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Years ago a friend and I planned a holiday in Devon. She was particularly excited about the prospect of exploring Dartmoor. The landscape looked delightfully picturesque in the brochure, with its clapper bridges, prehistoric landmarks and hardy ponies. However, I couldn’t reconcile myself to the prospect of staying so far inland. “That’s typical of someone from the Isle of Wight,” my friend scoffed, “You always have to cling to the edge.”
She wasn’t wrong. I’m from the coast, and an attractive bit of coast it is too – protected by various national and international designations, mostly for its wildlife. Ryde is an especially enchanting bit of the Solent, and during this blistering heatwave I have been known to twang on my Ladies Realm cossie and swim in Appley’s warm clear water. As other parts of the world share images of their horrifically polluted beaches, here, at least, we can thank the European Union for our clean bathing waters.
This, of course, doesn’t stop people from wanting to do something about the scourge of plastics. Like the rise of veganism, it’s trendy nowadays to deny yourself something. So plenty are dipping their toes into an increasingly plastic-free lifestyle (some of us plunged straight in, back in the days of the Wombles). Other folks, including the organisers of Isle of Wight Day, are clacking their litter tongs together, eager to do a beach clean. A great aspiration but, in fact, anyone who is paying their council tax here is already participating in a beach clean from the comfort of their recliner – supporting nearly twenty of the Island’s beaches to be manually or mechanically cleaned throughout the summer.
I volunteered at a beach litter pick at Totland, and we barely filled a binbag between us – practically fighting over the occasional crisp packet and knot of fisherman’s twine. We did find the remains of a huge tribute to ‘MUM’, presumably leftovers of a scattering at sea, but there wasn’t much else on the immaculate rubbish-free shore.
The other evening as I bobbed about in the bath-like briny at Appley, I peered through the crystal water to see a firm sandy bottom. I became anxious about whether the quality of my local beach will endure after Brexit has snipped through the red tape; legislation which we can thank for making seaside holidays popular again after the dark days of the 1980s, when Britain’s coastal resorts were blighted by sewage.
Although well-meaning, I hope that beach litter-picking will never really need to be a thing here. Even after an extremely well-attended event like last weekend’s Pride, the next day contractors were out in force on the sand gathering up discarded cups, stray pink feathers and deflated unicorns.
However, if kind-hearted volunteers are keen to tidy up after tossers, perhaps they could snap on their rubber gloves and tweeze their litter tongs outside schools or the Island’s few fast-food joints. Not as high-profile or sexy as a beach clean, but possibly more necessary. Until we leave the EU.
This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 27 July 2018.