From microfibres and nurdles to lost Lego, PPE and ghost nets, the UK generates a vast amount of plastic and litter. Research suggests that taking time to clean up a beach, river or trail can boost mood, reduce anxiety and even help people make new friends. The Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean begins tomorrow (17 September), with more than 400 beach cleanups taking place across the UK. In its 27th year, it’s the longest-running beach cleaning and citizen science event in Britain. Join an event near you, organise your own, or take part in one of these other entertaining cleanups happening later in the year.
Paddleboarding cleanup, several locations
On Planet Patrol’s cleanups, participants paddleboard, parkour and yoga their way to plastic-free beaches and rivers. The pioneering non-profit is going from strength to strength, and its latest project involves creating a water-testing kit so volunteers can check the water quality during their cleanups too. “Our waterways get a lot of bad press but they are some of the most beautiful parts of England. It’s not just litter picking – it’s about going out and appreciating what we have,” says founder and paddleboard adventurer Lizzie Carr. The cleanups are fun and sociable, with many volunteers making new friends, and no previous experience of paddling is required. In September there are Planet Patrol paddleboard and kayak cleanups in Richmond, London (19 and 25 Sep), Cardiff (19 Sep), Nottingham, Manchester, Glasgow and more UK locations, as well as a yoga and beach clean session in Scarborough (25 Sep).
See website for dates, planetpatrol.co/clean-ups
Beach clean, Spey Bay, Scotland
Part of the Great British Beach Clean, this coastal cleanup at the Scottish Dolphin Centre in Spey Bay is an opportunity to help protect the world’s most northerly pod of bottlenose dolphins and maybe spot them leaping around the bay. Housed in a historic salmon fishing station, the centre’s exhibitions, cafe and gift shop are open all day. The centre is located on the Moray Coast Trail, a spectacular clifftop path that links forests, beaches and pretty harbour villages. Dress appropriately for the weather and wear sturdy shoes for trekking across the long shingle beach.
26 September, free, 1pm-3pm, mcsuk.org
Coastal cleanup, Gweek, Cornwall
Ghost fishing nets are death traps for dolphins, seals and seabirds and more of them appear along the Cornish coast than anywhere else in the UK. Ocean adventurers Steve Green and Monika Hertlová of Clean Ocean Sailing journey to coves, inlets and other hard-to-reach places, and in three years have hauled 55 tonnes of ghost gear and other debris from the rocks. You can join them in a kayak, canoe or rowing boat for a day trip along the Helford River and out to sea. Inexperienced paddlers are welcome and if you’re lucky, your efforts will be rewarded with a Cornish pasty and a pint.
Throughout October and November, free, Clean Ocean Sailing
Waterfront clean-up, Plymouth
Be a citizen scientist for the day on a cleanup along the beaches, riverbanks and waterfront of Britain’s ocean city, and the data you collect will be used in Preventing Plastic Pollution, an international research project studying litter pollution along the English Channel coastline. The litter picks, run by Plymouth’s National Aquarium, take place come rain or shine so dress accordingly. Make it a great family day out with a trip around the aquarium, where you can learn about the creatures inhabiting the Plymouth Sound, and see sharks, stingrays and tropical fish up close.
Every Tuesday until end of November, free, oceanconservationtrust.org
Beach clean, Jurassic Coast, Dorset
Led by sea kayaker Roy Beal, Clean Jurassic Coast’s network of ecowarriors valiantly cleared up when crowds swarmed to the Jurassic Coast in the summer of 2020 and left 33 tonnes of rubbish behind. As well as organising beach cleans, Beal recently kayaked 900 miles from John o’Groats to Land’s End to raise awareness of plastic pollution. The beach clean on the shingle beach at Ringstead Bay is open to everyone; participants should bring gloves (gardening gloves are ideal) and wear sensible shoes. Afterwards, you can walk the four miles along the South West Coast Path to the Smugglers Inn for classic pub food in a large beer garden, or head in the other direction for a hilly 90-minute hike to Durdle Door.
19 September, free, 10.30am-12.30pm, cleanjurassiccoast.uk
Canal litter pick, Forth and Clyde canal, Glasgow
About 90% of plastic in Scottish seas originates with littering on land, and almost half of it entering the sea on the east coast comes from the River Forth. This event at Kirkintilloch marina involves a trip on a recycled plastic punt, the Poly Roger, to fish for litter in the Forth and Clyde canal. Litter pickers (including child-sized ones), lifejackets and all other equipment is provided. The event is organised by inspiring environmental non-profit Hubbub and Keep Scotland Beautiful. From the marina, cycle along the restored canal towpath all the way to Glasgow, and stop at the Stables, once a rest stop for watermen and their draught horses, now a dog-friendly pub with canal side tables. Or head east to see the Kelpies, spectacular industrial sculptures of mythological horses near Falkirk.
19 September, free, on Facebook, keepscotlandbeautiful.org
Beach clean, Spurn Nature Reserve
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust volunteers have been cleaning up from Scarborough to Fraisthorpe for 10 years, removing everything from wet wipes to cigarette butts. Along this coastline, seabirds are at particular risk from plastic or from becoming entangled in fishing lines. This two-hour cleanup takes place on the beaches of Spurn National Nature Reserve, a wild, constantly shifting sand and shingle spit. Explore the beaches, mudflats and dunes and visit Spurn Point where the Discovery Centre and cafe are open all day. Spurn Point has hides for birdwatching, and haunting views of sea and sky.
17 October, free, ywt.org.uk
Beach cleanup, Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall
Founded by marine biologist Emily Stevenson, Beach Guardian has run community beach cleans along the north Cornwall coast since 2017, as well as teaching more than 1,200 local schoolchildren about plastic pollution and even influencing environmental policy at the recent G7 summit. During the pandemic Emily has also highlighted how the coastline became a PPE litter hotspot. At one of its beach cleans you’ll be taught how to look out for old and rare items, like Lego from the Tokio Express container ship – 4.8m pieces were lost overboard in 1997 when the giant vessel was caught by a freak wave. There’s lots to do along this stretch of coastline, from surf lessons and coasteering at Harlyn Bay to rock pooling at Trevone and clifftop walks with far-reaching views along the coastline at Trevose Head.
Throughout October, November and December, events listed on Facebook, beachguardian.org
Kayak cleanup, River Medway, Kent
Everything from crisp packets and tennis balls to discarded inflatable paddleboards and kayaks accumulates along the River Medway. This four-hour, 8km paddle upriver from Tonbridge and back is a fun adventure where you’ll dig around in weeds and reeds for items that are impossible to reach from the riverbanks. No previous kayaking experience is required, and afterwards you’ll head to a local pub for some well-earned food and drink. Families with children aged eight and above are welcome. A few miles away, the Ashdown Forest has ancient woodland, rivers and wide open heathland and is the inspiration for Hundred Acre Wood, dwelling-place of Winnie the Pooh and his companions.
30 October, £15 per person, thehatt.co.uk
Halloween Trail Clean Tour, UK-wide
There has been a “deafening silence” to the problem of litter along bike and walking trails compared with the marine environment, according to Dom Ferris, founder of Trash Free Trails, a group of “riders, runners and roamers” on a mission to reduce plastic pollution on trails around the UK. The organisation’s litter surveys reveal 85% of litter along the trails is single-use plastic and it reckons it has so far collected about 20,000 pieces of litter. At the end of October (coinciding with half-term in England and Wales) there are seven events to clean up the country’s worst-polluted trails from Glasgow to Portsmouth, nominated by the public, and people will be encouraged to organise their own trail clean using a “do it ourselves” tool kit. Each event includes a trail clean, talks, activities and films. “You’ll meet 50-100 like-minded people and rather than spending money you’re going to spend time protecting something and having fun,” says Ferris.
22-31 October, free, trashfreetrails.org