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 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

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 – 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