Diary of a litter picker: 20 unusual finds

Sophie Neville searching for marine plastic on the Solent

As a child, I longed to find a unicorn. Nowadays they litter the New Forest.

Unicorns seem to be popping up everywhere, along with Disney princesses.

A stranded mermaid illustration how helpless most of us feel about sea plastic

And underpants. We find a lot.

Men’s underpants caught in the brambles
Frilly knickers found in a church car park within the New Forest National Park
Anti-perspirant and after shave is often discarded by a sniffers in the New Forest
A garden rake, the second I’ve found of this type, possibly from a cannabis farm
An elf’s shoe – the pencil is just for scale, although I sometimes find them
I often find fenders and floats washed up on the Solent
Did the peak drift across the English Channel by itself?
A pin from a sailing pontoon that has been washed down the coast
Small pieces of asbestos roofing washed up on the Solent
It is not unusual to rubber lining the coast. Helium ballons are washed up almost every day
Intact fluorescent light bulbs found washed up on the Solent
Fluorescent tubing found washed up intact on the Solent foreshore

Shockingly, I have been told, ‘we get ORDERED to throw them overboard as sending them back ashore is expensive due to them been classified as hazardous waste. Happens everyday in some way or another. 200 old fire extinguishers once but there’s a lot worse.’

You get used to spotting things

It looks like a broken branch but it’s the remains of a ‘hangman’s noose’ or swing found on the coast with polystyrene, PPE masks and a discarded picnic mug

Here is a tree bearing three, although you can only just see the remains of a blue rope. It’s killed the branch.

Ropes hung from trees on private land within the New Forest National Park

‘Why do people litter?’

  • Annie Soulsby says, “It’s about caring. If someone doesn’t care about themselves they tend to not care much about anything else, including the environment. “
  • “The crux of the problem is that all sorts of people litter all sorts of items for all sorts of reasons” says Samantha Harding, the director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s litter campaign. “Men aged 18-25 often see it as cool to drop litter, but hauliers, smokers, users of fast food outlets and drive-through takeaways and commuters are all groups of society who litter”.
Litter on a stick

The animals seem to resent rubbish left in their pristine environment. The rabbits excavated these cans.

Unwanted lager cans excavated by rabbits?

May be its because people use holes as litter bins.

A plastic bottle repulsed from a rabbit hole

Litter pickers often encounter wildlife – especially lizards or wood mice, snails and insects, which use the litter or become trapped inside it. I found this healthy slow worm under a water trough when I was cleaning a field.

A slow worm found whilst collecting plastic from a field

Our most exciting and treasured find was a brand new basket ball with plenty of bounce, washed up on a remote Solent shore.

A fine find – a new basket ball, washed up on a remote sandbank

Litter is pollution. It’s vital that we remove it. Dave Regos has asked to show you an award-winning documentary entitled ‘A Fist Full of Rubbish’:

Meanwhile, I continue to patrol the strand.

Here are some odd things I found earlier

Showing a teacher shoes found on a beach clean

Save the date!

And contact Keep Britain Tidy about The Great British Spring Clean

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 UK or was it chucked off a ship? It was 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.

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