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? 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.
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
‘I didn’t see any rubbish on the beach,’ I was told by a walker as I extracted plastic bottles and tins from the ditch leading down to the sea. I was glad. I’d cleaned it just before New Year. But, once by the sea, I found a Christmas tree and collected half a bucketful of small pieces of PVC rope and elderly plastic that had been washed up on the shore.
Since this is an isolated beach, it shows how much plastic is floating around the Solent. Someone might like their plumb line returned.
While a few things are clearly dropped by mistake,
the amount of litter and ageing plastic on public beaches remains unacceptable. I cannot walk by without collecting it. It takes a good hour to fill each of these buckets, which contain bags of dog poo and dangerous broken glass. They can end up weighing 4Kgs each.
What are helium balloons doing to the environment? I find one a day.
‘There’s no rubbish on the beach,’ I’m assured by walkers, the next week. I agree that it looks okay. It should be fine. I’ve cleared it a hundred times.
But, almost immediately, I find bottle ring and other items dangerous to wildlife. Then I come across fishing line, the fish hooks bound up in weed.
By the time I reach the end of the beach, I have filled my bucket, finding evidence of nitrous oxide canisters chucked into fires. The ghost rope alone could have caused havoc to shipping.
About this much plastic and glass washes up on a half-mile stretch of the Solent every twenty-four hours. It is not always easy to see it, but it’s there.
‘There is no litter,’ I’m told on approaching the foreshore with my dog-walking neighbour. We keep looking anyway. My friend spots this:
Before long, I had a filled my bucket. Again. Perhaps it’s only when you begin litter picking yourself that you appreciate how bad the problem is. Do join us!
And yet, we didn’t retrieve everything. Can you see what I see?
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.
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 buckets that can contain broken glass and handle windy conditions. I have three that I’ve found washed-up, along with a bicycle basket.
Each bucket can contain 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 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 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