5 Take Aways From Paddling the Length of Wales

5 Take Aways From Paddling the Length of Wales

My five take aways from paddling the length of Wales  

In May 2018 Erin Bastian and I led a group of women to paddle the length of Wales to pick up plastic out of our waterways.  Erin, the kayak lead and my role to manage the conservation efforts.  As I know it takes over 25 years for a head of lettuce to decompose in landfill I was determined to do what I could to avoid it.  See my top tips on what to do with your river rubbish.

Paddle cleanup expeditions have become so much more than just rubbish treasure hunting in canal juice pong so here are my top five take aways from paddling the length of Wales. 

#1 Our British waterways are beautiful!   

Take a moment to immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural environment around you.  The patterns the water makes as it falls off the paddle and the drip drip splash sound it makes.  The smells of spring flowers springing up around you and the birds in dancing around in the sky.  I even noticed that the birds sometimes work together to protect their babies from soaring prey. Oh and the oh so adorable duckings, and damsel flies dancing about on the water sparkling blue in the spring sun.  Sounds pretty idyllic?  It truly was. Ok there is the odd bit of manky human detritus to pick up here and there but that is just a reminder of why we are here doing what we are doing.  Grab a kayak, paddle board, join a club, go for a walk, our waterways are beautiful.

#2 Teamwork is everything 

There’s a phrase that I can’t remember where it came from…. ‘there is no one of us that is better than all of us’.  It is so true that together we bring our own qualities to make a whole that is amazing.  This was no exception and the team were great.  There were laughs and jokes and songs about sandwiches and innuendo that you really had to be there for!

There are challenges on an expedition like this but with everyone chipping in to help others get in and out of kayaks and canoes and helping with the portaging around the locks the challenges become enjoyable.  We were soon singing river songs and cracking inappropriate jokes to pass the time in between locks and litter picking.

#3 Kindness of strangers

Our camp spots varied from wild camps next to the canal, to pub campsites, a falconry centre and sports field.  Huge appreciation to those who put us up for the night.  Erin and I do have a favourite from this trip though and that’s Nigel.  We came upon his house on our wet and muddy reccie back on a cold January afternoon.  Only to be greeted with a warm smile, a cup of hot tea and stories about four wheel drive adventures looking for war memorabelia with his son.   A true character and a bit of a legend.  Nigel let us camp by the water at the end of his lane and told us all about his party days of rock and roll.  We are extremely grateful and heartened by Nigel and hope that others take the time to wonder down his lane and hear his stories over a cuppa.

#4 Staying social on expedition is hard and sometimes counter-productive

Connecting with nature is an essential part of our DNA.  It has now been proven in many studies that nature connection not only benefits your physical health but also your mental wellbeing.  In a world where we are becoming more and more dependent upon technology, these opportunitites are scarcer.

My mental health has improved dramatically since I shifted my life to enable me to spend more time outside doing things I love doing.  And I think this would be one of the top take aways from paddling the length of Wales.  On that trip I truely noticed that by living in the moment and connecting with my natural surroundings I feel so much more clarity.  The run up to that expedition was super stressful for reasons I wont go into. As soon as the paddle started, all the woes and worries, the tears and anxt drifted away on the water and seemed insignificant compared to the moments of being there, present, appreciating our beautiful countryside.

It is challenging enough to paddle all day, then sort plastic and if I was to write a blog daily or be an uber social media whizz then I would miss something.  I am not sure how others do it but hats off to them.

#5 Being clear on your why gets you through the tough bits

It is tough to constantly be excited about stinky rubbish especially when you are hungry and exhausted.  This relates to every day waste challenges too, sometimes it is hard to keep going when you see other people completely disregarding their plastic footprint or chucking litter on the floor.

In all these occassions I find it useful to remind myself why I am doing it.  I think of the plastic I see on dives and the creatures I have seen suffering and I soon find a re-ignition. Even if you havent seen it first hand, by now most people have seen the turtle with a straw up its nose, the tortoise trapped in a ring pull, the whale eating a plastic bucket on Blue Planet or the albatross with a gut full of plastic pieces.  If you havent, its easy to find these on Google!

I also keep in mind a quote by Howard Zinn ‘small changes made by millions of people can change the world’.  If we can reduce plastic bag consuption by 86% with a 5p charge then just imaging what else is possible!

 

 

How do you know your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?

How do you know your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?

How do you know that your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?

Its a tricky one isn’t it!?  You consume something, you put it in the bin, but how do you truly KNOW that your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean?  We know that since China stopped accepting our rubbish that it is still shipped out to Asia and those countries have no way to deal with it either.  Our rubbish is piling up next to rivers, drifting out on winds, being dumped and then we are blaming others for causing the issues!  Its a crazy world we live in right now.  I have decided to take some action and for me that action is to get out and clean up the beaches I go to, rivers and oceans that I paddle or country lanes I walk along.

The key thing about paddle cleanups for me is the ability to connect with our waterways and to get upfront and personal with the waste that is in it.  By doing this you can clearly see a reflection of our daily lives, discarded ‘away’ as if there is some magic worker bee that will come and clean it all up.  Ok, so I am out there doing exactly that but 70% of the litter is out of reach so we are only tackling the bits that float or get stuck.

The best way to know that your rubbish isn’t polluting the ocean is to produce less waste in the first place!  

See my tips below for how to do that.  Also, get out there and clean up the waterways, streets, river banks etc before it gets to the ocean.

There are other positive impacts to cleaning up your local waterways:

  • Help your stretch of water to look how you want.
  • A great way of meeting others in your community and helping them to learn about plastic and to get involved.
  • Saving marine life
  • Awakening of your own consumer impact on the environment
  • Getting out in nature and doing a good deed is great for your wellbeing.

I have never been one for putting myself in the limelight but a biproduct of wanting to get the right information out and not just preach to the converted, means getting involved with media and press.  The launch was great to get a bit of exposure from BBC North West (even though they got Erin and I mixed up on the footage) and to have local group Plastic Free Chester and the amazing Tim and Ella Meek from Kids Against Plastic join us.  

Within two hours we had to regroup though and squash the bottles we had into the back hatch of the kayaks so we had space to take on more.  It was crazy the amount of rubbish we found just outside Ellesmere Port.  We collected almost 350 plastic bottles in the first morning after which we had to stop as we ran out of space!  It was shocking the amount we picked up on the first day.  Mostly avoidable plastics like plastic bottles, food wrappers and the ever evil polystyrene.

 

I had arranged with some of the Local Authorities to recycle a lot along the way but after meeting the Canal and River Trust Environment team at the launch they are arranging for our rubbish to be collected from canal side which is ace.  We picked up a staggering amount on day one, over 600 pieces in total. Thankfully the rest of leg 1 was far less plastic orientated and canal juice ming than day one and we pootled through a lot of rather beautiful countryside interspersed with the odd collection of curious cows and super cute ducklings.  See my 5 takeaways from paddling the Length of Wales.

 

It is now thought that over 9 million pieces of plastic enter our oceans every year.  Most of it is avoidable and we can all make a big impact to this by reducing our plastic footprint.

My top tips to avoid your rubbish polluting the ocean:
  • carry a reusable bottle, coffee cup and cutlery
  • refuse straws
  • use a tote bag instead of a plastic one
  • make your own lunch in a box
  • think carefully about the snacks you buy and the packaging they come in

I feel like we now need to concentrate on finding sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging and it seems that food packaging and plastic bottles are the main culprits to tackle.  So I would encourage you to select your favourite plastic wrapped food, save up your wrappers and send them back to the manufacturers with a note asking them what they are doing to reduce their impact on the environment. It is time that manufacturers started to design products with the end in mind.  If brands like Lush and Patagonia can make huge profits with sustainable values there is no reason why others can’t follow. See the Hugh and Anita campaign #OurPlasticFeedback and join in!

Read my tips for repurposing your river rubbish here.  

More tips to avoid your rubbish polluting the ocean

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