Serious litter pickers come equipped.
Sturdy bags, protective gloves, extra long picking poles, all-weather gear and boundless energy and enthusiam.
Scientific litter pickers go even further with tweezers for grabbing miniscule micro plastics, marker frames and clipboards.
We’re more the casual ‘see a bit of rubbish, pick it up and pop it in a bin’ style of picker so it was eye-opening to go on one of Warm Norm’s litter picnics at a local beauty spot.
Cuckmere Haven in the Seven Sisters Country Park is a popular place for walkers, swimmers, cyclists, bird watchers, school field trips and family outings.
There’s a broad sweeping track for those with wheels, that follows the river down to the pebbly beach and a myriad of branching paths around the river bends for those with hiking boots and a good sense of balance.
It’s a designated wildlife reserve with flocks of sea and land birds wheeling and calling overhead.
Loads and loads of plastic.
The detritus of more than 50 years of human work and play, brought in with the tide and washed up on the river banks.
We love travel, and are great advocates for what it can do to broaden minds, bring down barriers and introduce new ideas.
But now more than ever we need to travel mindfully.
If Covid has done anything good, it must be that we’re all becoming more aware, alert to the impact we have wherever we go and more appreciative of the treasures on our own doorsteps.
The message of ‘take your litter home’ has been around for years and all but the most thoughtless do their best not to add to the ever-growing mountain of waste we humans produce.
But it’s shocking that even in areas as well loved and cared for as nature reserves, the problem of non-degradable plastic waste is absolutely, gut-wrenchingly huge.
The rising tide of plastic
‘There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere.’
The words of Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, ring true for anyone who travels and the statistics are eye-watering:
• More than 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic are expected to be dumped on land or in water bodies, including the ocean, by 2040.
• Research shows that plastic usually gathers where ocean currents meet, forming plastic islands that disrupt sea creatures’ natural habitats.
• Plastic may never truly bio-degrade; so by 2040 there could be 600 million tonnes in our world’s waters.
• More than 30 million tonnes of plastic are dumped on land each year and much of that ends up in the sea, blown by high winds or illegally dumped.
• Current government and industry commitments worldwide would cut the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean by only 7% by 2040. Global plastic production is expected to increase by 40%.
As an individual it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these numbers, but there is a lot we can all do.
Ditch the plastic bags:
In England the charge for a plastic bag in shops has risen from 5p to 10p, and it now applies to more than just the big supermarkets and stores.
The policy has seen a drop of 95% in plastic bag use since it was introduced in 2015. Now the focus moves onto the plastic based ‘Bags for Life’ with both Co-op and Morrisons phasing them out.
Cutting back on bottled water:
At home we have a Sodastream for Pork Belly’s fizzy fix and always try to use the Refill system when we’re out and about.
Swappping bottled toiletries:
Find shampoo and conditioner bars (preferably ones that don’t use palm oil).
Re-use as much as possible and recycle as a last resort.
Find a litter-pick adventure near you.
Warm Norm and his Green Sock Movement
We met Warm Norm on a rainy Saturday morning, as he greeted people entering Cuckmere Haven country park.
Standing by the figure of Oceania made from rubbish he’s reclaimed over the past few years , raindrops dripping from his hat, he chats to anyone who’s willing to spare the time about the damage these old, forgotten plastics are doing.
‘I’ve always been interested in the environment and wherever I’ve been in the world I’ve done litter picks and beach clean-ups. Then I found out about this coastline and just how much plastic there was here. So I thought, something’s got to be done.’
He set up Beachy Head and Seven Sisters Extreme Plastic Objects Removal project (BHASSexplore) as a co-operative; a loose affiliation of environmentally conscious people, taking local action to remove as much plastic and man-made junk as possble from the iconic coastal strip.
Often their activities are specialised, requiring determination, seafaring and logistic skills and an adventurous spirit.
But every month Norm and a few supporters pitch up at the country park to encourage all of us – dog-walkers, families, casual strollers – to get involved.
Wearing green socks is optional.
Warm Norm’s litterpick picnic events go ahead all year round, in all weathers and over the past few years he and his band of volunteers have picked up hundreds of tonnes of plastic. The local council then takes it to the energy recovery facility at Newhaven, to produce electricity to power local homes.
Warm Norm encouraged us: ‘Pick up a bagful, or even just a few bits in your pocket. Taking away the tiny bits really helps, they’re just as important.’
Heading off through the rain, we couldn’t see at first how best to help. We’d been told the river banks were strewn with plastic, but the walk down towards the beach seemed remarkably clean.
But before long we realised what lies beneath. Towards the more tidal end of the estuary you only need to look down at the path, under the straggly hedges and on the river banks to see it all – pen tops, broken toys, bottle caps, fishing line, plastic rope and thousands upon thousands of tiny micro beads.
It’s here we met another bunch of volunteers – the more scientific kind. A group from Strandliners were in action, tweezering up the teeny-tiny bits of plastic that are so dangerous to marine and bird life. Hunkered down against the brisk May breeze, they patiently picked, potted and recorded everything they found.
Whilst Warm Norm’s focus is on clearing up as much as possible, the Strandliners volunteers focus on creating a data-rich picture of environmental pollution, so steps can be taken to stop it at source.
With a crisis as overwhelming as plastic pollution, everything helps.
And maybe the next pick in June will be a little sunnier!
How you can help clear up plastic waste
Think global, act local
Take a look at Greenpeace’s campaign to stop the export of plastic waste from the UK to other countries.
Join the Keep Britain Tidy Annual Great British Spring Clean (28 May – 13 June 2021).
Join a Beach Clean near you with the Marine Conservation Society
Follow BHASSExplore on Facebook for details of their next litter picnic at Cuckmere Haven.