HELPING TO CLEAN UP OUR COAST AND COUNTRYSIDE
This has been a very busy weekend for me as I spent most of my time doing beach cleans as part of World Clean Up Day. As a member of Plastic Free Communities in West Somerset, there were organised beach cleans at Minehead (Saturday morning) and Watchet (Sunday morning) which I joined in with and each day had a good turnout of volunteers willing to help out. Both events started with a 100m sweep of a section of beach to look for all types of litter and micro plastics as well as a general litter pick of the local area. As always, there was plenty to collect, especially cigarette butts where the majority of smokers do not realise how damaging the discarded cigarette is to the marine environment.
On Saturday afternoon, I made my first ever trip to Stolford Beach to see what litter I might find there. Once on the beach, immediately I found plenty of plastic and a different type of litter I'm used to finding. A couple of large cable ties but then so many more plus two pairs of safety goggles and remains of a tape measure. There were other items which seem more connected to the construction industry which I don't normally find on the West Somerset coastline. It maybe a coincidence but with Hinkley Point just a mile down the coast from here, I guess that might be the problem. I struggled back to the car with my first haul before going back to get a couple of other pieces I wanted to get before the high tide took them away. I'm hoping to get back there next weekend to continue along the coast from where I left off.
Today (Sunday) after lunch, I decided to have an afternoon walk at Dunster Beach along towards Minehead. I didn't plan it to be a beach clean so didn't take my litter picking equipment but all the same, made sure I put a couple of sacks in my pocket. I walked along the edge of the incoming tide picking up a plastic bottle as I walked down the pebble bank. a bit further on, I saw spotted something floating in on the tide and saw it was a worker's helmet. I had to wade in to get it so carried it along with me towards Minehead and kept seeing other items along the high tide mark o on my return had to get a sack from my pocket and do an unplanned litter pick. Another thing I found was a huge amount of tangled fishing line which I collected up. By the time I got back to Dunster Beach, I had a sack full of plastic which will be sorted and recycled by the children at school in their marine environment study coming up in a couple of weeks.
Out on the beach again, the warm and calm weather recently attracted people to enjoy an evening barbecue. The majority of people are responsible in removing all trace afterwards. While some choose to build a small fire using driftwood from the beach, the most popular choice is a disposable barbecue which are cheap and easy to ignite. However, these can easily leave lasting damage when used irresponsibly as the unit will be hot enough to set fire to the surface they are on unless it is a fireproof surface. The above photos show 2 local incidents at the weekend where somebody chose to use the unit on a wooden bench causing damage which luckily wasn't more severe. If this had set fire to the bench, the fire could have spread to surrounding area. Sadly, this happens too often during summer months destroying huge areas of countryside as well as wildlife. The other photo shows a disposable barbecue left on the beach along with leftover food, cans and bottles. I collected it all up and disposed of it at home but I do wonder why these people think it's fine to walk away from it for somebody else to clear up or worse still, let the tide take it away.
If you do use one of these disposable barbecues, never use in the countryside. Many areas have banned their use. If using on the beach, make sure it can't set fire to anything nearby. When finished, pour water onto the whole unit and, when cool, take it away along with all other rubbish and leave the site as you found it.
Back from my holiday and back at work, my spare time is still dedicated to litter picking whenever I can. My first visit to the beach was at Blue Anchor and walking along the shore towards Dunster with my litter picking equipment. As well as the usual pieces of marine litter washed up, I found the remains of four helium filled foil balloons all in a very short distance of each other. Only one of these still had the ribbon attached which is an added danger to wildlife. During my holiday beach cleans, I found plenty of these balloons washed up including some huge number shaped remains lying on the shore. Roy Beal, whose story I wrote about in a previous post, saw plenty of balloons floating around in the sea like jellyfish during his solo kayak challenge from John O'Groats to Land End earlier in the summer.
Last month, the Isle Of Man brought in a law banning the sale of these balloons which have no place in our environment. The UK government also need to impose the same law as soon as possible.
I first discovered the beautiful Hebridean island of Islay ten years ago and we have returned many times since. It has many different types of beaches around it's 130 miles of coastline of sand dunes, rocky coves and pebble beaches. The Atlantic Ocean washes the west shores of Islay where the next landfall is St John's, Newfoundfoundland being 2000 miles away.
Sadly, the west coast is where so much marine litter gets washed up on every tide and during my stay on Islay, I made sure I had my litter picking equipment with me at every beach I visited. The open sandy beaches were fairly free of litter except for a few items such as the photo above showing a plastic castle sand bucket just washed up on Saligo Bay. I didn't think there was much else until I got to the northern end of the beach where the pebbles were collecting hundreds of plastic bottle tops and small strips of plastic coating from lobster catchers. Another beach I went to was at Ardnave Point which has a mixture of sand dunes and rocks which is where I found a huge amount of net washed up. Unfortunately, most of it was caught in the sand making it impossible to move. While there, I also collected three sacks of other waste plus a couple of barrels and crates which was a real struggle to carry the thirty minute walk to the car. Every beach seemed to have something different for me such as the sole of a shoe I found in a rock pool at Kilchiaran Bay and when I picked it up found lots of Gooseneck Barnacles very much alive as were a lot more living on a Heinz Tomato Ketchup plastic bottle. I decided these items would have to remain where I found them as there was plenty more for me to find such as the tyres I found washed up in another little cove a couple of hundred metres along the coast. Again, I couldn't take them away but put them well away from the sea so that they wouldn't be washed away again. The other photo shows what remains of many plastic bottles I found but there was so much more which was even smaller.
In total during my two week stay on Islay, I collected 27 sacks of marine litter. Each weighed an average of 22kg giving a total of 594kgs. On top of this were the barrels, crates, tyres and oil drums which I either removed from site or put well away from the sea above the high tide line. The refuse team from Argyll and Bute Council were very good at taking away what I had collected and also supplied me with sacks.
On the last couple of days during my stay, I visited Kintra Beach which is known locally as The Big Strand. It has 7 miles of sand and clear sea but was very quiet. In fact the first day we visited, Netta and myself were the only two people on the beach. The next day, I returned to do one final beach clean. As I walked along the tide line collecting what plastic had washed up, I noticed a lady in the distance walking towards me on the tide line with a bag picking things up. At last! Someone else doing the same as me I thought. As we met, I said "Are you collecting litter too?" She replied "No, seashells but there seems to be more plastic than shells." We chatted about how lovely the island is and how it was her first time on Islay. It did make me feel rather sad though. This lady was happy to pick up things which belong on the shore but didn't think to pick up anything which shouldn't be there. I know everyone likes something to remember from their holiday, but just taking away some marine litter, much of which has been washed clean by the sea, even a couple of pieces would make a difference.
I know there are many island residents including the Islay Development Initiative who regularly go on beach cleans. Until we stop using plastics, this is a never ending challenge.
It's been a busy week doing beach cleans in my spare time with clean ups at Porlock Weir, Bossington Beach, Blue Anchor and Dunster Beach. At Porlock Weir, I collected a sackful of mixed plastics over the space of an hour including lots of fishing line. From there I moved to Bossington Beach where I found lots more plastic but also a large canister containing the remains of 25 litres of paint thinners. I'm pleased to report that when I got it home to test it, there wasn't any sea water in it which is a relief that no contents had leaked out. On the same day, I headed over to Dunster Beach and did a walk along to Blue Anchor and back. The most common I collected was various items of clothing washed up including a cardigan, child's hat, one sock, one glove, three separate flip flops, a tee shirt and the remains of a towel, all which are heavy to carry when soaked in sea water!
Yesterday, I returned to Dunster Beach and headed west to collect beach litter as far as Warren Point and again found plenty including a piece of vintage litter in the form of the remains of a Kia Ora Orange Drink which has obviously been floating around in the sea for a few decades. I also found six golf balls lost from the adjoining golf course and as always, recycled them by passing them on to golfers who are always grateful.
Well, I'm having break from litter picking on Exmoor and the West Somerset coastline for couple of weeks while I take a well earned holiday on the Hebridean island of Islay. Of course, I'm taking my litter picking equipment with me and will be spending lots of time exploring everything that Islay has to offer, including the nine (count them) nine distilleries!
I'll keep you posted of my adventures.
My latest litter pick was part of a community event for 'Plastic Free Watchet'. Many towns and villages across the country are working towards becoming 'Plastic Free' as part of campaign run by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage. Watchet is not alone in West Somerset by having this status. Minehead and Porlock Vale have also received this award with Exmoor soon to join them.
My wife Netta and I took our own equipment along and started as soon as we got out of the car as there was plenty of litter there. Once that was tidy, we walked up to West Beach to see what had been left or washed up there. We found the usual drinks cans and plastic bottles, lots of other plastic, a heavy piece of material, a plastic sandal and a couple of glass bottles. There was also a piece of branch with lots of fishing line tangled up with some bird deterrent spikes which could have been dangerous to both wildlife and humans. At the top of the beach below the sea wall, our time was taken up by picking up cigarette butts which had been dropped over the wall by smokers who are oblivious to the harm these cause to sea life. As well as plastic, cigarette filters are comprised of thousands of chemical ingredients including arsenic, lead and nicotine. These are very toxic to fish could easily see a cigarette butt floating around in the sea as potential food.
Once we left the beach, we walked through the town to the group meeting point at Splash Point. Again, there was plenty of litter to collect on our way including lots more cigarette butts, especially outside licensed premises. The photo above shows another litter source being an overfilled wheelie bin. Being a Sunday lunchtime, it probably wasn't even collection day. Seagulls and weather could help scatter this rubbish around the streets. Businesses can easily do their bit to make their local area more attractive to potential customers by having a tidy up outside their premises each day as they open up.
A good business model is Belsize Village NW3 who noticed how footfall had fallen drastically and businesses were closing down. The community got together and tidied the area up, organised better refuse collections and recycling, planters were put along the square with plenty of seating added. It is now considered to be the tidiest area in London and new businesses have filled the area which now boasts having London's first 'Streatery'.
Back to Watchet, around twenty people joined in the clean up event with everything which was collected being recycled where possible. The event ended with a community picnic, plastic free, of course!
At the weekend, the change in the weather coincided with some high tides which is always good for the sea to throw some plastic back onto our beaches. I saw posts on social media from lots of people who managed to get down to the coast and collect lots of rubbish. I was back at Blue Anchor on Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours to collect what I could find and that was plenty! 23 plastic bottles washed up along with other things including a large tyre inner tube which was full of sea water so I had to make a hole in it and leave it to drain and would pick it up on my walk back. Now that summer is here, another popular thing to find is items of clothing where people have left them below the tide line and gone for a swim only to find when they come out of the water, the tide has washed their clothes away. Towels are a bit of a nightmare as they are so heavy to carry with the weight of salt water on them. I usually have to put all wet clothing in a separate bag to make it easier to carry.
After I finished at Blue Anchor, I decided to drive over to Bossington Beach where I expected to find plenty washed up but I'm sure somebody must have cleaned up already which was great. I still did a 90 minute walk with my bag and collected a few things and on the way back along the beach, a large beach ball washed up which I picked up before the waves could carry it away again.
Yesterday evening during the current heatwave, I went down to Blue Anchor Beach for my latest beach clean. The first three items I found within a short distance on the afternoon tide line was a broken tennis ball (early stages of breaking up) and two separate pieces of tennis ball covering. While picking these up, a group of people at the chalets called down to thank me for what I was doing which is always appreciated! Most of what I collected during my walk along to Dunster Beach and back was plastic apart from a few drink cans which had obviously been in the sea for a long time. The face mask I found was as shown in the picture with stones left on it. It would be nice to think somebody had spotted it and put the stones on it to prevent it ending up in the sea. The wristband from the Grand Pier in Weston Super Mare must have washed down the channel to this point. I have found similar pieces of plastic before but not identified them as there was no print left on it. They may well have come from a different location. I have looked at the Grand Pier twitter account and pleased to see they have an active litter picking group which is good to know. It would be even better to aim for a reduction in plastic use. The other photo shows an empty dog poo bag which claims to help the environment more than it does. After finding four bags of dog poo on the beach before that, it was one poo bag too many! The bag has a Facebook page link but on searching, the page no longer exists. Anyway, that section of beach is now clear of plastic. Well, until the next high tide.
I've been asked if I just litter pick locally or if I cover other areas. Yes, most of my litter picking is local to Exmoor and West Somerset. When I go on holiday, my litter picking equipment is in the car for me to spend a bit of time improving the local environment there as well. The photos above include some litter info displayed in coastal locations in Ireland plus a #2minutebeachclean 'A' board. I spent a bit of time collecting plastics on the coast near Malin Head. On another occasion, I had a week on the Isle of Jura where there are more deer than humans on the island which is a beautiful place and is kept very clean. However, I hired a bike while I was there and, on a cycle ride between the car ferry and the small village of Craighouse (home of Jura Distillery), I spotted litter which had probably been thrown from visiting vehicles. Towards the end of my week there, I went and collected all the litter (in the above photo) I could find knowing that I had left this lovely island tidier than I found it. This summer, I am spending 2 weeks on the Isle of Islay which is also in the Inner Hebrides with seas coming from the Atlantic so again, I will be taking my litter picking equipment to collect anything I find which shouldn't be there.
Today I was back at Porlock Weir for another beach clean and was fortunate enough to meet up with Roy Beal who is Kayaking all the way from John O'Groats to Lands End. He left Brean on this morning's tide and arrived at Porlock Weir on low tide so it was luck I was there to help him carry his belongings and more importantly his kayak up the beach so that it didn't get damaged. After a pint in The Bottom Ship, I interviewed Roy about his adventure on Day 48.
So Roy, congratulations on getting this far! What made you decide to take part in this challenge? Mainly to raise awareness that littering, especially plastics can have in the marine environment. When did you start planning this trip? The idea first came to me around two years ago and initially, I was going to start at Lands End to John O'Groats but the pandemic occurred so earlier this year once Covid restrictions started lifting, I decided to do John O'Groats to Lands End instead and be a bit different. You're doing this for charity I understand. Which charities are they? Yes, I'm doing this for two charities which are 'Keep Britain Tidy' for the litter, plastics and environment side of things but I'm also supporting paddle sport safety and safety on the water so I'm raising money for 'Plan B' charity as well. So where can people find out more about this? If you go to www.kayakingforcharity.co.uk that also has the links for the donation pages and also links for social media. So Roy, tell me the route you've been on. So from John 'O'Groats, I paddled down the east coast of Scotland to Inverness, down through the Caledonian Canal, through the Inner Hebrides, across the Crinan Canal and the rest of Scotland to England, down the Irish Sea until I reached the River Dee and headed to Chester and took the canal network and River Severn to Sharpness and then down the Bristol Channel. What is the best part or highlight of your trip so far? The first thing that comes to mind is on the second day when a pod of dolphins came and swam next to me and stayed with me for about three minutes before they disappeared which was amazing. I got to see my first Puffin, a beautiful little bird and along the way I've met everything from beautiful seals and other wildlife to the amazing people who have been generous and supportive along the way. What about the worst part? When I got caught at low tide on some sandbanks and I couldn't find a way through and ended up having to back track a couple of miles through surf, wind, rain and fog which is probably one of the lowest points and hardest parts. The sandbanks were around ten feet high and I just couldn't see where I was going. So, what about litter and plastics. Have you seen much of that on your journey? Yes, unfortunately I've seen a lot of that and some beaches having a quite lot of plastic just washed up and I've not been able to remove it as I've only got a kayak which is fully loaded. I've found quite a lot of stuff in the water. Balloons have been the main thing I've noticed as well as tennis balls which presumably are dog owners throwing them in. Also crisp packets sweet wrappers and food packaging. So, you're leaving Porlock Weir tomorrow morning about 9? Yes, about 9 o'clock on the tide. Well, good luck on the rest of your journey Roy. Just let us know your social media details before we go. On Facebook it's Kayaking For Charity which is all on the website kayakingforcharity.co.uk and if you're an Instagammer you can look for Top Down Kayak Challenge. Well thanks Roy, it's been lovely talking and again, the best of luck. END.