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World Rivers Day: Preventing Plastic Pollution with local communities

Volunteers with the Preventing Plastic Pollution Banner and the litter they have collected from the river at The Big River Refresh event

World Rivers Day is a celebration of the world’s waterways. It highlights the many values of our rivers, strives to increase public awareness, and encourages the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world.  Rivers in virtually every country face multiple threats, and only through our active involvement can we ensure their health in the years to come. This year for World Rivers Day, (held on September 26th), community clean-up groups across 3 catchment pilot sites took to the banks of the rivers Frome, Piddle, Medway, Great Ouse and Nene to prevent plastic pollution.

On the river Medway, South East Rivers Trust joined forces with Tonbridge Canoe Club, Epic Life and Tonbridge Boat Trips for a community clean-up event where roughly 50kg of litter were removed from the river. And thirty volunteers from the local community, Wareham Wombles, Clean Up Dorset Squad, and the Poole Harbour Canoe Club; conducted a land and water-based litter pick along the River Frome and Piddle. In total, volunteers collected upwards of 70kg of litter from the river and its banks, on foot, and using paddleboards and canoes to reach litter in the water.

In the Great Ouse catchment, The Rivers Trust are working with Huntingdon Canoe Club who regularly pick litter from the Great Ouse River. To celebrate World Rivers Day, they went downstream towards Portholme Meadow, the largest water meadow in the UK for a litter pick. This area is popular for boating, picnics, walking and open water swimming, so the litter caught was mainly wind-blown picnic litter, such as crisp packets, glass beer bottles and plastic fizzy-drink bottles, most of which was entangled into the thick bankside vegetation.

Across the catchment, another group of volunteers from RiverCare and BeachCare were out clearing litter alongside the river Nene. This was the group’s first litter pick in the area but they plan for litter picks to become regular events going forward, as the group is concerned about the sheer amount of litter near and along the banks of the river.

As part of their litter picks, all the groups completed surveys as they collected the litter, adding valuable information to a log of all the plastic collected in the pilot areas for the Preventing Plastic Pollution project.

Debbie Murray, from the Preventing Plastic Pollution project, said: “The work of community groups on the ground is invaluable. The data they gather will be key to helping us better understand plastic pollution hotspots across the whole catchment area and the movement of plastic pollution from source to sea.”

Litter has become a major problem on many public green and blue spaces including rivers and beaches. By working on the ground with communities, Preventing Plastic Pollution is not only aiming to remove 200 tonnes of plastic waste from the environment, it is also hoping to empower and encourage individuals, communities and businesses to understand how they can also take action and reduce the amount of plastic waste polluting our rivers and seas.