Leave No Trace

A Seabird response to the scenes of devastation on the beaches of Brighton and Hove

We watched the Blue Planet series, in shock, pledged to do better and listed David Attenborough as one of our dream dinner guests. We applauded Greta Thunberg when she addressed world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit and roared  “How dare you look away… and come here saying that you’re doing enough”. We supported our young when they marched as part of their school Climate Strikes hopeful that they would make a difference. Fast forward to the global pandemic and scenes of litter strewn beaches at popular coastal resorts. It has left those that cherish the beach, those that watched, applauded and marched, devastated. Unless your head is firmly stuck in the sand the destruction of ocean habitats and wildlife cannot be news to you. We are quite literally choking the lungs of the earth and cutting off the supply chain of our own existence.

I regularly visit my local beach and get in the sea. It’s where I find head-space like no other. When I swim in the sea, I feel part of it, connected to it at a fundamental level. It is very different to the other ways humans connect with nature. When you walk in the countryside you are not really in it, just an observer. When you cycle across mountains or climb to the summit you are aided or propelled by your equipment. But when you are swimming, you are in it. Not on it, or around it, but immersed in it. And you need no equipment other than yourself. When you enter the water you do just that, you enter it become part of it , connect with it. You connect with the sea in a way like no other. It is a place I can collect my thoughts, but sadly of late, not until I have collected other peoples rubbish. And it breaks my heart.

When I arrive at the beach, you can taste the salt on your tongue and hear the shingle on the shore.  The wind down has commenced and every part of my being knows it won’t be long until I am weightless yet buoyed up in a big briny embrace. But recently this has been replaced with despair as I make my way across the lawns, the prom, the pebbles through swathes of litter. Disgusting, dirty rubbish everywhere. As a regular beach user in a popular coastal city I am used to seeing litter on the beaches, particularly in the summer months but not on this scale. The COVID effect has seen huge numbers of tourists flock to the beach, teens escape the confines of the home and locals make the most of what is on their doorstep. And why shouldn’t they. It’s a wonderful place to spend time. But it has been at a huge cost to the environment and the wellbeing of those who feel passionately about protecting our patch. My social media feed shows me it is the same all over the UK as beauty spots are dangerously over-packed with people and the next day by their discarded rubbish. But we are shouting into an echo chamber of like-minded conscious folk. Our message is not reaching those that need to hear it.

On an individual level I’ve made a lot of changes over the years. I am no better than my neighbour but as I swim in the sea most days, and see first hand the impact waste can have on my happy place, I make my consumer choices accordingly. But this is not enough. I am one person. Despair needs to turn into anger to be the fuel and force behind action. Action that will provide a sense of purpose and stop me from feeling useless. Litter on the beach is a massive issue and on an individual level, overwhelming to tackle. But if it broken down into smaller pieces, shared across a community, or focusing on one area of the seafront, it begins to feel a whole lot more achievable. Could the answer be a community led campaign with a collective consciousness at its centre?

Local photographer, visual creative and community collaborator Coral Evans thinks so. She is using her  anger to demonstrate how much she wants to make a change. She has channelled her anger to work with others on solutions and has kicked off the local ‘Leave No Trace’ campaign. Every aspect of this campaign, from design to implementation has been created voluntarily by members of the community, born from a real worry about the impact both visitor and resident rubbish is having on our immediate environment. Using social media and images to promote the message to visitors and residents of Brighton and Hove to be more responsible and dispose of rubbish of our beaches. Whilst talks with the city council are in their infancy the clicktivism campaign has commenced, bringing people  together to focus on the campaign cause.

And the Salty Seabirds and Seabirds Ltd are joining them. Bringing people together is what Salty Seabirds does and this one focuses specifically on our community space.  As a Social Enterprise,  Seabirds Ltd, champions communities and campaigns that match our values of protecting our planet. We are answering the call to arms from the Leave No Trace campaign.

So what can we do?

It’s time to bin the bin debate: All too often the full bins, not enough bins, no recycling bins are used as a justification for litter to be left. If you had the means to get it to the beach you have the means to take it home. Stop relying on bins and take your litter home. Support and share the good work done to promote public awareness by the abundance of incredible volunteer community groups we have across the UK. Posters and signage promoting responsible disposal of litter is an easy, relatively cheap and effective way of getting the message across. Just look at these designs by creative Seabirds Coral, Jess and Rachel.

Protect your patch: There is a beach, in Hove, we affectionately refer to as D5 which is the home of the Seabirds. It’s where our big (pre-covid) weekly swims take place. It is our community hub and we are fiercely protective of it. We need to collectively find a way to promote a cleaner beach environment in this small piece or shingle and encourage other local swimming groups, beach users and outdoor enthusiasts to do the same. This can be done with posters and personal/group beach cleans in the short term. In the long term there are many ways we can make a difference from the installation of a beach clean station with a deposit scheme for litter pickers, running awareness sessions for local children, to commissioning a litter swallowing seabird sculpture on the prom! (My favourite idea!)

Promote getting outdoors (and in the sea) responsibly: We all know that dropping litter is not acceptable. Those doing it, know it. But they just don’t feel the same way about the beach as year round sea swimmers do. When the place you go to seek refuge from the world, to relax and unwind and enjoy the beauty of nature is reduced to a huge dustbin you are quite rightly outraged. But there are people in the community less fortunate than us, less privileged than us and there fore less connected to sea and don’t understand the need to protect our environment. Encouraging others to get outdoors and get in the sea is a critical first step. Promote your outdoor community, really be inclusive, reach out to those who most need to get some wellbeing in the wild. Reach out to diversify your group. This is a time when many are isolated, society is fractured, yet we have a real opportunity bring people together, and inspire them to get involved.

There are things we can do in both the long and short term. Things we can do as part of the beach community. Things we can do get the message out there to Leave No Trace.

It’s time to turn the tide on litter!

Links to Leave No Trace Brighton:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leavenotracebrighton/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leavenotracebrighton/

litter cover

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

At he launch of Extinction Rebellion’s 12 Days of Crisis, the Salty Seabirds take to the sea!

Today the Salty Seabirds song is one of protest, of solidarity, of rebellion. We don’t have all of the answers but we can add our voices to the protectors of the planet. And the way we have chosen to do this, is by swimming in the sea of course!

 

Today, the Salty Seabirds will be creating an Extinction Rebellion XR logo out of our wonderful sea swimming bodies in Hove on the beach and in the SEA!
It’s part of the national ’12 Days of Crisis’ peaceful protests across the country 1-12th December, leading up to the General Election to encourage folk to put mitigating climate change at the top of their voting agenda.
We’re igniting the first of many XR solidarity symbol beacons across the country where flooding due to climate change will happen if our ‘new’ government doesn’t #ActNow. Organised by our resident activist the formidable Seabird Kelly the Salties have answered her call to arms.

It doesn’t take a lot to persuade our flock into the sea but why is this swim so important? Why are so many of us coordinating our weekend swim to be in the same place at the same time? Why are we creating a seabird formation? Because the beach and the sea is our happy place, our club house, our community hub. And it needs protecting.

The only way we will protect our seas and reverse the damage already done is to connect with the sea and the beach environment. It is only when humans connect with their environment that they will become it’s protector and custodian. Think of the projects that have been successful in inner cities where crime and antisocial behaviour was high. They encourage young people to take pride in their locality and create safe spaces. As a direct consequence vandalism and littering is reduced. I feel fiercely protective of my playground, the lungs of the earth, the sea. My heart breaks when I see the state of the beach after the summer crowds have left for the day. They haven’t connected to it, it isn’t their happy place, they feel no responsibility for keeping it clean. It is only when you feel connected to your environment that pollution, at an individual level, can be tackled.

When we Salties swim in the sea, gather on the beach we feel part of it, connected to it at a fundamental level. Sea swimming is very different to the other ways humans connect with nature. When you walk in the countryside you are not really in it, just an observer.  But when you are swimming, you are in it. Not on it, or around it, but immersed in it. When you enter the water you do just that, you enter it become part of it it, connect with it. You connect with the sea in a way like no other. And it provides you with perspective. We are insignificant in terms or our size and strength. It’s a thing of wonder, which allows you to wonder. Wonder how we can protect it for future generations to experience the same connection we do.

There are incredible initiatives, charities and community groups up and down our country that campaign for cleaner seas and beaches. We are an island nations with thousands of miles of coastline. Surfers against Sewage was started because a bunch of like-minded souls were witnessing the destruction of their playground first hand. They say, “We began as a response by the surfing community to the dreadful state of our beaches. Those hardy souls who ventured into the water back then often found themselves swimming in raw sewage. There’s tales of sanitary towels on heads and human poo sandwiched between bodies and boards. Completely unacceptable.” The UK now has some of the cleanest beaches in Europe…. but it is not enough.

After every Atlantic storm more marine plastic is washed up onto the beach here in Brighton and Hove. As regular beach users and sea swimmers we are conscious of the amount of marine litter in the sea and on the beach. We swim for our wellbeing yet seeing the state of our sea can actually increase our anxiety. But we can make a difference, a small salty but significant one. Our aim as a Community Interest Company is to get more people in the sea as a way of managing their wellbeing. Encouraging others to reconnect with nature is part of our raison d’etre and in this way more sea custodians join our salty community to protect our playground.

We are 1300 strong at our last count and up to 3 swims can happen per day all year round. Running across the shingle to pick up plastic is one of our favourite ways of warming up after a cold water swim. We huddle around home baked goods drinking tea from our reusable coffee cups. We swim in our recycled ghost net swimming cossies with our biodegradable tow-floats.  Simple ways of paying forward and protecting what we love. A ripple effect! Today’s swim will be a coming together of our salty community to create a visual representation of swimming solidarity with all the wonderful organisations that work tirelessly to protect our playground.

In the sea we save ourselves – so we must save our seas!