Mannington to Blagrove conservation

Keep Swindon Tidy Day was a great start to 2021. All the negativity around Covid-19 and we were encouraging positive activity. Cue the Wombles of Swindon...

Keep Swindon Tidy Day 2021 collage of litter pickers and rubbish bags collected.

The Wombles would be overrun

I had previously met Josie Lewis at Devizes market. She is an artist, works in various ways on green open spaces and rights of way in and around Swindon, and used to work in Environmental Enforcement for the council. I bow to her local knowledge. Josie had gotten involved in the Keep Swindon Tidy campaign, cleaning up areas around Wroughton. She contacted me about the state of the woodland between the Great Western Way and the (cycle) path between Mannington and Blagrove. How bad could it be?

By chance, I had an appointment in Wootton Bassett. Looking out of the window of the number 55 bus, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The grass verges between Mannington and Blagrove were swamped in litter. How had we allowed this to happen? Thus began our quest to clean this section of woodland. For those who don't know the area, there is a path parallel to the Great Western Way which leads from West Swindon towards town verged by Woodland. It is used by pedestrians, runners, cyclists, dog walkers, nature lovers, commuters... home to an assortment of wildlife. We found evidence of deer, monkjacks, rats, and badgers. And we found much evidence of humans.

Collective unconciousness

On our first day of litter picking, it had been raining and was boggy. We were astonished by the levels of litter under foot, it was absolutely disgraceful! There was so much plastic waste especially that had accumulated over years. Much of it was integrated into the soil. The majority of the litter was plastic food and drink packaging (take-aways, bottles, cups, crisps, chocolate), vast amounts of polystyrene, plastic bags, car parts, cans, glass bottles and dog poo bags. Some of it would have blown in from the road having been thrown out of car windows. Some of it would have come from the path, and some of it was clearly dumped; an old mattress for example.

We have reached Blagrove but still have much of the road verge to complete. It’s in an awful state not helped by mowers cutting up the litter into small pieces. Some of this can be lethal to wildlife. The shredded litter is much more difficult to pick up and, so, takes a lot longer to clean. Polystyrene is a nightmare to pick up, as it shreds into small balls. Soil fertility is affected by plastic and other pollution. Is this why much of the foliage is dead? Looking at the sediment built up on some of the litter, I wonder if toxic car fumes are another factor. The air quality by the side of the road is noticeably bad.

By Blagrove, we have cleaned an area next to a company where lorries queue to deliver and collect. Lorry drivers have been discarding litter over the fence into the surrounding woodland. That includes plastic bottles of urine and bags of human poo. The state of this area was especially disgusting. I have written to the company and Josie is doing the same. West Swindon parish council are also looking into what can be done for companies at Blagrove to look after their sites and surrounding areas.

Collective action

It has taken us 7 litter picks to almost clean the area on the south side of the road, collecting 84 bags and much loose rubbish. And we weren't the only ones cleaning the area. We met Marco, a resident of Toothill who had committed his time to deep cleaning the area. And we have also met Paul from Freshbrook, who is regularly litter picking the area. Thank God for such people! I dread to think how bad the litter in Swindon would be without those who regularly clean around where they live.

It is clear that volunteers are filling in where councils no longer have funding for activities unvalued by our economic system. What value is there in a system that doesn’t recognise the importance of looking after our environment and its inhabitants? How have we reached the point where many of us think it’s fine to throw rubbish around the place without consideration for others, for the wildlife that lives there? There are bins for rubbish. If there aren’t any about, then rubbish can be taken home. Dog poo bags have been repeatedly mentioned to me as a major problem. Why is it that many dog owners don’t use the bins provided?

Line in the sand

We have had many positive conversations with the local community, which is usually nice because you realise the difference that such a simple activity can make in people's lives, how important nature is to people. Speaking with Paula, the clerk of West Swindon parish council, she conveyed that this could help change how the space is perceived by future generations. Let's hope that's the case. Indeed we will continue to work to realise that hope around Swindon. 'Be the change that you want to see in the world' is not an empty slogan. Positive exampling is core to everything these campaigns are about.

We cannot continue to treat our planet with such disrespect, as a commodity to be used, abused, mined, polluted and sold. Pollution including litter causes disease and suffering. Plastic does not allow the free flow of water (percolation). This is why plastic harbours disease. It is most apparent when you smell the putrescent water that is released from littered plastic packaging, as you pick it up. Litter brings down communities, making areas look horrible and encouraging them to be further treated in kind. Plastic and other pollution are already at epidemic proportions. If we continue as we are, what harm will we cause? Will we still have a planet that sustains us?

Environmental Enforcement

As a former Environmental Enforcer for the council, Josie tells me that leaving or depositing litter comes with a Fixed Penalty Notice of £75+ under the Environment Enforcement Act. If you run or own a business, you must ensure your waste is securely stored; won’t get blown away, for example. Isn’t it a shame that we need fines to ensure that our environment is cared for? Maybe one day we’ll come to appreciate the Earth and our connection to it and have a system that reflects that. Capitalism, as many people are now realising = environmental destruction + pollution + mass extinction + inequality and all that brings (crime, distrust, addiction, loneliness…). Worryingly such observation of the failures of capitalism is being labelled as extremist by the government. Labels and division shut down discussion and hinder understanding. We need to be able to openly discuss these issues in order to find solutions.

The Wombles of Swindon

Thanks so much to Josie (Madame Cholet), Lucas (Orinoco) and Will (Uncle Bulgaria), Marco and Paul for your hard work and care. Thanks to West Swindon parish council for supporting our work, picking up our rubbish along the path. Thanks to all other members of the public who regularly pick up litter to keep our town clean and tidy. And thanks to everyone who is supporting and has supported this campaign.

And finally...

There is no away with plastic. A system of ‘recycling’ plastic, incineration and landfill is inept. We need to move towards zero waste; good for health, wildlife, the environment and local economies. See the about section and the library for consolidation of that.

Blog by Ben Bell