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