprised of plastic, found in woodland on the Solent Way footpath. I often find PVC rope in the dung of New Forest ponies.

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

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

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