For many decades, local volunteers have worked tirelessly to tackle litter discarded in and around Leatherhead.
Adding their efforts to the work of local authorities and educators, these volunteers play a crucial role, not just in clearing litter but in understanding the problem and engaging others in the community.
Local resident and businesswoman Lucy Quinnell has been picking up litter in Leatherhead since the 1970s.
“You gradually build up a very thorough picture of the litter and fly-tipping culture” she says, “and inevitably you become more and more determined to solve the problem. The goal is obviously not to just keep cleaning the litter up, but to stop the litter being discarded in the first place.
“There are many people across the district making great efforts to improve the situation, but it remains a big challenge and together we need to do even more. Greater population density, the arrival of the M25 and trends such as fast food are all contributing factors, but essentially we all need to want to take responsibility for our rubbish, where it comes from and what happens to it.
“We still have a potentially beautiful built and natural environment, but there is no question that we are collectively damaging it, and we can do much better than this.”
Lucy cites statistics from a recent film made for the Campaign to Protect Rural England by students from Harper Adams University in Shropshire – 62% of the population drop litter, and 31% of us admit to throwing litter out of a car. 700,000 bags of litter are removed from English roads each year; fly-tipping occurs every 12 seconds in the UK and dog waste is a major problem across the nation.
Unsightly, unpleasant, polluting and expensive, litter is also dangerous on our roads and a hazard to children, pets and wildlife. The RSPCA receives over 7,000 calls a year relating to animals injured by litter, and this appalling statistic is backed up by Leatherhead’s Wildlife Aid charity, where some of the animals treated have become entangled in our litter.
“We can solve all this if we work together as a community. Leatherhead and its neighbours have pioneered some critical environmental initiatives in the past, and now it’s our turn to be really bold and committed stewards of our surroundings. We have seen great successes when people join forces to understand and deal with litter.”
Lucy is the current Chairman both of the Teazle Wood Trust and the Leatherhead & District Countryside Protection Society, and she is on the committee of Mole Valley Campaign to Protect Rural England. “There are so many excellent groups out there with an eye on litter and fly-tipping. If you want to help, join one and enjoy the journey – it’s interesting, important, fulfilling and very sociable work. At the very least, please do join in with the idea – simply debate this with your family, friends and colleagues, and contribute to an ‘aware’ culture.”
The Leatherhead Residents’ Association is taking part in Keep Britain Tidy’s Big Tidy Up on Saturday 4 March. Mole Valley District Councillor Joe Crome (Leatherhead North) will be joining the LRA, and on Monday 13 February Joe accompanied Lucy on a litter pick in and around Teazle Wood in order to really appreciate the litter problem and the practicalities involved in leading groups of litter volunteers. Joe (pictured below) said:
“Littering is something that people are clearly passionate about solving. I’ve heard from so many people that they are concerned and that they would love to be part of the solution. I’m excited about organising litter picks in North Leatherhead as part of the Leatherhead Residents’ Association’s Big Tidy Up, and my focus for North Leatherhead this year will be the recreation ground in Kingston Road – litter picking is just one part of an ongoing process of getting people involved in lots of very positive things we’ve got planned there.”
“A litter pick is also a really good opportunity to chat about problem-solving ideas” explains Lucy. “One of our most successful litter posters was designed after a casual discussion with a volunteer from Unilever – he had just been learning about how superb graphic design and thoughtful language were used to encourage visitors to Central Park in New York to take responsibility for litter and dog waste, and he shared this knowledge with us all as we were gradually filling up our black plastic bags with rubbish. Brilliant!
“So many individuals, groups, organisations, businesses and schools are currently keen to complement the regular work of our local authorities and achieve a healthier landscape that we can all be proud of, as well as a permanent long-term solution – we must actively build, not lose, this momentum.”