“DISHEARTENED, dispirited and disgusted”. Britain’s army of volunteer litterpickers have been feeling under siege since lockdown…
Peter Ryan, founder of the Dorset Devils (@dorsetdevils), a 600-strong litterpicking group on the Dorset coast, summed up the mood in a letter to his local paper, the Daily Echo.
The problem has been worse since lockdown, he says – with vast numbers of beach visitors leaving their rubbish behind them, now increasingly including face masks, disposable gloves, wet wipes and gel bottles, some of which could be infected.
It’s a horror story which has been repeated around the country – and exhausted and dispirited locals are at their wits’ end.
From Scotland and the Lake District to Cornwall and the Jurassic coast of Dorset, beaches, parks and other public spaces have been besieged on a daily basis, with councils and volunteer clean-up crews struggling to keep pace with the deluge, especially around popular beauty spots.
With temperatures soaring and lockdown restrictions eased, many families have headed to the beach to enjoy the sunshine, with the tabloids showing crowded scenes at tourist hotspots like Southend, Brighton and Bournemouth.
Despite pleas from local councils and frustrated residents, much of their rubbish has been left behind. As one Brighton resident wrote: “Brighton beach is an absolute state yet again this morning. It’s very sad. Apart from being lazy and gross it’s detrimental to our environment and wildlife.”
In Bournemouth council leader Vikki Slade said she was “absolutely appalled” at some of the scenes witnessed on local beaches.
Further along the coast local litter-picker Anna Lois Taylor (@annieloistaylor) tweeted: “So much litter. I’m done sacrificing my own time to clean up an area that’s repeatedly abused. We cleared it yesterday evening and returned today to find ourselves right back at the beginning. I cried all the way home.”
Elsewhere locals reported finding discarded tents, human excrement and the debris from family picnics and birthdays – including disposable barbecues that could pose a major fire risk in wooded areas.
In Cornwall, environmentalist Emily Stevenson (@PlasticWaive) spoke about finding 171 pieces of PPE discarded on the ground during a one-hour litter pick, compared to six items previously.
Meanwhile over in Ipswich, wildlife enthusiast Jason Alexander (@WildlifeGadgets, @UKrubbishwalks) was up at 6am clearing Bramford Meadows of litter after a group of young adults spent an enjoyable day drinking, having fun and some somersaulting off the bridge into the river.
Unfortunately little attempt to clean up after themselves, he says. “There desperately needs to be a serious national discussion to try to tackle the issue of littering and large chunks of the population taking responsibility for their actions,” he added on his Facebook page.
In an earlier video, he spoke about changing patterns in littering, with discarded wrappers from fast-food outlets declining during the lockdown to be replaced with an upsurge in PPE, wet wipes and fly-tipping.
Campaigners are divided in their support for national campaigns like Keep Britain Tidy (@KeepBritainTidy) and about potential solutions, with some calling for bigger fines and tougher enforcement, like John Read from Clean Up Britain (@cleanupbritain).
Others want to see registration numbers stamped on packaging issued at drive-in fast-food outlets, the introduction of deposit return schemes on bottles and cans or a return to more community service sentences involving litter-picking for those caught littering.
The Beyonder (@TheBeyonderUK) has highlighted littering and fly-tipping problems in the Chilterns, but believes the solution lies in a co-ordinated local approach that includes schools, churches, councils, landowners and other organisations.
Editor Andrew Knight said: “It’s tragic seeing local groups desperately trying not to lose heart when they see their efforts trashed day after day.
“Nature lovers shouldn’t have a feeling of dread every time they go out for a walk about what new horror they will discover. And the really good news is that the number of people who genuinely care about this is growing.
“The trouble is that once you see litter, it’s very hard for some of us to ignore – and of course it can totally ruin your day if you see a favourite beauty spot trashed by picnickers or fly-tippers.”
But he added that although the extent of the problem could often appear soul-destroying, campaigners, litter-pickers and nature lovers needed to keep helping each other to stay upbeat.
“The problem can seem overwhelming at times and in some cases there are big problems with enforcement, but there are signs of hope too, ” he said. “If Afroz Shah can achieve what he has in India, we can turn the tide here.
“At the moment the scale of the problem in the UK is incredibly depressing, but at least it is still hitting the headlines in the national papers and on TV. That shows people really do still care: the vast majority find such selfish disregard for the environment deeply upsetting.
“Some people have learned nothing from lockdown and are still oblivious to the impact of their actions, whether that’s flinging a plastic bottle out of their car window, leaving all their rubbish on a beach or dumping an old fridge at the side of the road.
“But there are millions of people working hard to protect our countryside and we really have to stop trashing our planet before it’s too late.”
He pointed to the national initiative launched by Clean Up Britain in it’s Don’t Trash Our Future campaign, praised the fly-tipping enforcement team at Buckinghamshire Council (@BucksFlyTipping) and urged schools and church groups to do more to get young people interested in the natural world.
“Part of the problem is that some young people simply don’t relate to the natural world at all,” he said. “There are some incredible young ambassadors out there helping to spread the word – for example @naturalistdara, @HollyWildChild, @BellaLack and @MyaBambrick1, not to mention @GretaThunberg – but for a lot of young people in our cities, the countryside is an alien world you just drive through to get somewhere.
“Lessons learned in school can last a lifetime, and faith groups are strong communities which can help spread the message too.
“We need young people to be getting out there and enjoying the countryside, and telling their parents it’s not acceptable to drop litter – that would be a massive step in the right direction.”
Farmers and landowners were often on the front line as victims of rural crime, he said.
“It’s hardly surprising that farmers are suspicious of strangers around their property with the upsurge there’s been in rural crime,” he said.
Recent articles in the farming press (@NFUtweets, @FarmersGuardian, @FarmersWeekly) say the cost of rural crime in the UK has reached an eight-year high with organised gangs targeting tractors, quad bikes and livestock.
“If it’s not fly-tipping or trespassing, it’s dogs attacking livestock, poaching, hare coursing or crop damage,” he said.
“But ramblers, cyclists, horse riders and dog walkers can all do their bit to keep their eyes open and help protect remote rural properties. They are often the eyes and ears on the ground who might spot something suspicious.”