Monday, 17 March 2014

17th March: A "successful unsuccessful litter pick"

Reserve staff were recently contacted by a student at Cranmer Hall Theological College, Laura, who organised a litter pick on Holy Island to help remove tidal litter that is washed up on the Reserve's shores as part of a community outreach event. 

Laura has kindly written an article for us documenting this trip and the group's motivation for doing so:

When I say the words “trainee vicar” to you, what do you think of? A balding, middle-aged man in ill-fitting black robes, stuttering and stumbling over a poorly prepared sermon while a scattered congregation of nine or ten elderly folk struggle to stay awake? A group of over-enthusiastic hopefuls shoving flyers and tracts into the faces of unsuspecting pedestrians who are trying desperately to avoid eye-contact? Or maybe just an everyman wearing a dog-collar and an L-plate?

Would the words “litter-pick” cross your mind? I don’t mean just picking a crisp packet off the pavement on your way home from church – I’m talking about sturdy walking boots, big black sacks, fancy litter-picking gadgets and a whole coastline littered with…well, litter.  Well, when a group of 5 trainee vicars from Cranmer Hall, Durham, arranged a trip to Lindisfarne to get involved in the community, this is exactly what we planned to do (along with other activities which ranged from teaching at a school to blessing animals in the market square…but those are stories for another time).

Before I tell you about our trash-filled trek, I hope you don’t mind if I explain a bit more about our motivation for doing the litter-pick.

When we first spoke to Paul Collins, the vicar of St Mary’s Church on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, about what he’d like us to do on our community outreach weekend in March, he told us he’d like us to do something that encouraged both locals and visitors to appreciate the natural beauty of the Island.  If you’ve ever been to Lindisfarne, you’ll understand what he means. The shell-strewn shores and patchwork farmlands are framed by a vast stretch of ocean and an endless sky. The lonely sand-dunes on the north of the Island seem, at a first glance, to be a desolate wilderness, but the long grasses are the hiding-place of a variety of flora and fauna. You can hear the eerie cries of the seals from their resting places around the Island, and a symphony of bird-calls from the avian visitors. Lindisfarne is, in its own desolate and wild way, an extremely beautiful and peaceful place.

Shoreline of Lindisfarne NNR (James Durrant)

Tidal borne litter is, however, a major hazard – both to the beauty of the Island and to the wildlife who make their homes there. While the wonderful folk of Lindisfarne NNR do a fantastic job of preserving the natural state of the Island, the daily drop-off of debris from the tides of the North Sea means that keeping the beaches clean is an endless task. One of the best ways to show your appreciation of nature is to help care for it – and that’s what one pair from the Cranmer crew decided to do. So, on the 8th March 2014 at 10am, my partner-in-picking and I set off with the litter-picking gear that the NNR very kindly provided for us and went to find our team of volunteers.

Now, I’d love to tell you that we managed to build a huge network of support and had hundreds of people turning up on the day, fighting over the 6 litter-pickers and eager to save the planet.  As you may have gathered from the title of this blog, however, the turnout wasn’t exactly terrific – late advertising on our part and a high tide meant that the total number of volunteers was 2. Including us.

A happy litter picker! (James Durrant)

Unperturbed by this little setback and determined to go through with our plan, we wandered around the town in a brave attempt to build up a following of vistors who were inspired by our efforts and/or felt sorry for us. When we got to the edge of town the total number of volunteers remained at 2 (including us), so we set off for the beach near Emmanuel Head on the north shore of the Island and managed to fill almost 2 bags with plastic bags, drinks bottles, half an orange buoy, a few bags of dog waste and an assortment of unidentifiable objects.  It was only when the bags started to split and we had to use the spare ones to reinforce them that we decided to call it a day.

Now, I know that 2 bags of litter is a tiny drop in a huge ocean of trash, but I wouldn’t say the pick was entirely unsuccessful. For one, 2 bags is better than nothing! Every crisp packet you pick off the pavement is one less crisp packet on the pavement. We also had loads of fun – litter picking is hard work but it’s a great way to build up team spirit (even if it’s just a team of two people!) and you feel really satisfied afterwards. The plastic bag you took off the beach might have been a deathtrap for a curious gannet, so you’re making a lifetime of difference.

So, if you’re planning a litter-pick, go for it! It’s really easy to organise – just contact the environmental guys in the area you’re interested in as they’ll be super-keen for you to help out and give you loads of guidance. Make sure you get a group together in advance too. Then it’s just a case of turning up on the day and picking up as much litter as you can carry – but remember you have to carry it back too!  If trainee vicars from Durham can do it, then so can you!

Litter-laden at Emmanuel Head, Holy Island (James Durrant)

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