THOUSANDS of people braved the September drizzle to join Chris Packham on a march to Whitehall calling on the government to take radical action to help reverse the decline of British wildlife.
Protesters from around the country included families, friends and groups from organisations ranging from Friends of the Earth to local Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust.
As crowds gathered in Hyde Park, TV presenters like Lucy Cooke and Iolo Williams joined Packham and musician Billy Bragg to talk about the need for concerted action to reverse the decline of UK species – and avert their potential extinction.
Industrialisation, urbanisation and over-exploitation were blamed for some of the most dramatic statistics, with changes in farming practices contributing to the loss of flower-rich meadows and millions of farmland birds.
With some walkers dressed as bees, birds, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs, protesters set out to deliver the “People’s manifesto” to Downing Street calling for an end to the “war on wildlife”.
Describing the statistics as “horrifying, depressing and disastrous” the manifesto made a series of recommendations, including twinning primary schools with farms to help children understand how food is produced, banning driven grouse shooting, making it illegal to dredge for scallops and stopping Scottish seal culling.
“It’s time to wake up,” said Packham. “We are presiding over an ecological apocalypse and precipitating a mass extinction in our own backyard. But – vitally – it is not too late. There is hope we can hold to, and there is action we can take.”
The People’s Walk departed for Westminster to the tune of digital birdsong reverberating through the streets of London from hundreds of smartphones.
The manifesto booklet includes a series of essays from 18 “ministers” highlighting some of the most critical concerns affecting the British landscape matched with specific proposals of ways which if implemented, would directly benefit the nation’s wildlife.
Contributors include authors, journalists, environmentalists and campaigners like Dr Mark Avery, Patrick Barkham, Kate Bradbury, Dr Robert Macfarlane and George Monbiot.
THE Kent businessman who invented a pioneering new app to tackle the country’s litter crisis admits it’s been a long, uphill struggle to get people to take his idea seriously.
Launched in a blaze of publicity back in 2015, the idea was a simple one, as Danny Lucas explains: “I decided to tackle the UK litter crisis in a way that had never been done before.
“As a child of the 70s I remembered public information films at school and Keep Britain Tidy logos on every crisp packet and sweet wrapper.
“Whilst that worked back then, it was clear that it had no effect today and I knew a new approach was needed.”
His solution was a simple, free app for smartphone users that allows individuals to tip off their local council with information about litter, dog fouling and fly-tipping. It was accompanied by a two-minute animated education film that could be shown to the kids at school assembly.
By August 2016 Danny was picking up an environmental champions award from the Mayor of Tonbridge in recognition of the contribution LitterGram had had on improving conditions in the borough.
But although he tries to remain positive, two years on he is the first to admit that the scheme hasn’t grown the way he had hoped when he first wrote about the idea of making “hating litter cool” and getting all of the UK’s 433 local councils involved.
“Councils are just not interested,” he says. “Behind closed doors they see us as a pain in the arse.”
Having invested £300,000 of his own money in the project, it’s clear that the lukewarm response has been the source of considerable anger and frustration. As the boss of a multi-million pound business in the construction industry, employing hundreds of staff, this is a man who’s clearly accustomed to getting things done.
The company he owns is the same family-run business he joined as a teenager of 15, and for most of his life he has lived in Kent– the so-called ‘Garden of England’.
“I am proud to be British however when I look around Britain I can’t see what’s great about it any more. Littering has increased by 500% since the 1960s and 48% of the population admit to dropping litter.
“We now spend £1bn per year tackling the problem which clearly does nothing as we are now officially the third most littered nation globally behind countries in the developing world.”
“This is a shocking statistic and purely down to a lack of education and awareness. This has in turn created a culture and attitude across the UK of not caring and has affected the very authorities whose duty it is to maintain standards and set examples. Effectively they now broadcast a message that says “we don’t care” and this fuels the problem.”
Danny was disappointed to find that relatively few head teachers were keen to take up the baton, some insisting that it was parents’ job to teach children about such matters.
Coupled with poor enforcement in many areas of the country, the apathy means that many people become “litter blind”, he believes – because the country is being so trashed and neglected that this is becoming the norm.
Not all council clear-up teams are as efficient as they could be, he believes. That is another waste of money and a cause for complacency, particularly if councils really don’t want to be told about the scale of the problem.
“Councils have to set standards but no one really cares,” he says. “I saw it as a great way to get the kids on board and I thought councils would embrace it.”
The LitterGram Live message of “Snap It. Share It. Sort It” was envisaged as a dynamic and fast-changing service which would include details of the most littered brands, the most active users and the most responsive councils, with enthusiastic litter spotters able to keep up with latest developments on Twitter @LitterGram.
But it hasn’t quite gone according to plan – even though there are dozens of litter-picking groups up and down the country doing their bit to help, and millions of nature and animal lovers doing their bit to highlight the scale of the crisis.
There’s been plenty of publicity in the press and on TV and radio, but that has not translated into LitterGram becoming the “fifth emergency service” as Danny might have wished.
Perhaps even more radical solutions are needed? “Take it off the councils. You could halve the costs and keep Britain spotless,” says Danny. And he’s not exactly joking. But nor is he despondent that the battle has been lost.
“I get phoned up all the time about it, so we are obviously getting the attention of a lot of people,” he says. “One way or another we will get there. The problem is now an epidemic that has a grip on the nation like cancer. If nothing is done, the problem will worsen and our children and their children will be swimming in filth.”
It’s an apocalyptic warning, but even a cursory glance along the average English roadside is enough to demonstrate that this is not empty rhetoric. The problem is there for all to see – and while LitterGram may not have become the quick-fix solution Danny Lucas might have wished for, you get the impression this is one campaigner who isn’t giving up the fight just yet.
KEEPING IT CLEAN: volunteers hit the streets in Hereford [PICTURE: Andrew Wood]
COMMUNITY websites CAN make a real difference when it comes to getting local people to change their littering habits, it seems.
It’s almost a year since Emma Jones and Andrew Wood set up their online community in Hereford dedicated to clearing up local areas, following a community litter pick the friends took part in last Easter organised by Keep Britain Tidy.
That initiative tied in with a local Herefordshire Council campaign called Stop the Drop launched in January 2016 – and a year on, the community clean-up website now boasts more than 1400 members and has its own website too.
“There’s a new national feeling that we have become recycling conscious and getting people to join was relatively easy,” says Andrew, who used local buying and selling websites to put out an appeal for volunteers to get involved.
The council stepped in with litter pickers, high-visibility vests and rubbish bags. From the start, the aim was to encourage individuals to clean up local streets around their homes on a very small scale – and that seems to be having an impact, he believes.
“You need enforcement officers to be fining people to change habits,” he said. “But it has been working very, very well.” Sponsorship from local companies has helped to make the group self-sufficient and the group liaises with those companies on the ground too.
“We will work with Asda to do the area surrounding the car park, for example,” he says. “And we will name and shame too. Companies don’t like the bad publicity if they are not clearing up their own property.”
As well as retrieving supermarket trolleys from the river and notifying the council of fly-tipping incidents, the group has launched a new project to tidy up the flower beds at the main station.
It has also forged links with other groups performing similar roles around the country – from Michelle Medler and her team in Kidderminsterto the Dorset Devils in Bournemouth.
The group has increasingly developed into a social group too, as well as entering a float in the Hereford River Carnival, sprucing up the town for Hereford in Bloom and prompting a major county council campaign against dog fouling.
“We are making a difference,” insists Andrew. “It takes time and it doesn’t happen overnight. But things are changing for the better.”
SUPERMARKET SWEEP: salvaging trolleys from the river
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, Kingsnorth’s 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.
UNDER 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.
LITANY 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?”
BRAVE 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.
SKY’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
IDENTITY CRISIS: can England rediscover its soul? [PICTURE: Steve Harvey, Unsplash]
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.
COTTON 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.
CLEANING 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 Highwayswebsite 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 email@example.com or via the Facebook group, The Beyonder.
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.
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.