Diary of a litter-picker: finding elderly rubbish by the sea

Every day we collect aging plastic pollution, cans and glass bottles from Solent shores.

This old glass bottle seems representative of our time of Corona. How long has it been floating around the Solent? Fifty years? The Litter Pickers of the New Forest found me this 1960s advert for the original bottles with the same cream metal cap.

The Deposit Return Scheme running at the time ensured that most were returned to the manufacturers but I’ve found a couple on the shore. One that held ‘Limeade’ with a 3d deposit return label is selling for £23 on Ebay where it is described as ‘a lovely piece of nostalgia.’

How old would this re-useable Unigate milk bottle be? 1980s? Forty years? They have also become collectors’ items. One like this is valued at £15 on eBay. It was found in these willow trees just above the high tide mark. It might have come over from the Isle of Wight where ‘Milk and More’ ran deliveries.

You can just see a brand new mask in this photo (above) but the bottles and plastic containers were hauled out of bramble bushes a few feet from the sea where they have languished for years.

Here is a photo of the same footpath with more plastic bottles that have blown in, together with old glass bottles the earth seems to be spitting out. The message inside them is clear: this has to stop.

I found a Wellington boot, washed up or discarded, which must have been around for some time. It had a field-mouse living inside so, I left it for now, but there is plenty more like it.

This Walker’s Crips packet, found recently, is 24 years old. I have quite a collection.

Plastic is amazing stuff. My father manufactured products made from PVC. He said that back in the 1970s, his company never considered what would happen when the items they made reached the end of their useful lives.

Found on the Solent

What date did the squarish plastic milk bottles come in? How many are disposed of daily in the UK alone? How many are recycled? How long does it take for them to decompose? They tend to flake.

How long does it take for a Tescos ‘bag for life’ to deteriorate? I often find them in the Solent.

Fishing line undoubtedly lasts a long time. It can be difficult to spot.

I often find individual plastic pegs. Why is this? Do they fall off boats?

Collecting the old rubbish is satisfying. You can see more beach cleaning photos here

The Wombles of Hambleton have made up a list of how to age vintage litter:

* cans with an old style ring pull – the new style was used from 1989

* cans that pre-date the bar code (approx 1970s) are measured in fl oz

* older style names, disused names or products eg: Marathon

* pre-decimal prices – dated before 1971

* glass bottles before the switch to plastic eg: older Lucozade glass bottles

* look for competitions advertised on the packaging, which are dated

* products advertising sporting events eg: Mexico World Cup Coca Cola

What is this flotsam doing to the planet? Could you help clear it up? Would you join The Great British Spring Clean with the charity Keep Britain Tidy in May?

For a full list of things I found on beach-cleans, please click here

A fourteen year old can of Coke – found unopened – on the Solent, along with many shotgun cartridges.

Diary of a litter picker on Solent shores where I’m told, ‘There is no rubbish.’

‘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 it. I was glad. I’d cleaned it just before New Year.

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?

To see more photos of the odd things we find, please click here

Looking back on 2020 with gratitude.

Sophie Neville in Portugal on 1st January 2020

The year 2020 began for me in Portugal. I was recovering from a broken arm and disappointed to have to cancel my annual charity ride through southern Africa. However, a lovely girl flew over from the Waterberg in South Africa to work for me and we had fun designing gifts, using the illustrations from ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’.

You can see more on Redbubble. The ‘Swallows and Amazons’ mugs are popular:

Swallows and Amazons mugs
Mugs printed with maps used to illustrate Sophie Neville’s books

When news of the Coronavirus broke out, we launched an appeal to help families in rural South Africa, which proved a huge success.

Carefully monitored by a qualified nursing sister, and with the help of volunteers from St John’s Church, food packages are still being distributed to needy families, feeding about 150 people a month. Read the latest news here.

Nursing Sister Grace Ismail reporting back from rural South Africa

Tests were unavailable in March, but I might have had a light version of Covid-19 whist we were working on this fund-raising campaign. I certainly lost my sense of smell and developed a weird blister/rash on one hand and foot after spending ten days in bed with fatigue.

Sophie Neville reading Lockdown Tales while self-isolating in the garden

My talks, planned for the summer, were cancelled but I read a story for Lockdown Tales, produced by Wildbeast for BBC Radio Suffolk and made available on BBC Sounds. I took part in an online reading of ‘The Picts and the Martyrs’ by Arthur Ransome, recording a chapter at home.

As literary conferences went online, I led a workshop on photographing books for instagram, when we were joined by the award-winning author Claire Wade.

While devising exotic recipes for my next book, I began baking cakes successfully, for the first time in my life, adding cardamon and cloves.

We rolled up a circle in the lawn to make a Lockdown vegetable garden so the children could see how different plants developed. Our dancing carrots became a hit on Instagram.

I photographed one of my husband’s artichokes, winning the Create! competition, organised by the literacy charity SchoolReaders and judged anonymously by Harry Cory Wright.

The prize-winning photograph of an artichoke

I was Highly Commended for a collage made out of sea plastic I’d collected when beach cleaning, which was awarded by Emma Bridgewater. The winning entries were exhibited at the Wilson Stephens and Jones Gallery in Notting Hill. I also won a prize for taking part in a socially distanced archery match, but otherwise had a year off on the sports front.

Seascape - artwork by sophie Neville made from sea-plastic

SchoolReaders invited me to become an author supporter of their work instilling a love for books in the next generation, along with other authors including Joanna Trollop and Sophie Kinsella. We are encouraging people to make a gift in their will.

I began loading illustrations and some of my sketches onto instagram. Do follow this here.

Hailed as ‘the feel-good film of lockdown’,’Swallows and Amazons'(1974) was broadcast on BBC 2 in both April and August. It was screened in Australia in January 2021. The Radio Times used this shot of me rowing Swallow with Sten Grendon who played the Boy Roger.

Radio Times ‘Film of the Day’ billing for ‘Swallows & Amazons’

I was invited to talk about the movie memorabilia in a socially isolated edition of BBC Antiques Roadshow at Windermere Jetty, which hopefully will be broadcast in March 2021.

Writer Marc Allum with Sophie Neville at Windermere Jetty in Cumbria

It was wonderful to be able to spend a few days in the Lake District, where Arthur Ransome’s first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is on display.

Sophie Neville with Arthur Ransome’s first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ at Windermere Jetty

In the autumn, a signed First Edition hardback copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ was auctioned online, raising an astonishing £201 for BBC Children in Need, exceeding bids for signed copies of books by bestselling authors such as Bernard Cornwall, Jeffery Archer and Adam Kay.

Lakeland Arts organised an online event to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the publication of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, selling tickets for an evening ‘In Conversation with Sophie Neville, which you can listen to here.

Kett’s Books invited me to speak on Zoom for their ‘Books at Lunchtime’

The greatest days of this unusual year were spent on the Solent, litter picking with my extended family, who came to live with us through lockdown. Although some dreams were grounded, we had time to go for long walks and were able to explore the South Coast where we live.

We formed a pod of six, so had no visitors, but I treasured the letters that arrived. I’m collecting quotes for the 3rd edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’, an ebook which I plan to bring out for the 50th Anniversary in 2024. Do write in with your memories.

Reviews and photos from readers are always appreciated, especially on Goodreads and Amazon.

After Christmas, I heard that a historical novel I am currently working on was awarded a prize in the Association of Christian Writers’ novel competition and was shortlisted for the Eyeland’s Book Awards, who have offered me a writer’s residency in Crete.

As we entered Tier 3, I was recognised as ‘Beach Picker of the Year’ by Litter Pickers of the New Forest, a high accolade that marked the end of a quiet but busy year.

‘Beach Picker of the Year’ – Sophie Neville and her dog Flint on the Solent.

I’ve gained 3 pounds and haven’t been to the hairdressers for eighteen months, but we kept safe in our little bubble and are looking forward to a better future when there is no need to wear face-masks. You can find my post on finding elderly litter here

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 – on the Great British September 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.

Diary of a litter picker – clearing the Solent shore and riverside paths in the summer of 2020

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Whenever I go for a walk, I take this heavy duty bucket to collect any broken glass or litter I find using barbecue tongs or gloves. I try to remember to photograph what is in the bucket noting things of interest. This McDonald’s cup was picked up 22 miles from their nearest outlet.

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I take bags for larger finds I later collect from the nearest road.

ABE35C8E-7D50-4FF0-A6C9-F8FC2E8934A3Showing the fragile ecosystem where I collect the rubbish is perhaps more important than shots of unidentifiable plastic or broken bottles.

There is always enough to fill the bucket, often twice over but the children enjoy finding flotsam, cleaned by the sea and find bottle tops for me.

Collecting Corona beer tops on Solent Shore - photo S.NevilleThis PPE litter and a bottle or Corona Extra was found on the Solent shore.

It has to be collected, taken home and recycled. Leaving bags of rubbish by overflowing bins is not the answer.

If all our children learn to pick up litter, hopefully they will take their own rubbish home in later life.

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Sadly, it’s too dangerous to take the family along road side verges, where I only litter using tongs. Some of it looks distinctly dodgy:

Every bucket load raises questions: Why would someone dump the head of a mop in the New forest National Park?

What more can the take-away food providers do?

What are the risks of eating, drinking and smoking whilst driving?

We see the resulting rubbish and a growing need for car bins or heavy fines.

To see some of the weird things I’ve collected that raise a lot more questions, click here

For 20 reasons why it’s good to pick up trash, click here

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Collect a bucketful of litter today – and think of joining the Great British September Clean Up

 

 

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 Solent or was it chucked off a ship? It’s 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 – cleaning Solent shores of plastic pollution

I’m often ask what are the most extraordinary things I’ve found on a beach clean. This year, I came across a crate washed up on Solent shores that originated in Brittany, nearly 400 kilometres across the English Chanel.

My bucket fills with lost toys and discarded litter as I clear plastic debris brought in on the tide. There is often a piece of Lego and nearly always an old cigarette lighter. How do they get into the sea?

Plastic and PVC string gets entangled in oak trees brought down in the storms.

But, perhaps the strangest things are three unbroken fluorescent light bulbs washed up in the same place at different times.

There is always plenty to collect from tidal margins including a fair bit of rope. Most pieces are tiny. Plastic gardening waste is common.

Some of it defeats me. I couldn’t shift this marker buoy. It is difficult to imagine how it will ever be removed from such a remote spot with no vehicle access.

British mud flats, so important for wildfowl, constitute one of our last wildernesses. I long to check the whole area but birds will be breeding on the low lying islands soon.

Instead, I go inland, clearing plastic bottles and wrappers that have blown off the Solent into coastal fields where they risk being a hazard to livestock. I often find pieces of plastic that have passed through the guts of New Forest ponies. Some items have obviously been dumped by overloaded hikers such as this brand new camping gear.

Meanwhile, the Lymington river estuary seems to be regarded as a litter bin by someone who drinks Tazoo everyday. I collect what I can from the banks before the rubbish attracts even more.

The nearest McDonalds is a 25 minute drive away and yet countless people wait until they reach the bridge before tossing their cups into the tidal river. Why do they do this?

I didn’t clear nearly enough. The road flooded taking all the litter chucked onto the verge into the sea.

The shore I usually clean-up was not too bad after the storms but this is because others have begun to clear up debris.

After storm Ciara I found three old cigarette lighters at once along with other indicators of how bad things are. I learnt that one person had  found 105 old lighters up on the Mersey. For a list of things found while beach cleaning in 2019, please click here.

What could you do to help? Could you pick up a little litter today? Please click here to find a list of the things I might take on a beach clean.

You really can make a difference. We have the Great British Spring Clean from 20th March until 13th April. Sign up and get involved here.

The Solent coast and mudflats looking west