Diary of a Litter Picker: Flotsam on New Forest Shores

Collecting plastic pollution along the Solent

It took two adults and two small children more than an hour to collect this flotsam washed up along the Solent within the New Forest National Park.

Expert at spotting micro-plastics

The collection ended up weighing about 3 Kgs, despite cellophane and a large number of light, fly-away wrappers. The contents included hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic found in the shingle or blown inland.

A pencil, a washer and a tab from a life jacket

Sorting the colours brought attention to objects that the Marine Conservation Society would classify under ‘sewage’, ‘fishing’ and ‘litter’, thankfully well washed in seawater.

Solent flotsam – including evidence of sewage

Plastic straws and cotton bud stalks have thankfully been banned but plastic pollution remains a huge problem. We need to do what we can to turn the tide.

A plastic straw, a shotgun cartridge, the tip of a boathook and the handle of a brush

What most distresses me are signs that birds are confusing styrofoam with the natural remains of cephalopods that they peck at in search of calcium.

Insulation material and single use styrofoam

I sort out the marine rope and fishing tackle, which is stored for a future project.

Fishing line and shellfish traps

All this, and broken glass, was collected from a beach where children play. There are serviced, wildlife-proof litter bins, and since it is remote, requiring a parking permit, it is never crowded. After an hour of labour, the litter pickers are rewarded with cool drinks.

For photos of a previous Solent Beach Clean – please click here. You can see which items turn up month after month, such as green ‘sea kisses’ and tampon applicators.

Sophie Neville happy beach cleaning

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 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

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

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 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.

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 – 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

Diary of a Litter-picker – after the Solent storms

Solent Beach Clean photo Matt Wright
photo: Matt Wright

I returned to the shingle beach at Tanner’s Lane on the Solent at low tide to see what had washed up after a week of stormy weather. You can see me and my dog wrapped up against the cold weather in the bottom left hand corner of this aerial photograph taken as we searched for rubbish along the shore. We found a predominance of PVC fishing net and rope, along with plastic straws and cotton bud stalks, bottle tops and micro plastics.

I was obliged to leave a car tyre and a quantity of rope that was too deeply buried to extract without a crowbar but it had been too cold for picnicers. There was no litter. It is not difficult to imagine that plastic pollution can endanger people. The yards of loose mooring rope I did retrieve could easily have become entangled in the propeller of someone’s boat and left them stranded in shipping lanes.

I joined ‘Paws on Plastic’ on Facebook who encourage dog walkers to return with one piece of rubbish a day. One piece is better than noting. I picked up a can discarded by the sign greeting people to our town and took it home for re-cycling with the mantra, ‘rubbish attracts more rubbish’ swirling around my mind.

The next time I took my hound for a walk in the New Forest, I came across two carrier bags of litter hanging from a tree. I’m rather hoping their owner will return for them since I had already collected a bucketful.

I continued to collect tins and plastic bottles throughout the week, if only two or three a day. What amazes me is how often I find unopened cans or bottles of drink chucked in the bushes. Were they originally stolen? Why are they thrown into the woods? To read more, please click here

I hate sorting the litter when I reach home but getting out into the wild can be amazing.