As a part of the UK’s Great Big Green Week and British Canoe Clean Up Week, Zero Carbon Guildford teamed up with Roar Outdoor and Dittons Paddle Boarding Club to promote sustainable paddle boarding and clean up the River Wey.
Roar Outdoor and Dittons Paddle Boarding Club encourage people to enjoy the outdoors and take part in physical activity. They are dedicated and welcoming groups that venture out onto the River Wey frequently, and make sure they pick up litter every time they go out. The event was run by Jo Burne, an enthusiastic paddle board instructor from Roar Outdoors.
In 2022, across the UK an incredible 1,200 paddlers took part in the Clean Up Week, filling 700 sacks with litter. This achievement was recognised by the BBC Green Sports Awards. This year, members of the Surrey community gathered at Dapdune Wharf to take part in this event.
What are the benefits of litter picking?
Before the day, I wanted to understand the benefits of litter picking on our rivers. After doing some research, I learned the following:
It is estimated that between 307 and 925 million items of litter enter Europe’s river systems every year, and 80% of this is made up of plastic. Plastic pollution is one of the leading threats to both aquatic life and human health. Plastic does not biodegrade, meaning it has a long life and will remain for hundreds of years. For wildlife, plastic can lead to entanglement and ingestion by aquatic life such as birds and fish. Food packaging can often look like prey to predators and plastic bags can be used by birds for nesting material. If this pollution continues to occur on a global scale, it will pose a devastating threat not only to wildlife, but to human health and food security.
Plastic waste tends to accumulate in water bodies due to their natural currents and flow, which affects plant life and human life simultaneously. Rivers are also modes of transport to the ocean. According to the Preventing Plastic Pollution Project, approximately 80% of plastic found in oceans has been transported there by rivers. By 2050, they estimate that there may be more plastic than fish in the sea. With more and more litter being pumped through our rivers into our oceans, it is up to us to make a difference on our local rivers. By banding together to preserve our local ecosystems, we can also put pressure on the government to stop major companies from contributing to this problem.
The River Wey Paddle Board Clean Up
On Sunday 11th June at 2pm, members from Dittons, Roar Outdoor, Zero Carbon Guildford and the local community gathered at Dapdune Wharf, a visitors centre in the heart of Guildford owned by the National Trust. The water reflected the shades of the bright blue sky and the green vegetation that surrounded it. It was quiet; we could hear chatter from the nearby kayak club and children playing table tennis. I watched as people returned invigorated from spending the day in the water, kayaking or paddle boarding. It really highlighted why we needed to litter pick - the community needed a safe place to spend time in nature.
Despite it being the hottest weekend of the year so far, the paddle boarders set out full of enthusiasm. The group split into teams, one team heading upstream and the other downstream. After covering a stretch of 5km, the group collected enough litter to fill four large bags, which would go on to be disposed of by the National Trust. We found an intriguing array of items including shoes, a handbag and a large quantity of alcohol bottles. The teams ensured they did the best clean up possible, gathering items that had got stuck in the river vegetation, or had collected around the sides of boats.
Later on I spent some time with the event organiser, Jo, where we discussed the idea of a blue mind advocate. Blue Mind is a study of the human relationship with water. Author Wallace J. Nichols discussed how being near a body of water can have a positive effect on a person's well-being and mental health. Jo discussed how she is a blue mind advocate, and really believes in the importance of not littering and caring for our rivers and oceans. This advocacy really shone through on this event, with the paddlers returning invigorated and satisfied after clearing up the litter and just spending time in the river.
"People can experience the benefits of the water whether they're near the ocean, a lake, river, swimming pool or even listening to the soothing sound of a fountain. Most communities are built near bodies of water not just for practical reasons, but because as humans, we're naturally drawn to blue space…but even if you aren't in an area where there is easy access to water, you can still experience [its] emotional benefits. Many scribes, poets, painters, and sailors have attested to the feeling of wellness and peace that comes over them when they're in, or near, bodies of water.” - Nichols (2014)
I believe that this is a beautiful way of looking at the relationship between humans and nature. We talk of saving our environment, however it is important to understand how our environment saves us, and this makes it so much clearer as to why we should care for nature.
Afterwards, the paddlers shared tips on how to become more sustainable. There were suggestions of becoming a river guardian, where you can continue to make a real impact on your local river. There were also discussions of a website called LitterLoto, where you can enter a prize draw for free every time you litter pick. It’s as simple as taking a picture of your litter as you place it in the bin, and prizes of up to £1,000 can be won. These conversations were inspiring; to see so many people band together, and care so deeply about making an impact, is a feeling that will stay with me for a very long time.
So, after a day of discussing sustainability and making this hugely important impact on the cleanliness of our local area, the event neared to an end. It was a fantastic way to combine social and physical activity when clearing up our environment. It raised awareness of littering, and created a fun day out for the community. It was truly inspiring to see so many members of the community band together and look after nature; it was a celebration of our rivers.
Next time you are on or by the river in Guildford, why not pick up a piece of litter and help keep our waters clean?
Nichols, W.J., 2014. Blue mind:
Nichols, W.J., 2014. Blue mind: how water makes you happier, more connected and better at what you do. Hachette UK.