On Sunday 28 September, RiverCare and BeachCare groups across East Anglia held events to celebrate World Rivers Day. Volunteers worked to clear rubbish from our region’s rivers, estuaries and coastlines.
World Rivers Day is an event that represents the very ethos of RiverCare and BeachCare volunteer groups and recognises the objectives of these Keep Britain Tidy projects, which are funded by Anglian Water.
I joined the newly established Southend BeachCare group who were clearing litter with the local residents at Two Tree Island Nature Reserve, Leigh Marshes.
At the base of the sea walls, on a low tide, small shore crabs crawled around our feet as we used our own pincers to collect rubbish. High spirits within the group prevailed as over 1,000 gaggling, Siberian Brent geese watched us from the water. These Artic visitors had just arrived after completing an epic migration and they will spend winter feasting on the rich Essex marshes. As I filled my bag with an array of plastics and cardboards, I could not help but wonder how these incredible birds perceive us as they travel across the continent passing by the cities and ports next to the mudflat feeding grounds strewn with our discarded waste.
True to form the rubbish was abundant within the marsh. Mark Bridges, Essex Wildlife Trust Volunteer Warden told me, “Two Tree Island is an amazing site. Our problem is that a lot of rubbish washes up along the shoreline and the situation can be unbearable on big tides. Until we educate people to how to dispose of their rubbish the problem will continue. This is a great shame as Leigh Marshes in an international important site for wildlife.”
So what is all the fuss about? Why is litter such a problem in the area? I think people see rivers and coastlines as an easy option to throw away their rubbish as it will just float away out of sight. But items like sweet wrappers, drink cans, plastic bags and plastic bottles and fishing line can take hundreds of years to degrade, causing havoc in the process. Once litter enters the ocean it can travel tens of thousands of miles – for example, rubber ducks lost from a shipping container in the North Pacific were eventually found near Scotland! In the last 75 years over one billion tonnes of plastic has been dumped in our oceans. Turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and sea birds ingest tiny plastic fragments which are indistinguishable from plankton. Save Our Seas estimated 86% of turtle species, 43% of seabird species, and 44% of marine mammals have plastics in their gut.
Our coastlines face great dangers and Marc Outen, South Essex Reserves Manager, agrees: “The BeachCare group is a very welcome addition to the local volunteering workforce. The BeachCare group of volunteers liaise with the Essex wildlife trust volunteers to clear the saltmarsh and seawall of litter making it a more attractive and safe place for both people and the abundant wildlife. The valuable work undertaken by the BeachCare volunteers will mean more time available for conservation management for the EWT volunteers. It is difficult to put into words the importance of the amazing army of volunteers.”
BeachCare group leader Barry Jackson – a keen naturalist, accomplished wildlife photographer and lifelong visitor to Two Tree Island – is one of those very special volunteer crusaders. “I have been coming here for years as it is an amazing site to photograph wildlife and enjoy the salt marsh spectacle. Litter is a plague on many nature reserves on the Essex coastline and I wanted make a difference. Litter is the bane of my life and I am sick of seeing it strewn along our coastline.”
What is magical about the Southend BeachCare group is the mix of volunteers who all united for World Rivers Day. Full-time horticulturalist and Beachcare volunteer, Katie Sarll epitomised the group’s spirit: “I feel very passionate about the effects litter has on the day in the life of animals and I am here to support Keep Britain Tidy and eradicate rubbish.”
We were lucky enough to be supported by Chris from Cory Environmental and Waste Management. It was so refreshing to see a Waste Manangement Company support an event like World Rivers Day. He had joined us to educate and inform people about managing household waste and Cory’s removed all the litter we had collected.
Two Tree Scouts, who were working towards their Community Award by volunteering for Southend BeachCare, agreed and scout Ben said, “If people could spare one second to put their rubbish in the bin or take it home then the country would be a better place.”
Colin Haddow, Scout Group Commander and keen ornithologist added, “Litter and fly tipping is a real problem for us, especially during boat and canoeing activities. We teach many of our scouts about the value of the environment and being involved in this Beachcare litter pick will go towards their community badge.”
During this one day, we collected 105kg of rubbish, filling 13 bags. The World Rivers Day event at Two Tree Island was a great success and I left Southend feeling inspired and hopeful that BeachCare and RiverCare Groups are making a real difference. It is my hope that we continue to improve and enhance these projects year on year and influence people to take greater care with their litter and appreciate their environment.
Put next year’s event, Sunday 27 September 2015, in your diaries now!