Every time I go for a walk I see rubbish. Every time I go for a walk, I Pass rubbish and I tut, in a sort of self-satisfied way.
I regularly ask myself; how could people be so crass as to drop litter? Why don't they pick it up?
The question I never asked is; why don't I pick it up?
Yesterday I saw someone tear into a chocolate bar and casually flick the gold wrapper on the ground. It was in a road-side lay-by; an area of outstanding lack of beauty. It annoyed me, as indeed it should. A perfectly natural reaction even though I will never visit the place where the wrapper fell. When I stroll past items of rubbish on my regular walks around my home it really angers me.
The effects of littering on the environment is well documented, probably never more so than in the present day. My family and I do our bit. It probably isn't enough but we re-use bags, have recently adopted paper straws rather than plastic, we recycle as much as your average conscientious family and we never throw litter on the ground. But up until now it has stopped there.
Whilst prevention is undoubtedly better than cure, we still have it in our power to also provide ongoing care to the wild places around us. And yet, I still see rubbish every day and haven't actually done anything to alter that, myself.
Like most existing homo sapiens I am not as selfless as I might like to think. Far from it. But, in a bid to make a difference, I sat myself down the other day and had a serious chat. I wrestled with the question; why should I clean up someone else's mess?
But selflessness doesn't come easy and even the a cocktail of bourgeois guilt at the thought of not doing enough and the desire to appear to be doing the right thing was not quite enough to defeat the reticence within me.
Ah, what spineless creatures we are (ok, it's me really)! It seems the only way to motivate myself to do something about litter was to find a self-serving reason. From a very selfish point of view, seeing the starkly coloured and unchanging debris of human consumption lying awkwardly, pointless and fruitless, within the harmony and balance of nature, spoils my experience of the latter.
So, are you saying I would enjoy myself more if I picked up the litter that upsets my perception of the picturesque? YES. Now go do it.
In all seriousness, having recently read about and been inspired by a few people who have been out collecting rubbish when they walk, I went out the other day with the intention of doing the same. I thought I would start on my local river (Great Ouse), but it wasn’t until I had paddled a few hundred metres that I realised you can’t really see much rubbish from the water. In fact I usually see litter when I am walking along the bank and it tends to be either in the hedgerow or caught in the reeds, trees and grasses along the water's edge.
Pleasant as it is to paddle in an unhurried manner, on a warm day, the purpose of this mission seemed defeated. But, a packraft means the options for human-powered transport are doubled so just before Buckden Marina I jumped out, packed up and wandered back home along the path. Sure enough I was able to fill a bag with rubbish.
It felt good. I mean it made me feel good. Maybe I am shallow, but if that's what it takes...
I have subsequently decided that I should always have a plastic bag in my pack and be willing to pick up other people's rubbish. It is hardly any extra work. I am not going too far off my track to pick anything up so no excuses and if it also means others might be inspired to do the same, as I have been it is all the better.
What is the protocol when it comes to dog shit?
But one question remains... what is the protocol when it comes to dog shit? Picking up the remnants of someone else's junk food indulgences is one thing. It doesn't really bother me. But if my countryside walks are to be accompanied by an ever-swelling bag, filled with the toxic decorations that dog-owners increasingly seem to think make for charming baubles on our trees and hedgerows, my experience will be tainted. What is the right thing to do? Answers on a postcard please...