Diary of a Litter Picker: The final legs of the Race for Reading

Finishing the #Race4Reading 2022

Thanks to my kind donors, I have raised £630 in sponsorship for Schoolreaders, which will be matched by my company.

The charity have also been promised matched funding, so my grand total will be £2,520.

If you are able to add a little, it would be hugely appreciated. You £5 would be magnified into £20. The link to my Justgiving page can be found here.

The last weeks of SchoolReaders’ Race for Reading have been tough for me. Back from holiday and the fresh winds of west Wales, I came into contact with numerous people testing Covid + and went down with fatigue, possibly fending off the virus. I was persuaded to take things slowly and do a little at a time but I have walked a total of 92 miles, collecting sea plastic and litter.

It’s an honour to be an author supporter of Schoolreaders who have organised this fantastic marathon. So many have taken part in it that the total number of miles covered nearly 24,000 miles.

Collecting litter along the Solent Way

Here is my progress since my last post:

Day 27 – May 14th 2022 – 1.8km – I collect Easter bunnies encased in plastic lying discarded along the Solent Way.

Day 28 – May 15th – 2.22km – I extract a cheerful orange case from the mudflats. It once held sunglasses.

Day 30 – May 16th – 1 km – cleaning up after a tramp who had been sniffing air freshner in the bluebell woods.

Day 31 – May 20th – I km – finding MacDonald’s packing on Tanner’s Lane Beach.

Collecting broken glass from a beach where children paddle and dogs play

Day 32 – May 24th – 2.2km – finding builder’s gloves chucked into the ditch running alongside the river

Day 33 – May 26th – 1 km – no litter! as I take the footpath up the hill to the pub

Day 34 – May 27th – 0.8km – but spend ages excavating elderly bottles from newly dug drain that flows into the river

Found on the Foreshore

Day 35 – May 28th – 3km – along the coast with a friend collecting broken glass and plastic, a clothes peg and a slip-on shoe.

Day 36 – June 7th – 2km – along a lane by the river collecting driver’s litter.

Day 37 – June 12th – 1km – along country lanes and into a village.

Sophie Neville collecting litter from Solent Shores

Day 38 – June 15th – 1.6km – along the Solent Way collecting a bucketful of fast food containers and empty packets of cigarettes.

Day 39 – June 16th – 2.2km walking along the Solent foreshore collecting old PVC rope and muddy plastic bags. I find a pot shard in a dyke that could be rubbish from long ago.

Day 40 – June 18th – 3.km found a huge PVC rope whilst walking along the Solent and lugged it home with a bucket of flostam.

THANK YOU to the sponsors of Race for Reading; Maths Circle and Kindred who sponsored the campaign.

Schoolreaders now have the final total for this year’s Race for Reading! Collectively, we travelled 27,941.17 miles and raised more than £17,000!

Thank you so much to everyone who helped to achieve this! Your support means that Schoolreaders volunteers will be able to listen to many more children read, and make the world of difference to their lives!

As you can see, I use an old feed bucket to collect litter but these bags made out of old sails can take broken glass and cope well in the wind. I was kindly given one by Litter Pickers of the New Forest to keep me going.

Rubbish - A camera no one will want
A camera washed up on the Solent

We all need to keep collecting litter and sea plastic. You can hear news for the oceans here:

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.

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.’

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: 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: Lockdown Reflections

A rainbow of discarded cigarette lighters

For some odd reason we have seen a rise in litter since Covid-19 broke out. Why is this? Does it reflect national frustrations or just an increase in takeaway meals and outdoor parties?

Green bottles found in ditches and beaches during Lockdown, sorted for recycling

It is strange that people continue to discard PPE despite obvious health risks. Have we ceased to care about endangering wildlife and polluting the environment? Ben Deutsch described it as, ‘an act of libertarian defiance.’ Jill Crouch decided, ‘we are coming out of a me me me time – a superficial needing of more and wondering why we are not fulfilled when we get it.’

There will always be lost things but have we lost pride in Britain?

This rubber shoe was found washed up on the shore with a mask, but there has been gradually less sea plastic found on my stretch of the Solent, presumably due to fewer ferries and less shipping.

A mask and other plastics washed up on the Solent along with an elderly bottle and scaffolding parts

I have been reporting finds in the local newspaper in an effort to inspire others to begin collecting flotsam.

SophieNeville, beach-hedge-and river-saviour,” one reader commented. “It’s frightening just how much litter she removes. I’m inspired to try to emulate her.”

Articles in The Herald by Sophie Neville

Meanwhile, there have been lots of vehicle part to retrieve on dry land.

Vehicle parts dumped in a Hampshire bluebell wood

Lockdown certainly bought an increase in fly-tipping as people used time off work to clear out their sheds and attics or redecorate. At the same time, Council dumps closed during the first Lockdown and then introduced various restrictions, which proved disastrous. The New Forest National Park was hit particularly hard with bed mattresses and junk being dumped in precious wilderness areas.

Matt Rudd, writing in the Sunday Times Magazine was horrified by the increase in rubbish strewn about during Lockdown. He wrote, “There are two schools of thought on why people litter. The first is that they hate themselves for cramming all that junk food into their faces. Chucking wrappers out of the car window is just self-hatred by proxy.” Certainly, most of the litter I find has once wrapped over-sugared, over-salted, over-caffeinated food and drink of some kind. I would add tobacco and harmful drugs to his list. It’s as if people want to distance themselves from guilt and shame.

“The second,” Matt Rudd claims, “is that the further you are from home, the less you care about the environment.” And yet, he witnesses that, even in strict Lockdown, our local parks and car parks are strewn with newly dumped masks. Does the fear of contracting a virus make people more selfish?

However, the response has been amazing. Despite restrictions, individuals have used their daily exercise allowance to clean the beaches and verges of Britain. Litter-Pickers of the New Forest have gained over 1,300 volunteers in the last year, with an active Facebook Page and Justgiving site. They encourage members with sponsors delivering rewards for volunteer achievements.

A gift of encouragement from Litter-Pickers of the New Forest

If you happen upon a litter-picker, do give them encouragement, and if possible, lend them a hand. We are all fighting the same battle.

To find out about Waste Less, Live More, please click here

A pillow washed up on Solent shores

Diary of a Litter Picker: We Will Fight on The Beaches

We are an island nation. Our coastline is precious. It speaks to us of freedom, holidays and relaxation. Those who live near beaches are well aware that they attract visitors who boost the local economy, and yet our shoreline is often covered in rubbish.

I find hundreds of small pieces of fishing net, plastic wrappers and cellophane, washed up on the Solent, along with glass bottles and rope. It’s been going on for years, threatening the environment and wildlife, if not our sanity.

This is historic litter found lodged in bushes along the Solent shore. Much of this is more than ten years old.

After a while it melds with the landscape, remaining a risk to animals. Below, you can see what is typically brought in on the tide.

There is often the remains of one shoe. Have we come to accept the phenomenon of an errant flip-flop? The lettering on this one amused me.

We have begun to accept society’s cast-offs, but why so many plastic pegs?

Metal fish, their hooks elsewhere.

There is often a lot of blue. Perhaps it’s the recent prevalence of masks.

This mask was worn over the eyes, rather than mouth, but she’s wearing protective gloves.

This is a battle we all need to fight. The bottom line is that we can’t even use beaches if there is too much broken glass.

Be a litter hero and turn the tide on plastic pollution. Day by day, we’ll get there.

My helpers on a Solent litter-pick

To see a collection of the weirdest this found on a Solent beach clean, please click here.

The charity Keep Britain Tidy is asking everyone to join their million mile litter picking mission #GBSpringclean – Please click here for details

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

Diary of a litter picker – on a beach clean

I was told the beach was free of litter. It took me ten minutes to fill my builder’s bucket with flotsam. Do people simply zone out sea plastic and litter?

Some was old, but how long have PPE masks like this been floating around the Solent? I found two, along with the usual plastic bottles.

It is interesting to count and categorise what you find. The Marine Conservation Society list: litter, sewage and fishing gear but the reality can be hundreds of small pieces known collectively as micro-plastics.

Picnic litter is inexcusable.  With well-designed bins near the gate to the beach there is no excuse for this. Although some plastics, such as the straws and bottle-tops, have floated in on the tide, I found a neatly folded crisp packet tucked into the sea wall. Why?

Cotton bud stalks and plastic tampon applicators classify as ‘sewage’ since they are flushed down the loo – with things too revolting to photograph – and yet this is where our children play.

Fishing line makes up the majority of plastic pollution in the seas. We found an angler’s hook and line as well as commercial netting and floats. The fishhook, lying on the float, caught on my own finger.

We tried digging out one section of PVC rope but failed and had to bury it.

The reward for our work was finding a killer whale, a toy orca.

Since ‘Baby Shark’ has been popular in our family, this made our spirits soar, coming almost as a thank you from the sea.

We returned two days later to find half a bucketful of assorted detritus had either come in on the tide or been missed in earlier searches. Spotting a toy soldier amused me this time. I’ve found a couple of others further along the Solent coastline within the New Forest National Park.

For a list of really weird things found on previous beach cleans, click here

One thing is certain. I can no longer walk along the shore without collecting as much plastic pollution as I can carry. It always proves fun and gives us a sense of purpose higher than ourselves.

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