Bridget Graham sifts through the issue of litter and takes heart from initiatives to tackle it in Dorset.
Published in August ’16
Even in Dorset, there is litter. While the county’s beautiful coastline and countryside attract thousands of visitors each year, litter is dropped on its pavement and footpaths, thrown into gutters and verges and left on beaches. It wastes resources and affects the local economy, the environment, wildlife, and Dorset residents who care about their communities.
According to Keep Britain Tidy, at the top of the most-littered list are smokers’ material, confectionery wrappers, soft drinks containers and fast-food packaging. A cigarette stub takes twelve years to disintegrate, a plastic bag ten to twenty years and a plastic bottle a chilling 450 years.
It is estimated that litter removal has cost English taxpayers between £717 and £850 million a year over the past twelve years. Following lengthy campaigns, much lobbying and a 2015 parliamentary committee report, a national litter strategy is now promised. But with more central government funding cuts, services are under pressure – Dorset CC has to make bone-scraping savings of £13m this year. So there is a sharp emphasis on effective partnerships between local authorities, service-providers, businesses, campaigners and the voluntary sector.
Litter Free Coast and Sea, the community campaign that aims to reduce beach litter and improve marine bathing water on the Jurassic coast, takes just this necessary approach. It undertakes effective, research-backed projects and offers creative programmes for businesses, schools and beach-users, together with advice, resources and support. A volunteer-driven counterpart to cover inland Dorset is now in development. Working with Dorset Waste Partnership and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Litter Free Dorset has already promoted the twenty new or existing community litter-picks around the county that were part of Keep Britain Tidy’s national litter blitz ahead of HM The Queen’s 90th birthday in April.
Burton Bradstock’s Clean for the Queen event was one of these, absorbing its usual annual April ‘village deep clean’ event. The higher profile event attracted new volunteers and cleaned up more litter than usual. The village’s original annual clean-up was started by six residents who realised that councils cannot remove litter from every rural cranny and that perhaps they could do something about it. Importantly, the group now turns its skills to a regular schedule of conservation and repair projects around the village in consultation with
the Parish Council and with the full backing of the village.
Litter levels on busy roads such as Burton Bradstock’s coastal road are a harder nut to crack. Some volunteer groups can clear litter quite safely on roads with speed limits over 30 mph, but generally it is not endorsed by local authorities (nor recommended by Dorset Life). Frank Roberts of Swanage Army Link and five fellow-volunteers removed 49 bags of litter when they cleaned for the Queen along the busy A351 between Corfe Castle and Swanage. They sensibly chose to work at 3 am when traffic is scarce and drivers can see flashing safety lights, but then this team takes all safety precautions and has the right kit. Dorset Waste Partnership collected the bags from agreed pick-up points.
Over at Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Great Heaths project, Wildlife Skills Trainee Jack Bedford explains litter’s effect on wildlife and natural habitats. The project sites lie cheek-by-jowl with populated areas and major roads and offer residents a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the living landscape on their doorstep. But litter can get left even here. ‘Some people don’t understand how their actions affect wildlife and the wider environment,’ Jack explains, reflecting the sentiments in Chris Packham’s photographs for Lidl’s and Keep Britain Tidy’s recent campaign. Litter is a serious hazard to mammals, birds, fish, micro-organisms and habitats. Nutrient-rich dog waste is detrimental to heathland so dog walkers can help by bagging it and binning it at home. (Tip: use two bags.) Fly-tipped green garden waste has a similar effect and can also bring in invasive plants and seeds. Bins are not an option: they can host fires that put people’s homes and lives at risk, devastate wildlife and disrupt traffic if smoke blows over roads.
Marine litter poses a similar threat but on a global and uncontrollable scale. To get an idea of the challenge, have a look at artist Mandy Barker’s images (see Useful Links box). The type and location of litter, how and how often it arrives on beaches dictate approaches to its removal. Izzy Imset, manager of a dive centre on Portland, volunteers as co-ordinator of Chesil Cove Guardians, who were formed following a remarkable response to the mass of marine litter washed up in the 2014 storms that threatened coastal and marine wildlife with injury, poisoning and death. Over 300 people responded to the emergency Facebook ‘shout’ – some driving three hours to help. The litter filled four skips and included 300 metres of net, crates, gloves, boots and milk cartons, much of it evidently from Atlantic commercial shipping and fishing vessels.
Surfers Against Sewage, the charity that combats marine litter around the country, has two volunteer representatives in Dorset. Marine biology and conservation student Jess Bone campaigns in Weymouth and Portland, while Ally Cattaneo, an interior designer who grew up surfing and windsurfing, campaigns in and around Bournemouth. ‘We need to reduce our use of plastics. We can’t leave this to our children and grandchildren to sort it out,’ Jess says. She now organises a monthly litter-pick on Chesil Cove that complements the Guardians’ emergency storm work. In Bournemouth, Ally organises a team of lead volunteers to run the summer and autumn Big Beach Cleans which remove spent barbecues, plastic bottles and cigarette stubs which, when soaked in water, leach a mix of nicotine, arsenic, heavy metals and micro-plastics toxic to marine micro-organisms.
Countering the pest of cigarette litter has formed a lot of the work of Dorchester Stop the Drop campaigners Bob Kerr and Felicity McLaren. From 2009 to 2012 they oversaw the installation of 100 wall-mounted stub bins in Dorchester’s streets. They have lobbied councillors and council officers, public bodies and businesses and have won funding to equip the seventeen independent local litter champions who clear their own areas. With seven years’ experience, they feel that to push local litter up council agendas, residents must report it regularly.
Ally Cattaneo and Jack Bedford each flagged up the hazards of balloons and sky lanterns. Birds get entangled and long before latex bio-degrades, it is often eaten by marine life with long, painful and fatal results. Litter Free Coast and Sea’s co-ordinator, Natalie Poulter, provided a wake-up statistic: in a single beach clean, 82 balloons were found. Sky lanterns pose a fire risk and contain lacerating wire. The National Farmers’ Union and the Marine Conservation Society are against both and several councils around the UK have banned mass releases. Litter Free Coast and Sea is working with a range of parties to reduce releases – sightings can be recorded by tweeting to #balloonsdorset – or if you find them on the beaches at Friars Cliff (Christchurch), Bournemouth Beach, Studland, and Bowleaze Cove (Weymouth), the home of the new #2minutebeachclean stations, you are asked to post a shot of your find to social media using the hashtag. These brief beach cleans are the idea of writer and campaigner Martin Dorey. From these A-board beach-clean stations, anyone can do their bit and get an insight into Dorset beach litter.
Over in Bournemouth, the town itself is looking cleaner thanks to the work of the Dorset Devils, started in 2013. Key to its success is its publicity-minded approach: it has grown to a hundred members and they have now removed nearly 2000 bags of rubbish. Members choose when they pick their agreed patches, and then team up to clear major grot spots. Networkers par excellence, they participate in community events and are a well-equipped, well-trained and well-supported team. ‘We aim to be an example, encourage people to take pride in Bournemouth and enlighten others about litter,’ they explain, ‘and we have fun at the same time’.
The benefits of all these efforts are clear: the environment is cleaner, resources can be recycled, residents retain pride in their community, visitors feel welcome, there is growing awareness of the issue and more wildlife is protected. An unexpected spin-off is that volunteer groups generate huge social benefits. ‘As well as a cleaner, smarter village, comradeship is the thing we probably gain the greatest satisfaction from in doing this,’ says Peter Tompkins of Burton Bradstock’s volunteer group.
www.sas.org.uk (Surfers Against Sewage)