WE know that ONLY by working together can we genuinely tackle the scourge of litter and flytipping that threatens to bury our beautiful Chilterns countryside in rubbish.
All over our area – which covers Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and beyond – main roads are lined with unsightly litter and selfish fly-tippers cost our councils millions of pounds every year by dumping household waste and building materials in laybys, sometimes on the very edge of beautiful country parks or rolling farmland.
Working in partnership with local councils and other like-minded organisations we want to find ways to combat this curse – through clean-up campaigns and educational initiatives, as well as helping the authorities to find and prosecute the worst offenders.
Sometimes the scale of the problem can look overwhelming, but we have to remember that the mindless idiots are firmly in the minority – and that’s where our ripple campaign comes in.
We know that most people abhor litter and despair at the destruction of our countryside and our wildlife. And working together we believe we really can begin to help turn the tables on the selfish few.
Individuals and organisations across the Chilterns are already doing everything they can to combat the problem. But working together and sharing our triumphs and tribulations could make a major difference.
Scores of local parish and town councils across the region are already doing their bit to help with the clean up – as are the rangers employed by the county councils, National Trust, Woodland Trust and others.
That means there are already substantial pockets of land where people actively work to keep clean for the community – village greens and play areas, bus stops and litter bins, and huge swathes of woodland like Black Park, Langley Park and Denham.
Local farmers and landowners are anxious to help solve the problem too, along with dog walkers, joggers and ramblers who also do their bit to keep our woods and pathways clean and tidy.
The National Trust not only looks after dozens of properties across the Chilterns, from sprawling country estates to sprawling gardens and woodlands, and dozens of places of outstanding natural beauty.
From Cliveden to Stowe and Basildon Park, its rangers don’t just protect the environment within the walls of the old estates, but work with dozens of volunteers to protect common land across the region.
The historic commons have been at the heart of the local community for hundreds of years – and around Maidenhead and Cookham, for example, the small team of rangers have 843 acres of land to look after.
This is an ancient and important landscape, from the Thames riverbank to woodlands and wildflower meadows, and a popular natural playground for local families, ramblers and dog walkers.
Sadly, such vast expanses of woodland walks, lonely car parks and remote viewpoints can also prove a magnet for anti-social behaviour, so that rangers like Dom Lethbridge (below) may find council and police colleagues invaluable – not to mention a small team of dedicated litterpickers who venture out rain or shine to keep the woodland paths as pristine as possible.
There’s similar work to be done at Burnham Beeches too, with the City of London Corporation also relying on rangers and volunteers to look after the ancient woodlands.
This is where the ripple effect really begins to have an effect, with hundreds of acres of common land actively protected by local people who care deeply about their historic landscape and want to do all they can to protect it for future generations.
And that’s where we hope our “ripple” campaign can pay dividends, by putting like-minded indviduals in touch with each other, identifying specific problems and making contact with those who are in a position to help.
Across our region it is mainly the district councils who are responsible for waste collection, the county councils who look after the highways and the parish and town councils who keep local towns and villages clean.
But the problem is at its worst on narrow country lanes linking the main thoroughfares, which are difficult and expensive to clean regularly, and an easy target for illegal dumping.
On these roads surveillance and enforcement becomes a top priority, as we explored in our interview last year with enforcement officers like David Rounding (above) and his colleagues at Buckinghamshire County Council.
We loved the way that Michelle Medler and her friends in Kidderminster rolled up their sleeves and recruited hundreds of helpers from youngsters to pensioners to join their litter pick-up squad.
A similar group was formed in Hereford by Emma Jones and Andrew Wood, and rapidly similar groups have sprung up around the country, with dozens of local litter-pickers joining forces to clean up their local estates, streams, streets and towns – so much so that their Facebook UK Litterpicking Groups has grown to more than 2,000 members representing some 400 groups all over the UK.
That enthusiasm has been infectious, along with the campaigns spearheaded by organisations like Clean Up Britain in Leamington Spa and Peter Silverman, who has wages a long-standing crusade to get the Highways Agency and local councils to clear up local through roads and motorway slip roads, as chronicled on his Clean Highways website.
And perhaps most exciting of all has been the role played by a growing army of teenage online campaigners – not just the formidable Greta Thunberg, but home-grown Twitter voices like Dara McAnulty and Holly Gillibrand who have survived the sadly all-too-familiar tide of online abuse and trolling to share their love of the natural world with thousands of like-minded followers.
Around the world there have been extraordinary tales – like that of the world’s largest ever beach clean-up, spearheaded by young Indian lawyer Afroz Shah and his 84-year-old friend in Mumbai.
More modest but equally meaningful revolutions have included the launch of “plogging”, a combination of jogging with picking up litter which started in Sweden in 2016 and has rapidly spread around the world, along with “two-minute beach cleans” and charity litter-picking, as demonstrated by Wayne Dixon and Koda among others.
The Chilterns may have been a little slow in joining the big clean-up trend, but it’s time for us to start that ripple effect locally and see just how much of our landscape we can protect if we work together.
As part of our campaign, we want to spread the good news about what local people are doing to combat the problem.
So do please let us know what you are doing, tell us about your activities or concerns and let us know of any local events you are planning. Spread the word, and the ripples will start to join up, turning back the tide of plastic rubbish that is engulfing our countryside and our wildlife.
What can you do? Visit some of the links above and read some of the features on our People and Places pages for inspiration.
LITTER-PICKING? You could join an existing litter-picking group or set up your own. Many organisations, councils and residents’ associations stage events at different times of the year – and if you live close to Maidenhead or Cookham commons, Dom Lethbridge and his fellow rangers at the National Trust would love to hear from you, for example.
SCHOOL PROJECT? If you are a teacher or pupil, why not suggest ways in which the school can get involved – whether that simply means litter-picking the area or educating fellow pupils about the environmental dangers of litter.
CUT DOWN ON PLASTIC? You may not be ready to follow zero waste campaigner Kathryn Kellogg’s example and go completely plastic free, but there is plenty that we can all do to cut down our plastic use, and she has some excellent tips on her website.
CHECK FOOTPATHS? If litter-picking is not your thing, what about other tasks you might undertake with groups like the Chiltern Society, who need help checking the state of local footpaths and signage, as well as organising regular volunteer work parties.
Whatever you decide to do to help the planet – and protect our countryside – we want to hear from you. We will carry regular updates on our news pages and Twitter feed. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by joining our Facebook group, The Beyonder.