Rivermead: cesspit to nature haven

27th April 2022

We started litter picking at Rivermead for Keep Swindon Tidy Day 2022. Karen, one of our litter pickers, had seen the area on her travels and said that there was a fair bit of litter for us to deal with. We had intended to clean the area around the skate park and then move onto the Basepoint Business Centre. However, it became apparent that this area was being used a dumping ground for all kinds of rubbish.

There is a little area of woodland which had been particularly badly littered / fly-tipped. Amongst the larger items, we found a car wheel, many half-buried bin bags full of rusty lighter fuel cans, and large amounts of asbestos. I think the word desecrate is the most apt descriptive for this area because it tells of the complete lack of respect for nature, for the wildlife that lives in these areas, for the health and well-being of this area, and for those who use and enjoy it. A friend used to call Swindon a pimple on the bum of creation. This was the beginning of a boil!! I hope that people make the connections between litter and disease because we may then focus on root causes rather than symptoms.

We asked the borough council to collect the asbestos. Once it had gone, we could continue work in this area of woodland. Work is commonly difficult in woodland because of various factors:

  • Uneven , sometimes boggy surfaces.
  • Dense undergrowth / little room for manoeuvre.
  • Thorns / brambles / stinging nettles.

In places, we have no choice but to cut back vegetation. If you experience such levels of littering / pollution, you will appreciate why this needs to be done. We are mindful of wildlife and nests, leaving areas alone if necessary.

The most prominent types of litter are reported to be plastic items such as packaging, cigarette butts, and bags. In places we have to literally pull plastic out of the soil. It is often hard, time-consuming work. I recently gave a presentation to Swindon Philosophical Society on the problems that plastic pollution causes from the perspective of an earthworm. The Carbon, Phosphorus, and Nitrogen Cycles are interrupted, soil fertility is lowered, earthworms growth is diminished, plant growth is diminished, the risk of flooding increases… . These factors contribute to increasing toxicity in the environment, climate change and mass extinction. Yes, that crisp packet, that McDonalds lid, that cigarette butt, that plastic bag… they all play a part in the factors mentioned. The impact of plastic in the oceans is often discussed. How about in the soil, in the air, in us, right here and now in Swindon?

Lorry drivers park up along the main roads of Rivermead at night. Some of them throw bottles of urine and bags of poo into the bushes. The smell is horrible. We have found hundreds of plastic bottles filled with yellow / orange / brown urine. Plastic bags full of poo hang from the stems of plants. How was this area allowed to get into this state? In places urine bottles and other items have been littered, and then greenery especially brambles, have grown up over the top.

Returning to the little area of woodland, the transformation is amazing, magnificent, beautiful. I well up a little thinking about it. This area has become woodland again, a part of nature rather than an abhorrent dump.

Lynne, one of our litter pickers and a member of the awesome West Swindon FAB (Flowers and Butterflies) group, litter picks for the well-being of wildlife, who she says is grateful for our efforts. I think she’s right. On our litter picks in areas of nature, I have experienced the same. Birds commonly follow us around on litter picks. A little Robin followed us all over when we cleaned woodland between Mannington and Blagrove. The images below were sent to me by Lynne, taken just after we had cleaned the little area of woodland.

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust were also working in the area. After we’d finished cleaning the little area of woodland, we decided to help them out. They were planting 2000 trees and had limited time to do so. We all enjoyed ourselves. The crossover and sharing is good, I think vital for our collective health to overcome environmental and social crises.

A note for anyone planting trees: There are environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic tree guards. WWT use cardboard tree guards with a jute mat pegged with wood at the bottom.

Another good collaboration has been with West Swindon Parish Council. We’ve got to know Paula, Janna and the team there well. They help us deal with all manner of issues and queries and clearly care about looking after the local environment. We spoke about various issues with Stuart and Malcolm, the rubbish collectors for the parish. There is mutual appreciation for the work that is done and the collaboration that is making a difference in various ways to keeping areas more clean and tidy. West Swindon Parish Council run a volunteer scheme whereby volunteering accrues money to be spent within the parish. We have accrued £150 so far at Rivermead, which we are going to spend on some nice plants in key spots to further brighten the area, hopefully encouraging respect to reduce littering there. Like attracts like, we see that so often on our travels.

We have spoken with a few employees of Rivermead’s many businesses. This has helped us to understand what is going on and may help us with solutions. Examples:

  • There is a large area of land which has been severely littered / flytipped. We found out that it’s owned by a company based in London who have shown no care for the site or for cleaning it up. Sound familiar? Josie, one of our litter pickers, jokingly asked if it was Seven Capital, the company supposedly looking after the Oasis and its grounds. We are looking into an idea to get the business involved to take responsibility for the site.
  • There is an ex-government building which has stood empty for the last 30 or so years! A lack of occupants has made this a prime spot for flytipping. We are going to put a sign there asking people not to flytip. That is shown to be effective in practise.

We’re still working at Rivermead over 4 months later. We realise that litter picking is only part of dealing with such littering / flytipping / pollution. We need to stop littering happening in the first place. There are many contributory factors and potential ways to do that. Hence we’ve arranged a meeting with the parish council and invited along interested parties to discuss issues and formulate next steps. Watch this space...

Thank you to all who have contributed to the transformation of this area. Your work is invaluable and much appreciated.