Volunteers will survey the state of nature in the Chilterns and benefit from training courses in species identification and surveying techniques, with enthusiasts and experts joining forces to “own their patch”.
The data will then be used to track trends across the landscape and inform practical woodland, grassland and farmland habitat management projects.
Following on from the recent State of Nature report the project is calling for amateur surveyors to work with the experts across 50 1km survey squares to tell the story of the landscape, through understanding the relationship between different species groups.
The project will dovetail with existing national recording schemes (Breeding Bird Survey, Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey and National Plant Monitoring Scheme) to bolster coverage in a ground-breaking new partnership.
Unique to the project is its mentoring programme for those who can identify quite a few birds, butterflies or plants but want to learn more about surveying these local species.
The project will last initially for four years, starting in spring 2020. Volunteer surveyors are needed during the spring and summer.
To register an interest or find out more, contact the project lead, Nick Marriner, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chalk, Cherries & Chairs is an ambitious five-year scheme which aims to connect local people to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns through 18 interweaving projects.
The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) is one of 46 Wildlife Trusts working across the UK to protect .wildlife and special places for generations to come.
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is a UK charity that focuses on understanding birds and, in particular, how and why bird populations are changing.
Butterfly Conservation (BC) is the UK wildlife charity dedicated to saving butterflies, moths and our environment.
IT MIGHT be a barn owl, steam train or buzzing insect.
But whatever the sound, young people across the Chilterns are being encouraged to “listen to their landscape” in a unique project designed to promote mental health and wellbeing.
The ‘Echoed Locations’ project encourages 16- to 20-year-olds to get out into nature and urban spaces which are significant to them and contribute to the first sonic map of the Chilterns.
As part of the five-year Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and spearheaded by the Chilterns Conservation Board, the project will provide free sound recording workshops and online resources to empower youth groups and schools to map the sounds of the Chilterns.
Echoed Locations wants audio recordings from across the Chilterns, from the hoot of an owl to the first songs of the dawn chorus or the morning rush hour.
As the world becomes noisier and yet increasingly focused on the visual, Echoed Locations aims to reconnect people with their local wildlife and cultural heritage through the medium of sound.
Sometimes we can forget to listen to the world around us in an active way, and the project encourages residents to record the sounds around them and help create a sonic legacy of the Chilterns today.
Sound recording workshops help to hone people’s ability to disconnect from the hubbub and distractions of day-to-day life and enjoy the natural sounds all around them.
Anyone can participate by adding audio recordings via the Echoed Locations website page and schools, local community groups and youth groups are encouraged to reach out to book a free sound recording workshop in 2020, although spaces are limited.
Volunteers willing to act as ‘Sonic Champions’ in High Wycombe, Amersham, Aylesbury and Princes Risborough (or the surrounding areas) will help promote the project and be given full training.
Contact Elizabeth Buckley on email@example.com to sign up for a sound recording workshop or as a volunteer, or with any other questions about the project.
IF YOU see one film in 2020, make sure you track down a screening of 2040, an inspiring 2019 Australian drama-documentary directed by and starring film-maker dad Damon Gameau.
Alarming and disarming in equal measure, the film takes the form of a poignant letter to Gameau’s four-year-old daughter Velvet re-imagining how the effects of climate change could be reversed over the next two decades through the creative use of technologies that already exist.
From community-based solar power grids to progressive farming ideas and underwater seaweed beds, the environmentalist offers an upbeat explanation of ways in which workable “regenerative” community projects could help rescue us from the unthinkable alternative.
Set against a backdrop of predictably cutesy soundbites from children around the world talking about the sort of future they want, the film harnesses sophisticated visual effects and clever dramatisation to intersperse interviews with key experts in the climate change discourse in a way that successfully manages to avoid it becoming a montage of talking heads, even if some critics found the offbeat dad jokes and quirky CGI a little too much to handle.
Amid the children’s more outlandish visions of rocket boots and a round-the-clock National Hot Dog Day are some trenchant reminders of the wisdom that comes out of the mouths of the young, and their high hopes for a kinder, cleaner and greener planet are enough to reduce some of the audience to tears.
Yes, there’s scope to criticse the documentary for its “easygoing can-do approach in which there is no great emphasis on sacrifice and not even any obvious sense of emergency”, but although The Guardian’s reviewer only awarded three stars when the film was launched here in November, there was also a recognition of Gameau’s intrinsic likability and the underlying practicality of his approach.
Perhaps more significant is the success with which he moves the rhetoric away from righteous anger and confrontation. Basically he recognises there’s enough eco-anxiety around already and more pessimistic premonitions of doom simply leave us wringing our hands and hiding our heads under the covers.
Yes, the elephant in the room is the backdrop of melting ice sheets and increasing weather abnormalities, but rather than wallowing in fear and despair, Gameau focuses on how local communities in Bangladesh are already harnessing solar power to create micro-grids of electricity, how new farming models can sequester carbon and how new approaches to the cultivation of seaweed could help to promote marine biodiversity.
On his travels he also begins to realise how the education of a new generation of women and an accompanying reduction in population growth could be the single biggest key to success.
The visual letter cleverly juxtaposes visions of how Velvet’s life might have changed in two decades’ time if we make some inspired choices now with subtly understated reminders of the bleak and downright terrifying alternative.
This makes the film an ideal starting point for classroom and community discussions, because we’d all frankly prefer to live in Gameau’s world of green cities, driverless cars and better public transport than consider the prospect of how barren soils and oceans, coupled with rising sea levels and extreme weather, could create a hell on earth and force millions of migrants on the move.
Peopling his film with fellow optimists also allows us to recognise what we too can do to help a new generation of Velvets cope with the realities of modern life. Just as Gameau’s four-year-old must leave her safe bubble of childhood innocence, we also need to reject the blissful ignorance of climate inaction and embrace the opportunity to do our bit for the planet.
The film doesn’t resort to snide attacks or scapegoating, but there’s no shrinking from harsh realities either, of how our current paralysis may be stoked by a negative press which does not discuss solutions to climate change and a fossil fuel industry hell-bent on protecting its commercial interests at any price.
But while the film touches on the immense wealth and power wielded by vested interests to quell political action, it’s significant that some of the solutions are coming from the poorest people in the world whose lives and livelihoods are most immediately affected by intense weather events and rising sea levels.
It also means that our hopes for an optimistic future do not just rest of the innocent naivety of the young, but a groundswell of ordinary people: academics, campaigners, farmers and engineers who are already starting to create a new vision, pushing against the political tide.
Gameau urges us to join the regeneration revolution, and in the first six months after the film’s launch a surprising amount has been achieved.
Not all audiences may feel the documentary manages to occupy the “sweet spot between overexcited hopefulness and grounded realism”, but it does succeed in making a difficult subject eminently digestible for a universal audience.
UK screenings have been organised by environmental protest groups and other campaigners. Keep an eye out for a chance to see Gameau’s eccentric, engaging and essential contribution to the climate change debate at a local venue.
LITTER-PICKERS across the Chilterns have been rallying local communities to help clean up local neighbourhoods this month.
Within minutes of the launch last week of The Beyonder’s “ripple effect” campaign, local groups had been in touch about their activities.
In Chalfont St Peter, Jodie Burridge organised a clean-up day in the village, with another planned for October 5.
In Wycombe Marsh, Jean Peasley was in touch about the Wycombe Marsh Environment Group, which organises a monthly litter pick around the area (below), as well as gardening and planting on small uncared-for patches of land.
In Beaconsfield, the Considerate Beaconsfield group organised a litter pick in August and have another planned for the New Year, while Wooburn Green residents also have a litter-pick planned for September.
Nationally, dozens of such like-minded groups have been keeping in touch via the UK Litterpicking Groups page on Facebook, which has more than 2,000 members.
There are also dozens of similar local initiatives, including the two-minute beach clean movement, the zero plastic lobby and national climate change protests.
The Beyonder’s “ripple effect” campaign was designed to unite the hundreds of like-minded local organisations already doing their bit to keep their neighbourhood clean and spread the word about what more can be done locally to tackle the problem.
The campaign coincided with another international call from action from the Pope on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.
Pope Francis has made many calls for environmental protection and has clashed over climate change with sceptical world leaders such as US President Donald Trump, who has taken the United States out of the Paris accord.
At a local level, his call may resonate with church communities across the Chilterns, many of whom can also organise small-scale local events from litter-picking to education in schools.
This week sees hard-hitting TV anti-litter advocate Jeremy Paxman addressing a two-day conference in Birmingham attended by thousands of recycling and waste business and local authority professionals.
Paxman is patron of the Clean Up Britain campaign, a national campaign specialising in changing anti-social environmental behaviour like littering and fly-tipping, and will be delivering a keynote speech on what he sees as the “national embarassment” of how filthy and run-down Britain looks.
He will tell his audience: “There’s only one sustainable solution, and that’s changing the behaviour of people who do litter. Government-supported initiatives have failed – we need a new joined-up, courageous and innovative approach to win the War on Waste.”
Another national campaigner has also called more a more proactive approach. On Twitter, Quentin Brodie Cooper of Zilch UK has spent the past five years building up a network of more than 12,000 followers working together to eliminate littering.
But he expressed disappointment that the Beyonder campaign focused “entirely on picking up litter rather than trying to do more to prevent it”.
His website lists a number of actions which he believes can make a positive and incremental contribution to the war against littering, including encouraging people to act as human camera-traps in car parks and other places where they can witness and report littering from vehicles.
But Beyonder editor Andrew Knight responded: “We do welcome all contributions to the debate and actively work to promote the work of those campaigners who are co-ordinating the fight.
“But we believe that communities working together can make a real difference in changing attitudes towards this problem. It’s not always safe for members of the public to confront litterers or try to prevent anti-social behaviour themselves, for example.
“However working together communities can help spread the word that littering is unacceptable, and Jeremy Paxman is right about the scale of the problem nationwide.
“It’s not just picking up a few bits of litter that makes the difference, but about thousands of local people spreading the word about how much they genuinely care about the local environment and about leading by example.
“Every week on the UK Litterpicking Groups web pages there are heartwarming stories of small triumphs that show many people do care and want to do their bit to help.”
Locally the National Trust rangers’ team based at Cliveden are still looking for more local litterpickers to help keep paths and car parks clean across 843 acres of land at Maidenhead and Cookham commons.
THE Beyonder has launched a “ripple effect” campaign calling on communities across the Chilterns to join forces in a local war on litter and fly-tipping.
The move follows months of researchinto existing initiatives, speaking to campaign groups, rangers, councils and enforcement teams.
“It’s clear to anyone driving around our area that there is a major problem with littering,” says Beyonder editor Andrew Knight. “It’s becoming an epidemic on our back roads and roundabouts and it has become a national scandal. It’s the same problem we see on bank holiday beaches and people leaving their tents and camping equipment at festivals.
“A significant minority of selfish individuals are acting with complete disregard for our countryside. It’s costing a fortune to clean up, it’s killing our wildlife and it’s leaving us knee-deep in plastic which eventually ends up in our oceans.
“Thankfully the tide is really turning in terms of people’s awareness, but there’s still a long way to go.”
He points to the impact of programmes like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series and praised teenage campaigners like Greta Thunberg for pushing environmental concerns higher up the political agenda.
“It’s easy for people to get angry or disheartened about the sheer scale of the problem, but during the past year we’ve been impressed with the positive news stories from all over the country,” he says.
“From joggers to dog walkers, community groups all over the UK are getting together to clean up public spaces near their homes. It might start with their own garden and spread to their street, estate or village.
“And that shared sense of achievement is very infectious – there are dozens of such groups on Facebook and sharing their experiences helps them cope with the negative things. It keeps people fit, it gets young and old and families out doing something good for the community and the cleaner an area is, the less likely people are to drop litter – the effect really does spread….”
The “ripple” campaign is based on the same principle, he explains, because dotted across the Chilterns are dozens of places where the tough clear-up work is already being done – in country parks and National Trust properties, by scores of parish and town councils, by ordinary farmers and landowners.
“Where property is owned by the Woodland Trust or local wildlife trusts, rangers and volunteers are already on the case, with local families, ramblers and dog walkers all doing their bit to help,” he says.
“The big problem is that the minute you go outside Black Park or Cliveden or a remote footpath and reach a main road, you are confronted with all sorts of rubbish just being chucked out of passing cars,” he says.
“We can’t change people’s habits overnight, but we think the “ripple effect” campaign can make a real difference once the word gets out. We have to get the message out there that this type of behaviour is unacceptable, anti-social and criminal.
“But if most people in the community are behind it and want to keep their town, village or street clean, it will make life a whole lot harder for those few selfish souls who don’t understand or don’t care what they are doing to the planet.”
The online magazine encourages people to get involved in the campaign in any way they can, whether than means picking up a few items of litter when walking the dog, organising a community clean-up or taking steps to reduce the amount of plastic they buy and use at home.
“We hope people will want to get involved and tell us what they are up to,” says Andrew. “We know this will take time and determination and that nothing will change overnight, but our countryside is under siege and igoring the problem is simply not an option.”
For full details of the campaign, and how to get involved, follow the link.
PAUL Kingsnorth has chilled out a lot since the days when he was chaining himself to bulldozers and saw direct action as the best way of changing the world.
We saw this very clearly in the recent documentary by the Dutch TV channel VPRO, which visited him at home in Ireland for a few days to make a film themed around his essay collection Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist.
But that doesn’t mean the writer and environmentalist has given up fighting for what he believes in – as a recent post from his Facebook page shows. And since it speaks for itself, here is Paul’s post in full, complete with links to his own websiteand that of Mary Reynolds, whose project he is discussing.
It’s by no means an isolated project, and the theme has been repeatedly reflected in other Beyonder stories and Tweets, as well as on the most recent series of BBC’s Springwatch. But that doesn’t make the story any less important, so over to Paul:
“Here is something entirely unrelated to my books, etc, which I want to tell everyone about, because I think you should all hear of it.
People often ask me ‘what can I/we do?’ about the ongoing grinding-down of life on Earth by industrial humanity. My twin answer is: nothing. And also everything. My other answer is: action, not ‘activism.’
What I mean by this is: future climate change is inevitable, and we are unable at this point to halt the momentum of the industrial machine, which needs ‘growth’ in order to sustain itself. ‘Growth’ in this context translates as ‘mass destruction of life.’ The human industrial economy is like cancer: literally. It metastasises, it must grow in order to survive, and it grows by consuming its host.
At some stage, this thing will collapse; I would say this is already happening. This creates despair in many people – as does the inability of ‘activism’, argument, campaigning, rational alternatives presented in nice books by well-meaning people, etc, to make any dent in the greed, destruction and momentum of this thing we all live within.
So far, so depressing. And yet, on the human scale, and on the non-human scale too, everyone reading this has the power of rescue. Everything I have just written is, to some degree, an abstraction. Reality is what you live with, and live within: grass and trees, hedgehogs and tractors, people and pavements. Reality is land, and how it is used. The planetary crisis is a crisis of land use. We are using it disastrously, as if it were a ‘resource’, not a living web. We think we own it, and can control it. The Earth is in the process of showing us just how wrong we are.
The alternative is to do the opposite: to build an ark, in which life can thrive. Or rather: a series of arks, all over the country, and the world. Here is a new initiative, set up and run by an Irish woman, Mary Reynolds, who calls herself a ‘reformed landscape designer.’
It is beautifully simple – home-made, very local, accessible to everyone. Its aim: not to ‘save the planet’, but to build small ‘arks’ in our own places – and then to tell people about them. To spread the word, and the idea. Whether you have a field or a window box, this is possible and inspiring and entirely doable. It is real action, and it has real, deeply valuable results. Best of all, it mostly involves doing nothing: just leaving things alone. Which, in my humble opinion, is probably the best way to ‘save the planet’ in the end.
I’d encourage you all to look at Mary’s website, and to ask yourself how you can build your own ark – and tell the world it exists.”
YOU don’t have to be a martyr or a hero to help save the planet. But you do need a certain amount of steely determination.
A few years have passed since California-based zero-waste guru Kathryn Kellogg set out to reduce the amount of waste she produces to almost nothing.
In that time, her eagerness and enthusiasm have also helped her to engage with other people concerned about the future of the planet – to the extent that the 20something’s lifestyle blog attracts more than 10,000 page views a month – and plenty of hate mail into the bargain.
SAVING THE PLANET: zero waste campaigner and blogger Kathryn Kellogg
Interview by the Guardian back in 2016 Kathryn, then 25, admitted to spending four hours a day on the blog, posting on Instagram, engaging with Facebook followers and writing about everything from homemade eyeliner to worm composting.
It was a breast cancer scare during her college years that sparked her interest in thinking about what we put in our bodies. And although the tumours were benign, living with the pain set her thinking about beauty and cleaning products.
“The whole experience really got me thinking about what I put in and on my body. I had never considered it before; I just assumed everything I was consuming was safe,” she recalls.
“What I learned is there’s very little regulation and testing for a lot of the products we buy. Many of these products contain endocrine disruptors which interfere with our hormones. I felt very motivated to take control of my health, try to balance my hormones, and naturally ease my pain.”
She started to reduce her contact with plastic, cooking from scratch, checking her sugar and caffeine intake and making my own cleaning products, and opting for green beauty products.
“After experimenting and moving to a more holistic lifestyle, all of my pain went away,” she says.
COMMUNITY EFFORT: Kellogg encourages followers to get friends and family involved
The aspiring actress majored in musical theatre and performed professionally after college before moving to California where she lives north-east of San Francisco with her husband Justin and their “fluffball” dog Nala.
Nowadays she buys secondhand, uses cloth bags and glass jars for shopping, composts her leftovers and views recycling as a last resort. Her aim is to fit a year’s worth of trash – anything that hasn’t been composted or recycled – into an 8oz glass jar.
Appalled by the litter and plastic lining the streets around her home, she’s also only too well aware that plastic isn’t just bad for personal health, but for the health of the planet.
Interestingly, back in October the global brands analyst team at Mintel identified concern over throwaway plastic as one of six key consumer trends impacting on industries and markets around the world in 2019 – so perhaps the campaigner’s time has come.
“I started my blog to help others improve their personal health, improve the health of the planet, and most importantly I wanted everyone to know their choices matter. Big or small, the changes you make add up to a huge positive impact,” she says.
“Small actions done by hundreds of thousands of people will change the world. You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference, you just have to try.”
Her followers may not quite be ready to follow in her footsteps as far as having a zero-waste wedding (as she did in 2017) or zero-waste Christmases (since 2015). But Kathryn’s enthusiasm is infectious and her message has always been that every little counts.
And for anyone interested in embarking on that first stage in the journey, her blog posts provide easy no-nonsense ways of getting started.
Another zero waste enthusiast is healthy living blogger and vegan Joshua Howard of ecolifemaster.com who has published a guide to waste-free living.
SOMETIMES it’s hard to get an image out of your mind.
For Daniel Webb, that sight was a litter-strewn Kent beach he encountered on an evening run in 2016.
RUBBISH MOUNTAIN: Daniel Webb PICTURE: Ollie Harrop 2018
The 36-year-old had moved to Margate that summer, attracted by the sea, creative community and small-town feel.
But his plastic-riddled run along the coast one evening that September set him thinking about his own personal impact on pollution – just how much rubbish does one person living alone produce, and how much of it is actually recycled?
Surprised to be told by his local council that no recycling facilities were available at his block of flats, he set out to discover just how much plastic waste he produced in a year.
The staggering answer, chronicled in painstaking detail by researcher and earth sciences expert Dr Julie Schneider, was more than 4,400 individual items of plastic, categorised, weighed and photographed in the form of a huge mural used to launch his Everyday Plastic project.
The UK throws away over 295 billion pieces of plastic every year
93% of Daniel’s collected plastic waste was single-use packaging
67% of his throwaway plastic was used to package, wrap and consume food
70% of the plastic he threw away in a year is not currently recyclable
Only 4% of his collection would be recycled at UK recycling facilities
Dr Schneider said: “Daniel’s project was a unique opportunity to finally replace vague assumptions with concrete numbers. For instance, we wanted to know how much of our everyday plastic waste is actually recyclable. Plastic bottles can be properly recycled, but what about the plastic film that wraps our vegetables, pasta and sweets? All the plastic packaging stamped with the ‘not currently recycled’ logo? It turns out that 70% of Daniel’s plastic waste is not currently recyclable! This is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
“I wish everybody could have seen the room where we unpacked one year’s worth of Daniel’s plastic waste. In a massive warehouse in Margate, the floor was completely covered with thousands of plastic pots, trays, bags, films, lids and other everyday items. Everyone that entered the room had the same reaction: ‘Wow, that’s just one person’s plastic waste’.”
But what happens now? As Daniel said at the launch of his report: “We can’t just rely on recycling to fix plastic pollution. Most importantly, we need to produce and use much less plastic. Our fast-moving disposable society means that we are using more single-use things than ever, so we need to rethink how we consume.”
The report was released with the support of Surfers Against Sewage, whose CEO Hugo Tagholm said: “The Everyday Plastic report not only exposes the sheer diversity and volume of single-use plastic we all have to navigate daily, but as alarmingly, the inadequacy of current recycling systems, which only return a paltry amount of material back to shop shelves. Reducing the use of pointless plastics is a priority – there is just too much plastic currently being made. Then, all plastics that remain should be fully accounted for, captured and reprocessed by manufacturers. The future health of people and planet depend on drastically curbing plastic emissions.”
But we can all do our little bit to help, Daniel insists. “If I’d have given up plastic bottles, coffee cups, straws, stirrers, cutlery, carrier bags and swapped shower gel for soap, I would’ve thrown away 316 fewer items in 2017. If only half the UK population did the same thing, we could prevent 10 billion pieces from entering the waste system. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that individuals can’t make a difference!”
And what happens now? Last month Daniel hit his crowdfunding target, raising £4,315 to produce hard copies of the report help set up the Everyday Plastic charity.
“Everyday Plastic has changed my life,” he says. “By doing something weird such as collecting all the plastic I used in a year, I have had the fortunate opportunity to meet, learn from and help hundreds of people. And it’s a journey on which I would love to continue.
“I get to travel up and down the country, sharing my story, my thoughts and learn from amazing people.”
IT’S A shame Thames Water can’t do a little more to clean up its act around the Little Marlow sewage treatment works.
Given that the works lies next door to a nature reserve, you might think some effort could be made to keep the approach road neat and tidy.
But ramblers enjoying the otherwise picturesque circular tour of Spade Oak lake down to the River Thames are once again greeted by a growing pile of fly-tipped debris just where the footpath crosses the approach road to the works.
The pile looks remarkably similar to the rubbish dumped in the same spot some months ago, pictured below.
And given Thames Water’s pledges to invest in the area following its disastrous pollution problems some years ago, you might hope for just a little more effort to prevent the lane becoming a fly-tipping hotspot.
Back in March 2017 Thames Water was fined a record £20.3 million for polluting the River Thames with 1.4 billion litres of raw sewage.
The company allowed huge amounts of untreated effluent to enter the waterway in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in 2013 and 2014, leaving people and animals ill, and killing thousands of fish.
Judge Francis Sheridan handed down the largest penalty for a water utility for an environmental disaster at a sentencing hearing at Aylesbury Crown Court.
Richard Aylard of Thames Water said outside the court that the company had learned its lesson, changed its ways and was also proud to be working in partnership with environmental groups across the area, working to improve rivers.
Following sentencing, Thames Water also announced it would allocate £1.5 million towards projects to improve the rivers, wildlife and surrounding environment at the six locations.
One small step might be to improve the approach road to the Little Marlow works. No one is blaming the company for the fly-tipping itself – but if future incidents are to be prevented, more needs to be done to prevent this becoming a permanent blot on the local landscape.
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.
The Beyonder meets waste enforcement officer David Rounding on Buckinghamshire’s front line in the war against illegal dumping
DIRTY WORK: David Rounding investigates a fly-tipping incident at Burnham
AN IDYLLIC single-track lane in the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside sounds like an unlikely place for a crime scene.
But it’s surprising what goes on in our leafy rural backroads – and for David Rounding there’s sadly nothing out of the ordinary about the location of today’s investigation.
Responding to a tip-off from a concerned local, we’re standing in a small layby on a backroad near Burnham studying a pile of debris dumped at the side of the road.
It’s pretty standard household stuff – a sofa, bed, rug and other assorted bits and pieces. Infuriatingly, it’s less than half a mile from a household recycling centre where the items could have been unloaded legally for nothing.
Instead, they’ve been dumped here – spoiling the sylvan setting and posing a headache for South Bucks District Council, who will now have to clear up the mess. But David’s on the lookout for clues – and is not disheartened.
The waste enforcement officer is part of a small team employed by Buckinghamshire County Council – and he has quite a few weapons in his armoury that can help him solve this latest unpleasant ‘whodunnit’.
FRONT LINE TROOPS: waste enforcement officer David Rounding
“When I started out it was really, really hard to prosecute,” he recalls. But times have changed – and for the past 15 years Buckinghamshire has led the way in the war on illegal waste dumping.
When David took up his job here in 2003, dumping was at a record high and rising, with more than 4,000 incidents a year across the county. By 2013 that had been reduced to under 1,500, partly as a result of an upsurge in prosecutions resulting in substantial fines, compensation payments and even jail.
Sadly fly-tipping is on the rise again – back up to more than 3,000 cases a year locally and costing taxpayers across England more than £57m.
Like other shire counties around London, Buckinghamshire is seen as an easy target because of good transport likes and easy access via the M40 and M25 to deserted country lanes like this one – the sort of idyllic country setting seen in so many episodes of the Midsomer Murders TV series.
From selfish householders leaving mattresses or fridges and rogue traders unloading tyres and plasterboard to criminal gangs dumping waste on an industrial scale, an increasing number of fly-tippers are littering fields, woods, roads and verges with unsightly piles of rubbish like this one.
For nature lovers and local residents taking a ramble or walking their dog, this sort of eyesore raises strong emotions. More than 11,000 fly-tipping cases – six a day on average – have blighted the local countryside in the last five years, costing tax-payers £500,000 a year in clear-up costs.
But it’s not all bad news, and as David Rounding launches his latest investigation, there’s a definite spring in his step.
After starting his career in Halifax he was working for the Environment Agency in 2003 when the various councils in Buckinghamshire first got together to combat the fly-tipping menace.
They realised that proper enforcement of the law was an invaluable deterrent and in the 15 years since the county council and four district councils launched their anti-fly-tipping campaign – ‘Illegal Dumping Costs’ – David and his fellow investigators have successfully prosecuted more than 600 fly-tippers.
As with most crime, a handful of individuals can cause a disproportionate amount of damage to the environment – and in serious cases prosecution can result in imprisonment, as well as hefty fines and compensation awards.
Don’t be fooled by the remote locations, either – in recent years hidden cameras have increasingly helped the team catch the criminals in the act.
REPEAT OFFENDER: John Keenan dumped waste across Buckinghamshire
Like Letchworth builder John Keenan, 33, who was convicted in 2017 after CCTV twice caught him dumping waste from his tipper truck in local villages. Four other incidents of fly-tipping in rural Buckinghamshire and west Hertfordshire were traced back to him and work done by his company in and around London.
Keenan pleaded guilty to two counts of fly-tipping and four charges of failing in duty of care regarding waste he had produced. He was sentenced to 16 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs totalling more than £4,700.
The cameras are a welcome boost for the enforcement team, who have seen detection rates improve. “We are becoming better and better at convicting people. If the evidence is there, we will get them to court,” says David. “Since 2010 we have been averaging more than one conviction a week, and they each pay around £1,500 in fines and costs.”
Signs at dumping hotspots advertise the surveillance cameras but a succession of fly-tippers still get caught out. But CCTV accounts for only 40 per cent of the team’s convictions. Eye-witnesses account for another 20 per cent of convictions, with sharp-eyed members of the public equally keen to help catch the criminals spoiling their environment.
There aren’t many things which ruffle David’s composure, but he does get a little irritated by some of the myths which surround fly-tipping – like the claim that fines don’t get paid and costs aren’t recouped.
Last year alone, the team achieved 72 convictions and court-awarded costs of more than £75,000 towards the councils’ clean-up and legal costs, he points out.
“If you look at the evidence the fines and compensation costs do get paid,” he insists – and on top of that there’s the estimated £3m savings made over the past decade because of not having to clear dumped waste and send it to landfill.
Armed with the sort of evidence his team can gather, the net cost of a prosecution may be only around £300. But while nearly two thirds (62%) of fly-tipping convictions are for the act of dumping, the people who produced the waste can be prosecuted too for failing their duty of care if they do not ensure their rubbish is being disposed of legally.
David believes this is something many people may not realise, which could lead to someone unwittingly facing a heavy fine and a criminal conviction after paying someone else to get rid of their unwanted household items.
And he warns that cash payments to strangers are a recipe for disaster. It’s a trend that has been fuelled in the past couple of years by so-called “Facebook fly tippers” offering cheap waste collection services.
The waste detectives have become experts at finding clues to identify the source of dumped rubbish. And although David recalls late-night raids and dawn swoops with police when known dumpers have been caught red-handed, it is the sifting of rubbish for clues which he excels at and which brings 40 per cent of convictions.
SMALL PRINT: David’s team are expert at sifting through rubbish for clues
The enforcement team works closely with Thames Valley Police, which can make it easier to trace a vehicle’s movements when a crime has been committed – and there’s close co-operation in more serious cases involving crooked commercial operators and even organised gangs.
Other crimes can also result in waste being dumped in rural areas, from professional shoplifters disposing of incriminating evidence to drugs stashes and paraphernalia from cannabis farms.
Another worry is an upsurge in more serious waste dumping by organised criminal gangs, and David’s next call is to visit a council site in High Wycombe where lorryloads of waste were dumped – the latest in a series of such incidents across Buckinghamshire in recent months.
Such large-scale, serious or organised dumping is investigated and potentially prosecuted by the Environment Agency, but their resources are hard-pressed and such crimes are on the increase, so David is only too keen to provide any practical help he can.
Clamping down on the criminals is also good for legitimate waste carriers, he points out, who potentially lose millions in business. But although the short-term profits may be tempting for lazy criminals, David is keen to make sure the prosecutions count.
One man was fined more than £1,000 for adding to rubbish which had already been dumped at the roadside by someone else. In January a Slough man was fined £2,200 for dumping 19 sacks of rubbish in Fulmer, and last month a Calvert Green man was fined £2,000 for dumping boxes near Aylesbury.
There have been a number of other successful prosecutions, as David has highlighted on his Twitter account.
“They might think the money makes it worth the risk but they can serve up to five years in prison, and we have jailed a few,” he points out.
To report a fly-tipping incident to David and his colleagues, visit the county council’s web page or the Fix My Street website.
GOING 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 Litterlessespouses 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.
LESS 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.
ROADSIDE 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 fly–tipping 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.
EYESORE: 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.
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.
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 CLUB’s 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).
IT’S A crime which would tax even the redoubtable Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby: how to prevent the Chilterns’ picture postcard landscape from being swamped by a tide of unsightly litter.
It’s an open secret that many of the picturesque but deadly villages which feature as backdrops to the long-running detective drama are spread across Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
Co-creator Brian True-May, who produced more than a dozen series of the show between 1997 and 2011, hails from Great Missenden and one Oxfordshire villages website lists dozens of Chilterns locations where different episodes have been filmed.
Visit Midsomer is a website developed by South Oxfordshire District Council to help visitors to discover the locations filmed for the TV programme. It says: “Fans know Midsomer as the home of traditional pubs, village greens, fetes and Sunday afternoon cricket.
“They watch the improbable number of murders committed in dastardly yet creative ways, and solved by the unflappable Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby of Causton CID. But that’s the fictional Midsomer County.
“The real-life Midsomer Murders locations are spread across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire where towns and villages have names every bit as wonderful as their fictional counterparts. South Oxfordshire’s villages, stately homes, stone cottages and market towns provide around half of the filming locations.
“This rural English countryside is a short distance outside of London and easily reached for a relaxing short break.”
But visitors taking a tour in the footsteps of Inspector Barnaby might be disappointed to discover the scale of the problem local councils face with fly-tipping and litter pollution. And while councils across the area spend millions keeping the villages and towns as pristine as possible, main roads across the region are harder to clean up.
Beyonder co-editor Andrew Knight said: “You don’t have to drive very far around Buckinghamshire to find roadside verges and laybys which are awash with litter.
“It looks disgusting and it’s totally avoidable. It’s hard to understand the mindset of someone who just throws coffee cups, plastic bottles and half-eaten takeaway meal wrappings out of their car window, but the evidence is there across the Chilterns – and it’s getting worse.
“Our councils do what they can, any many villages, parks and National Trust properties are kept pristine for visitors. But that’s not possible for all the main roads in the area.
“We have to find ways of attacking the problem at source – educating young people about the environment has got to be a long-term solution. But we also want to look at ways of helping to clean up our main roads and stop people dropping their rubbish in the first place.”