Never too late to change

greg-rakozy-53292-unsplashBIG PICTURE: pondering our place in the universe  [PICTURE: Greg Rakozy, Unsplash]

THE MOST startling thing about Paul Kingsnorth’s 2008 portrait of England in decline (Seen and Heard – Books) is just how much of it sounds as if it were written yesterday.

And yet his round England journey was undertaken well over a decade or so ago. Which begs the question – why didn’t we all spot what was happening at the time?

Well, of course we did: we all had those bleak conversations echoing the book’s central message – moaning about those idiosyncratic pubs and cafes and shops being swept away amid the violent regeneration of our town and city centres.

And of course it wasn’t all bad, by any means. Many of those awful greasy spoons and appalling backstreet boozers were the very epitome of what was wrong with England. Those famous publicans who took pleasure in being rude to their customers, for example. Those village pubs empty on a Saturday night long before the smoking ban or the soaring cost of a pint had made a real impact on trade.

But as the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone – and in fact the lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi would make a pretty good soundtrack to Kingsnorth’s expose of a country which seems to have lost its way.

matthew-henry-49707-unsplashPRICE OF PROGRESS: high-rise city centre offices [PICTURE: Matthew Henry, Unsplash]

What resonates most about his book is the cumulative effect of all this so-called progress – of its dehumanising effect on us, creating a culture of dependency on the consumer machine created by the apparently unstoppable march of global capitalism.

“We expect. We demand. We are like children. Everything must be instant and, if it isn’t, somebody must pay,” he writes.

This is the real tragedy and it’s a growing selfishness that we see around us every day, in impatient queues at the till or blaring horns in traffic queues, the careless dropping of litter or the way tempers flare up so quickly over the most minor disputes.

The problem is that we have lost our ability to relate to other people, to empathise with their plight, share their concerns. Instead, we are living in a world of artificial reality, fuelled by our self-absorbtion, our narcissistic Instagram uploads and Facebook selfies.

We tap our feet in the supermarket when the person in front of us has the temerity to chat to the check-out assistant. We thump on the horn if someone takes a micro-second too long to spot the traffic light has turned green. We are patronising and sarcastic or downright aggressive when hard-pressed rail staff or shop assistants struggle to cope with problems beyond their control.

And all the time we are taking pictures of our food or the concert or the view and telling our friends how cool and happy and chic and contented we are.

victor-xok-615429-unsplashCONSUMER  CULTURE: global brands dominate our lives [PICTURE: Victor Xok, Unsplash]

And it’s this disconnect from any local community that poses the biggest danger to our wellbeing, not our reliance on global brands. It’s how we choose to use new technology that is the problem, not the fact that new technology exists.

And that’s nothing new. Joni Mitchell recognised the problem back in 1970 and we are far better informed today about the practical impact of our actions on the environment, as well of ways of starting to turn back the tide.

But if there is a more important message to be drawn from such a dystopian vision, it’s that there IS something we can do about it. As individuals, we can make choices. And as individuals working together we can be powerful.

That philosophy lies at the heart of what The Beyonder is about. At one level it’s about families exploring and enjoying the great outdoors so that it doesn’t feel as if we have totally lost touch with the landscape – or as if nature has just been contained and fenced in for our enjoyment (“They took all the trees / Put ’em in a tree museum / And they charged the people / A dollar and a half just to see ’em”).

It’s about youngsters feeling as carefree building a den in the woods or a sandcastle on the beach as they do battling dark forces in the latest computer game. It’s about having the patience to keep listening to the old boy in the pub rattling on about the way things were. And it’s about sharing our enjoyment for some of the simplest things in life – the new ducklings on the lake, the screech of an owl at night in the woods, the glimpse of a hare or badger disappearing into the undergrowth.

cropped-IMG_0792.jpgSIMPLE PLEASURES: taking delight in the natural world [PICTURE: Olivia Beyonder]

Kingsnorth recognised that if there’s any antidote to the ideology of mass consumption and growing disconnect between human beings, it lies in rediscovering the essence of the place itself, not just the field and stream, but the town and village too.

Human beings are social animals and enjoy being part of a community. We feel more anxious when we feel isolated, remote, separate from our environment, so it makes sense at every level to know our place and the other people who inhabit it.

We can’t bury our heads in the sand, turn off the news and live in a bubble, pretending the problems of the world don’t exist. But we can take a moment to share our appreciation of the natural world, our joy of living and our recognition that thousands – millions – of other people feel the same way.

Just as a sneak theft or random verbal attack by a stranger can spoil our mood and our day, so a random act of kindness can bring not just a smile to our face but a deeper inner joy.

There may be plenty wrong with the world, but there are other people out there who care just as much about what’s gone wrong – and who are working out the best way to put it right, one little personal step at a time.

Real England: The Battle Against The Bland by Paul KIngsnorth was published in paperback in June 2009 by Portobello Books at £8.99

ryan-jacques-465-unsplashBACK TO NATURE: England’s threatened wildlife [PICTURE: Ryan Jacques, Unsplash]

 

 

 

Lament for a lost land

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PAINFUL at times to read and depressingly prescient, Paul Kingsnorth’s 2008 portrait of England in decline is even more disturbingly relevant a decade after its original publication.

Written with wit and charm rather than as an aggressive polemic, Kingsnorths personal journey around the country was effectively a manifesto against the homogenising forces of globalisation and a top-heavy state.

Following in the footsteps of Orwell and Chesterton, the former deputy editor of The Ecologist embarked on a quest to establish the nature of the ‘real England’ in the 21st century – and discovered a nation in disarray and under siege.

But this wasn’t merely a sentimental or nostalgic harking after yesteryear. In many ways Kingsnorth was as stark and hard-hitting in his portrait of the plight of the little man as Orwell – and at times he finds it hard to contain his anger.

“I am angry at what is being done to my country, angry at what is being lost and what is being deliberately erased,” he writes.

annie-spratt-160575-unsplashUNDER THREAT: the archetypal English village [PICTURE: Annie Spratt, Unsplash]

Kingsnorth takes his cue from words written a quarter of a century earlier by Richard Mabey in The Common Ground (1980): “Time and again we have seen how most of the naturally rich areas that remain on the farm are now confined to land that is agriculturally marginal.”

But Kingsnorth’s premise is that Mabey’s pronouncement on agriculture can be more broadly applied to our modern lifestyles, where the richest and most interesting remnants of English culture are now only to be found at the margins, away from the shopping malls and busy motorways.

His meander around the country picks up various threads which reflect a litany of loss: of closed pubs, specialist shops and second-hand bookshops on one hand and the destruction of wildflower meadows, chalk grasslands and ancient woodlands on the other – together with the flora and fauna which they supported.

ryan-jacques-465-unsplashLITANY OF LOSS: England’s disappearing wildlife [PICTURE: Ryan Jacques, Unsplash]

The “battle against the bland”, as the book is subtitled, is the battle against the apparently unstoppable spread of a manufactured corporate landscape, where individuality gives way to conformity, uniformity and mediocrity.

This is a world of identikit high streets, privately owned shopping malls and private security companies, where so-called progress destroys traditions, livelihoods and any sense of community.

“We are not a society which appreciates value,” he writes. “We appreciate instant gratification, primary colours, simple answers. We appreciate celebrities and shopping and media scandals and premium rate phone lines.”

Here lies the rub, because amid the bewildering distractions of technological advances, investment opportunities and a plethora of consumer choice, we are in danger of losing our way entirely, he argues:  “We are losing sight of who we are and where we have come from. And we don’t care. Or do we?”

victor-xok-615429-unsplashBRAVE NEW WORLD: inside a shopping mall [PICTURE: Victor Xok, Unsplash]

At the time it was published, the book was not unremittingly bleak and did contain various suggestions for steering a path to a more optimistic future, despite the dire warnings of  local pubs being turned into theme bars or pricey flats and rural villages becoming commuter dormitories or dead collectives of second homes for the wealthy.

Yet many of those warnings seem even more disturbing today after a decade of social networking, of the transformation of city centres and old docksides into high-rise offices and unaffordable penthouse flats.

The gentrification of whole boroughs of London is complete, grubby cafes and other  community meeting spots being swept away by stainless steel and smoked glass.

“The small and the local, the traditional and the distinctive were being stamped out by the powerful, the placeless and the very, very profitable,” Kingsnorth recalled in a Guardian article in 2015 – and not just in England, of course, but around the world, from Delhi to Sydney.

Yes, there have always been those determined to resist the Tescoisation of the land, but the author also believes this is not a straightforward issue in political terms, but about the individual against the ‘crushing, dehumanising machine’.

Back in 2008 the urgency of this book lay in its unequivocal message about the need for us to stop being complacent and do something before it’s too late.

matthew-henry-49707-unsplashSKY’S THE LIMIT: Toronto’s financial district [PICTURE: Matthew Henry, Unsplash]

So is it too late? The onslaught on the whole cultural fabric of England’s local communities has continued unabated. The pubs and dairy farms have continued to close, the skyscrapers, motorways and luxury flats are still being built.

“The population is expected to exceed 70 million within 15 years, all in the name of growth and with no end in sight. Global capitalism is eating the soul of the nation,” wrote Kingsnorth in 2015.

Back in 2008 he lamented how consumerism specialises in creating a fake reality where new ‘needs’ are created by the brand marketing gurus and can be met, at a price, to help us fend off old age, pain, heartache, loneliness.

“We become narcissistic, self-absorbed, atomised. All that is real seems unreal; all that is false seems sublime. Everything is controlled – including us.”

It is a dystopia worthy of Huxley; ten years on and the unfolding tragedy seems to be even more vivid and terrifying. With Donald Trump as American president and Brexit looming, is England able to reclaim any of its lost character? The gulf between the haves and have-nots is even wider than it was in 2008. We live in any age of  suicide bombs and apocalyptic warnings about climate change and mass extinction.

But Kingsnorth still believes if there’s any antidote to the ideology of mass consumption and growing disconnect between human beings, it lies in the essence of the place itself: the woods, fields, streets, towns and beaches.

“We can be surrounded by plastic or be part of something real. We can be Citizens of Nowhere or we can know our place – know it and be prepared to stand up for it, because we understand how much it matters.”

That was his rallying call in 2008 and despite all the changes during the intervening years, it still makes a great deal of sense. All is not lost – not quite. And perhaps the growing resonance of that message in a world gone mad is that it’s never too late to stand against the tide – if we really want to.

Real England: The Battle Against The Bland by Paul KIngsnorth was published in paperback in June 2009 by Portobello Books at £8.99

steve-harvey-530335-unsplashIDENTITY CRISIS: can England rediscover its soul? [PICTURE: Steve Harvey, Unsplash]

 

 

 

Waging war on plastic

scott-warman-525481-unsplashGOING GREEN: vegetables without plastic wrapping [PICTURE: Scott Warman, Unsplash]

IT WAS a health scare that started Kathryn Kellogg first thinking about what she was putting in and on her body.

“I had never considered it before; I just assumed everything I was consuming was safe,” she says. “There’s very little regulation and testing for the products we buy. Cleaning companies don’t even have to release the ingredients they use.”

After starting to cook from scratch and starting to make her own cleaning and beauty products, the aspiring actress moved to California as was shocked to see all the litter and plastic in the ocean.

“I knew I had to do something; so, I decided to be the change I wanted to see. I stopped buying plastic and wanted to create a sustainable life. It felt like a really natural progression,” she recalls.

Living in the Bay area and spending her free time hiking and cooking, she worked a 9-5 job and is one of a number of young millennial women responsible for promoting a zero-waste lifestyle revolution that has taken off in a big way.

Kathryn’s blog, Going Zero Waste, was launched in March 2015 and by the time she was profiled in The Guardian a year later, was attracting 10,000 page views a month and had 800 subscribers.

The focus of her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts is all about homemade products and simple shopping tips that can help avoid unnecessary waste. The goal is to ensure her trash for the past year – anything that hasn’t been composted or recycled – fits in an 8oz jar.

She’s not alone – over in Chicago, Celia Ristow of Litterless espouses a similar zero waste vibe.

And it’s got to make sense. One of the best things about her blog is her desire to make things accessible and attainable: so that for anyone starting out on the zero waste journey or just wanting to be a little more eco-friendly, her first suggestion is always the ‘Big Four’ simple, easy swaps popularised by Plastic Free July, an initiative which originated in Western Australia but which now involves participants around the world.

Kathryn advises that these four items – plastic bags, straws, single use water bottles and takeaway coffee cups – are easy to avoid and make-up a huge portion of waste in landfills and the ocean.

It’s a great starting point for reducing litter at the point of consumption – and just one of a series of straightforward tips on Kathryn’s website.

heder-neves-177219-unsplashLESS IS BEST: steering clear of plastic [PICTURE: Heder Neves, Unsplash]

In fact, this is just one of more than 300 blog posts full of zero waste tips. For anyone starting out on the journey, Kathryn’s Beginners’ Guide is as good a place as anywhere to start.

Vivid view from the ridge

5tx4w3UP TO THE RIDGE: one of Christine’s AONB landscapes

PLENTY of artists draw their inspiration from the beauty of the Chilterns countryside.

What makes Christine Bass’s contemporary landscapes so unusual is the vividness of her tropical colour schemes, which betray her Trinidadian roots.

More than 30 of the paintings on her website feature extraordinary scenes across the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from Ivinghoe Beacon to Bledlow Ridge.

Near BledlowNEAR BLEDLOW: original acrylic and mixed media

Her landscapes are characterised by strong lines and shapes, flattened planes and the use of vibrant colour. She grew up in Trinidad and it’s easy to see how the bright light and vivid colours of the tropics still exert an influence in her paintings.

She draws inspiration from the countryside where she lives, on the Buckinghamshire border with Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire – and her work is on show until Sunday June 24 as part of this year’s Bucks Arts Weeks displays.

She is one of nine artists and craft workers currently showing their work in the atmospheric surroundings of St Dunstan’s Church in Monks Risborough.

Track beneath Ivinghoe BeaconFAVOURITE WALK: a track beneath Ivinghoe Beacon

Although other parts of England feature in her paintings too, from the South Coast to Cornwall and the Lake District, the gentle beauty of the Chiltern Hills provides a constant source of pleasure, her pictures capturing the patterns of fields scored by furrows and bounded by hedgerows, the bare trees of winter, the colours of crops and of the seasons.

Christine’s blogsite contains more details about her work and career. The show at St Dunstan’s runs until 5pm on Sunday. Other Bucks Arts Weeks events take place across the county throughout the week, with more than two dozen artists featured on the Princes Risborough Art Trail, which includes venues at Askett and Bledlow.

Beyonder holds litter ‘audit’

THE BEYONDER is holding a ‘litter audit’ across South Bucks to help assess the best way of planning a clean-up campaign in the area.

Editor Andrew Knight has written to local parish and district councils asking for information about the scale of the litter and fly-tipping problem and for information about how current resources are organised.

The initial area covered stretches from Marlow to Denham, Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Peter and Chalfont St Giles. It includes the whole of South Bucks District, along with parts of Chiltern and Wycombe district council areas.

Mr Knight said: “It’s a beautiful part of the Chilterns which includes three country parks but there are some through roads which are badly affected by littering and some tiny back routes which suffer from occasional fly-tipping.”

The issue has been getting increasing national exposure, most recently on this year’s BBC Springwatch series, when Michaela Strachan spoke to a number of groups in Bristol about their efforts to combat plastic pollution.

DfFhmjFXUAEZuoW.jpg largeCOTTON BUD CRACKDOWN: Michaela Strachan meets Natalie Fee in Bristol

Meanwhile Michelle Medler  in Kidderminster recruited hundreds of helpers from youngsters to pensioners to join her Facebook group litter pick-up squad.

MICHEELECLEANING UP: Michelle Medler and fellow volunteers in Kidderminster

Now, to work out the scale of the problem in the Chilterns and the best way of tackling it, The Beyonder has contacted a score of parish councis asking what they are doing to cope with litter and fly-tipping, what problems they are encountering and how much it all costs.

Approaches will also be made to the three district councils in South Buckinghamshire, which are responsible for waste collection, and the county council, which looks after the highways and deals with fly-tipping complaints and waste disposal.

The survey follows consultation with campaign group Clean Up Britain, which recently launched a pioneering year-long anti-litter project in Leamington Spa, and Peter Silverman, whose Clean Highways website has long campaigned for the Highways Agency to do more to tackle litter on local motorways and motorway slip roads.

Mr Knight said: “Although our circulation area stretches over quite a large area it made sense for us to start off by assessing things on our doorstep, where we can see the scale of the problem for ourselves.”

The online magazine hopes to speak to countryside rangers, ramblers and dog walkers as well as campaigners and the relevant councils, with the aim of drawing up detailed plans for the best way of volunteers being able to play a part in tackling the problem.

For more information, contact editor@thebeyonder.co.uk or via the Facebook group, The Beyonder.

Council hails litter ‘heroes’

MICHEELEVOLUNTEER litter pickers in Kidderminster have been hailed as local heroes by their district council for organising a series of litter picks around the town.

More than 300 members of the Facebook group Keeping Kidderminster and Surrounding Places Clean have been getting out and about their local streets and neighbourhoods picking up litter and disposing of it in litter bins around the district.

The idea stemmed from local teacher Michelle Medler’s new year resolution to pick up a bag of litter a day while walking her dogs – and mushroomed into a community supported by hundreds of volunteers.

Michelle said: “I’m amazed at how many people care and want to make a difference, which is great to know, and the positive comments from the public make it all worthwhile.”

After launching the group in January, she was surprised to see it grow into a 400-strong group after she initiated a number of communal litter picks in different parts of the town. Membership has since doubled to more than 800.

She soon won plaudits from councillors and council officers too. Youngsters and retired pensioners have been among the groups taking part – and Wyre Forest District Council, which has street cleaning reponsibilities in the area, praised Michelle and supplied volunteers with litter pickers, high visibility jackets and gloves, as well as advice about safely disposing of any dangerous items they came across.

Cabinet member for operational services Councillor Rebecca Vale said: “It is truly remarkable to hear about the positive impact these volunteers have had and I’d like to thank every one of them. We spend a lot of time, effort and money cleaning our streets – this just goes to show what a huge difference we can make to the look and feel of the district by working together.”

The Kidderminster model is one The Beyonder is keen to explore further. Beyonder editor Andrew Knight said: “The Kidderminster group are doing an amazing job and seem to have a real community spirit. They can also see the impact they are having on making the town cleaner – and it’s great that the district council has been so supportive.”

The Beyonder is carrying out a local audit before deciding how to pursue its anti-litter campaign in the Chilterns. It is in the process of contacting local parish, district and county councils to find out more about existing waste collection activities across south Buckinghamshire from Marlow to Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Giles, Chalfont St Peter and Denham.

 

Campaign has ‘killer’ warning

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ANTI-LITTER campaigners Clean Up Britain have published a hard-hitting second video in their drive to spell out the danger posed to animals by discarded plastics, cans, cigarette butts and chewing gum.

Launched as part of Now or Never, a ground-breaking year-long behavioural change project in Leamington Spa, the four-minute Litter Kills video graphically spells out the impact of discarded litter on wildlife and pets.

Clean Up Britain founder John Read said: “We understand the images are upsetting – that’s the point. We need to give people a reason to react strongly to seeing others litter and make those who do think twice. We have to shift attitudes and behaviour.”

The video provides more detail about the type of problems encountered by the RSPCA, which receives 5,000 calls a year about animals injured by litter. It explains how bones from discarded takeaways can kill – and how chemicals in chewing gum and cigarette ends can be poisonous for animals.

Even onions can be toxic to cats and dogs, which can also be made ill by mouldy food or choke on balloons released to mark a celebration. Likewise, wild birds can be killed or injured by plastic rings and  the sharp edges of discarded cans.

The video is part of a year-long campaign in the Warwickshire town designed to change people’s attitudes towards litter.

The campaign includes an educational pack for schools designed for 8- to 11-year-olds designed to teach them why dropping litter is bad for the environment, wildlife and communities.

It comes on a day when the UN revealed 50 nations are now taking action to reduce plastic pollution.

The UN report reveals that the Galapagos will ban single-use plastics, Sri Lanka will ban styrofoam and China is insisting on biodegradable bags.

But the authors warn that far more needs to be done to reduce the vast flow of plastic into rivers and oceans.

Peter picks up the baton

Peter_at_BeacondfieldROADSIDE LITTER: Peter Silverman surveys the problem at Beaconsfield

PETER Silverman is a man on a mission.

It wasn’t always like this. But what began as an observation about the apparently worsening tide of litter on roadside verges around his home has turned into something of a crusade.

It was back in 2010 that the retired financial adviser became aware of specific problem areas that seemed to be being ignored by the relevant authorities.

“The amount of stuff on the verges was monumentally worse than it is now,” he recalls. But part of the problem then, as now, was working out which authority was actually responsible.

Highways England and its contractors are responsible for keeping motorways and trunk roads clean, but in counties like Buckinghamshire, although the county council is responsible for highways, litter-picking is a district council function.

It soon became clear to Peter, now 75, that some spots – like slip roads around the Denham roundabout where the A40 meets the M40 – appeared to be slipping through the net and had been totally neglected.

Part of his frustration was that the authorities appeared to be failing to fulfil their duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 S89(1) to “ensure that the land under their control is, so far as is practicable, kept clear of litter and refuse”.

Not a motorist to be trifled with, Peter duly issued a Section 91 warning notice under the ‘EPA’ legislation to the transport secretary, prompting a sixfold increase in cleaning activity by the Highways Agency’s contractor, bringing the southern end of the M40 up to an acceptable standard by June of that year.

But of course the problem didn’t stop there. Eight years on, and Peter’s website pays testimony to his ongoing battle with the authorities – a fight which has been picked up by like-minded motorists around the country.

The problem hasn’t gone away, of course. Only this year another litter abatement order was required before Highways England fulfilled its legal responsibilities to clean up slip roads around the Denham roundabout.

Peter’s frustration lies not only with the agencies involved but with the lack of concerted and effective action from central government – exacerbated by funding cutbacks.

To make matters worse, responsibility for litter is “passed around like a hot potato” by government ministers, he maintains. Whereas an ‘important’ job like health secretary has been held by Jeremy Hunt since 2012, litter has not been prioritised in the same way.

“Jeremy Hunt has been in charge of the NHS for years and every year you get more expert,” says Peter. “With litter, the people do it for a year and move on. It’s the same with the people in charge of the Highways Agency.”

Undeterred, Peter’s website has continued to chronicle his mission to get the authorities to fulfil their duty to keep their land clear of litter – and to do far more to deter those who create it in the first place.

“For decades central government has failed to provide the leadership, funding and resolution needed to get to grips with the problem,” he maintains.

No organisation was charged with the task of policing compliance with EPA duties and he fears that the issue is far from being a top government priority, despite the publication of a “litter strategy for England” updated last July.

“In 2015 a Commons select committee concluded that England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan,” says Peter. “Our main roads and motorways are in the worst state of all. Local authorities pay less heed to through roads where there are usually no residents to complain about their condition.”

But the national litter strategy promises no additional funding for litter collection and fails to adequately tackle any of the key issues, he believes.

“The litter strategy is a total and utter joke,” he says. There are similarly harsh words for Keep Britain Tidy and many of those working for key government agencies, including ministers and civil servants: “We may not have the kind of widespread corruption you see in some countries but we have our own kind of corruption in the form of making life easy for civil servants, for not having the courage to actually deal with problems.”

There has been much talk about forcing councils to remove roadside litter and prosecute offenders, but he believes many council schemes where specialist contractors can issue on-the-spot fines for littering are only ‘token operations’ to show a council is doing something, with most officers instructed not to issue juveniles with such fines because of magistrates’ “reluctance to give a 15-year-old a criminal record for dropping a packet of crisps”.

It’s not just the roadside litter that’s a problem either, he points out, but spillages from skip lorries and bulk waste transporters. Despite evidence that this occurs on a regular basis, the Environment Agency has only prosecuted one such offending company since 2000, he claims – and that was at his instigation.

“Highways England obstinately refuse to accept that they can and should prosecute these offences,” he maintains.

And apart from our filthy motorways, there’s another major problem when it comes to clamping down on fly-tipping: that despite this being a criminal offence punishable by unlimited fines and a five-year jail sentence if convicted in a crown court, the Environment Agency appears to have prosecuted only ONE case involving large-scale fly-tipping in 2017.

The agency is responsible for investigating larger scale fly-tipping, hazardous waste and fly-tipping by organised gangs. But while Defra minister Therese Coffey referred to more than 200 incidents of large-scale flytipping being ‘dealt with’ by the agency in 2017, Peter’s Freedom of Information request asking about the number of prosecutions brought by the EA between 2006 and 2015 showed the number had declined from 96 in 2006 to 26 in 2015.

There’s plenty of tough talking from the EA, which says: “Our specialist crime unit uses intelligence to track and prosecute organised crime gangs involved in illegal waste activity. We are determined to make life hard for criminals.”

But Peter’s research revealed many of the recorded prosecutions were for the mis-management of waste transfer, treatment and storage sites rather than fly-tipping.

Enfield-fly-tipEYESORE: large-scale fly-tipping in Enfield in March 2018 [PICTURE: Peter Silverman]

He explains: “In fact only three of the 30 cases in 2017 were definitely for fly-tipping. Two of these were in effect the same case as two members of the same family were prosecuted for the same incident. Their combined fines were £75,000. In the other case the fine was only £900.

If such statistics sound depressing, the good news is that it means Peter isn’t quite ready yet to stop being a thorn in the side of the authorities – whether that means government ministers and departments, local councils or the Highways Agency.

Sadly, the campaign still has to reach a wider national audience. Despite occasional outings on national TV (he was a guest on BBC Breakfast in April this year), his Youtube broadcast clips (as when he featured on BBC’s Don’t Mess With Me documentary series about littering back in 2014) are still seen by hundreds rather than thousands of viewers.

But there’s clearly huge support for his work nonetheless. The ‘Have Your Say’ section of his website contains hundreds of comments from drivers who share his anger and frustration at the roadside litter scandal – and who realise the battle is one worth fighting.

As contributor John Lindsay wrote in April: “Peter is doing a fantastic job to bring more attention to the litter disease that engulfs our country.

“We all have a choice to either do something about our littered nation or not. We must spread the word to educate our own families, neighbours and friends. By acting together we will leave a better legacy.”

It’s an important message. Peter’s website may testify to the fact that this is so evidently a one-man campaign – but it also reveals that it’s not one he has to fight entirely on his own.

Litter campaign gathers pace

TREE

IT’s exciting to see a dynamic new nationwide campaign being launched by a small group of professionals united by a shared passion for looking after our environment – and growing concerns about litter.

Clean Up Britain (CLUB) has been lobbying hard for a national litter campaign as well as inspiring and enabling communities and businesses to tackle a range of recycling and environmental issues, from reducing single-use plastics to clamping down on fly-tipping and roadside litter.

Founded by John Read, who has extensive experience in campaigning, corporate communications and public affairs, CLUB launched its Litter Kills initiative last month with the following message:

The UK has a serious litter problem. Take a look around you – every village, town, city, beach and roadside is blighted with the lazy leftovers of our daily lives.

We’ve been wrestling hard with how to properly ignite the conversation about litter and the damage it does.

In particular, we need to get to young women and men, age 16-30, who don’t even think about litter. This age group, while outwardly professing a love of the planet, recycling and other green issues, over-indexes on littering compared to other age groups.

It’s been ages since a national anti-litter campaign ran which changed littering behaviours, the topic of littering gets no airtime with this audience, and any wider efforts to prompt thinking and behaviour change has been largely ineffective.

Litter doesn’t really figure on their radar. Yet.

We had seen the RSPCA stats – they get 5,000 calls a year about animals injured by litter. Instinctively, we knew that this must be the tip of the iceberg.

We also knew, from previous research, that talking about hurt and dead animals was one of the only ways to ignite the conversation about litter with our target audience.

And so we began looking hard at the impacts of litter on animals, and with help of  the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association and the pet charity Blue Cross, we built the bigger, shocking picture. Our campaign ‘Litter Kills’ was born.

CATSDOGS-JPG_For-website

CLUB recognises the images are shocking, but believes that’s necessary:

We need to give people a reason to react strongly to seeing others litter, and make those who do think twice. We have to shift attitudes and behaviour.

We’re supposedly a nation of pet and animal lovers. British households in total host 8.5m dogs and 8m cats. Millions of us care about wildlife and enjoy seeing wild animals where we live, work and play.

Yet our littering habit affects thousands and thousands of animals in a very bad, sometimes fatal, way.

Tragically, the images selected for the campaign are all real, selected from countless case studies of animals injured or poisoned by discarded takeaways, mouldy food or broken glass.

The “litter kills it’s time to act” message is part of CLUBs Now or Never campaign which kicked off in Leamington Spa and received widespread local and national media coverage.

And earlier news releases have focused on issues like fly-tipping, another issue close to our hearts at The Beyonder.

Back in March last year, CLUB warned busy residents not to unwittingly pay rogue traders to dispose of their waste.

The message was simple: make a quick check with the Environment Agency to see if they have a waste carrier permit, rather than risking a huge fine for having the waste disposed of illegally.  Any legitimate trader should be happy to provide their name or registration number. The agency can be contacted by phone on 03708 506 506).

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Felicity makes a splash

DUCK

THIS afternoon a delightful, downy creature waddled into our lives and made a big splash in our hearts.

The river behind our house is home to some 20 adult ducks, and our neighbourhood has been waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the spring hatchlings.  We hadn’t spotted any – until today.

A grown parent pair was guiding their brood of two tiny ducklings upstream.  The river is very fast flowing and has a strong current, and it wasn’t long before the second duckling was struggling to keep up.

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We watched with a growing sense of alarm as the duckling began to lose strength.  Her bursts of ferocious paddling were growing weaker and she was floating further away on the current.  Meanwhile, the adult ducks had swum so far they were now around the next bend 20 metres upstream and out of sight.

We have quite an active colony of patrolling red kites that have made their home in the enormous cedar of Lebanon that watches over the waterway, and it didn’t take much for my maternal instincts to kick in with full force.

I waded out to the opposite bank of the river, struggling even at my height to keep balance in the flow.  The duckling was desperately trying to cling onto some ivy that creeps down to the waterline, chirping noisily to alert her parents.  They hadn’t noticed half of their brood was missing.

I scooped her tiny form out of the water easily and carried her to our landing bay.  She was still chirping wildly but did not resist my touch.  The next hour was spent in two ways: Andrew got on the phone to our friend Aimee Wallis at Corvid Dawn to find out what to do next, as she has rescued ducks herself and reared them for release.

I guarded the duckling, whom I have now named Felicity Duckworth, as she chirruped frantically from various vantage points around the garden in the hope that her parents would hear her and return.  I kept a watchful eye on our curious cat, Legotine, and shooed away a male mallard duck who was barking and snapping at Felicity with such ferocity that I snatched her away from him before he attacked.

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All the while, whenever I set the duckling down on the ground, she would run quickly to my feet and seek shelter under my long dress.  This behaviour, Aimee warned us, is called imprinting.  Ducklings have an instinct to follow moving objects that are bigger than themselves (animate or inanimate!), believing that object to be their mother.  I was flattered to say the least, and completely, utterly smitten.

Aimee told us the best thing we could do was to keep Felicity warm and take her to a wildlife sanctuary.  It is apparently rare for a mother duck to return for lost young after around two hours.  We duly waited and then, with Felicity tucked into a warm box lined and covered with tea towels, set off with heavy hearts for St Tiggywinkle’s Wildlife Hospital in Aylesbury.

Whoever wrote the ugly duckling song had clearly never seen a duckling themselves.  In the car, Felicity kept jumping out of the box that was in my lap and clambering desperately into the crook of my neck where she nestled herself and kept warm.  I had a chance to see her close up when she was relatively still.

Her down was brown and yellow, and more like fine, fluffy fur.  Her eyes were intelligent, sharp and very trusting.  She could only be days old as her beak was sharpened to a point by her egg tooth which she had used to hatch out from the shell.   All in all, this little bundle was quite simply perfection.

She was starting to close her eyes and her neck was drooping, a sign of shock or exhaustion in ducklings, so I put on Classic FM, thinking the music would be the closest thing to birdsong we had access to in the car.  She quickly came to and cheeped volley after volley of duckling songs for the remainder of the journey.

We were greeted by two receptionists at St Tiggywinkle’s, who humoured me as I struggled to break the bond that felt inseparable after only two hours of acquaintance.  Reluctantly, and with a lump in my throat, I handed Felicity to the veterinary nurse who lifted her in her blue latex gloves.  Three other ducklings had been handed over to the centre that morning after a female duck was killed in a road accident.  I am heartened to know that Felicity will be given a chance to ‘learn how to be a duck’ with three new siblings who will no doubt have stories of their own to tell.

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Tiggywinkles in Aylesbury, The Wildlife Hospital Trust, is a specialist hospital dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating all species of British wildlife.
 Wild animal casualties brought to the hospital are treated free of charge and released through a controlled programme back to the wild when they are fully fit. To find out more about the work of the hospital, which has a visitors’ centre, see the charity’s main website above or Facebook page.