Andy Garland: a tide of plastic in Kent
PUBLISHED: 12:05 08 April 2019
Plastic pollution is spoiling our beautiful coastline and damaging wildlife, but we can all do our bit to help
I’m kneeling on the strandline, the accumulation of debris at the high-water mark, on Pegwell Bay. It’s not one of Kent’s glamour beaches, lying as it does next to the rotting remains of Ramsgate’s once-futuristic hoverport; nevertheless, the area is a site of special scientific interest and forms a part of Kent’s largest national nature reserve.
The narrow strip of sand and shingle soon gives way to the inevitable mudflats. Lengthways it stretches about 100 metres to the left of the old car park before turning sharp right, running under a backdrop of white chalk cliffs; not as dramatic as those down the coast at Dover but a pleasing frame to the seaview.
My state of mind is prompted by the amount of plastic detritus in front of me. I’m on a regular beach clean organised by the Guardians of the Deep, a partnership between Kent Wildlife Trust, Thanet District Council, Medway Swale Estuary Partnership, Kent County Council and Natural England and funded by the lottery.
As a surfer who loves the ocean, I’ve been promising to do one for ages, but apathy ruled until February’s rallying editorial from Kent Life editor Sarah Sturt acted as the catalyst for an hour’s drive to the east Kent coast on a chilly Saturday morning.
One of the project’s aims is to involve local people in the protection and monitoring of Kent’s coastal wildlife and so here I am, in despair on my hands and knees. It’s the plastic you see, it’s ubiquitous. It’s everywhere, either lying discarded and useless or else as hopelessly entangled as the knottiest of hair. It’s in every direction I look; shards of white plastic cups, indeterminate polythene wrapping and tens of thousands of tiny, brightly coloured nylon threads, their original purpose unclear; were they rope, nets or packaging? Not that it matters now, it’s so interwoven with seaweed there’s no other option than to scoop up bundles of the contaminated material, using a telescopic grab to harness the items.
I am overawed by the enormity of the task that faces me and my fellow beach cleaners but, as I begin to fill bucket after bucket, bag after bag, I am buoyed up by the cheerfulness of Chris. A veteran of many cleans around the coastline, he tells me he once found a funeral urn, fortunately minus its occupant.
Slowly but surely over two hours we gradually improve the appearance of the beach. Plastic bottles, bags and wet wipes are easy to spot and clear – helped by the arrival of a dozen Southern Water employees on their lunch break from a nearby job. Back at base, organiser Laura Welton is presiding over a growing stack of rubbish. “This is a particularly bad site for the amounts of waste that gathers, but our beach cleans are very popular with families and people of all ages,” she tells me.
So is Laura downcast with the present condition of the beach, after they had made a real impact last year with monthly sweeps?
“It just shows you that with every tide and storm there’s more litter. It can be disheartening, but it doesn’t mean we should stop; we need to keep going, so we and the wildlife can enjoy being here.”
I began the morning at Pegwell enthusiastically, despaired midway through and now I end it slightly more upbeat as I begin to see the difference we’re making to this small patch of Kent’s coastline.
The sum total of our clearance efforts weighs in at 179kg, not a bad Saturday morning’s work, I’ll be doing this again. Will you?
Andy Garland Senior Broadcast Journalist - Programmes at BBC Radio Kent, now back presenting Sunday Gardening