Beach clean litter picker

Keeping Bossington Beach beautiful, one clean at a time

3 minute read

Peter Dlugiewicz has been cleaning beaches for 35 years, completing around 150 cleans. He tells us about his efforts to keep his local beach beautiful and litter-free.

Bossington Beach is a long, curving pebble beach stretching almost three miles. It runs from Hurlestone Point to beyond the small harbour at Porlock Weir, has good climate, and is relatively sheltered.

I started cleaning this beach in 1988 as, having walked there many times, it was clear that the litter was just piling up and no one seemed to be taking responsibility for it. So I did.

Bossington beach

Credit: Peter Dlugiewicz

My initial efforts were made using just my hands, but my friends later gave me a litter picker - that I still have - as a present, which made things much easier.

I was particularly glad of the litter picker back then, because in those days, it would take two full days to clean the beach and sewage outfalls meant that the litter included a lot of sanitary products.

I’ve been engaging with the Marine Conservation Society since before then, but I started sending in the results of my cleans (what I found and how much and where) in 1994 - I even have a t-shirt and a car sticker from then!

Due to the pressure of my work, I wasn’t able to send the data in for each of my cleans, but I’d make sure to send them in during the Great British Beach Clean each September.

Beachwatch T-shirt

Credit: Peter Dlugiewicz

Even though the Marine Conservation Society only needs results from a 100m stretch, I always go on to clean the entire beach and the land behind anyway.

One New Year I removed 24 bags of litter plus larger items – I’ve removed everything from fridges to car tyres and tents – but that was a particularly big haul.

Over the 35 years I’ve been doing this, the average I remove is around eight bags of litter, plus any larger items. Because I do a clean every three months, this means I clear around 32 bags a year – that puts into context how bad the beach was that New Year’s Day.

Beach clean litter from 1990s

A picture from the 1990s showing a typical result of a 3-monthly clean

Credit: Peter Dlugiewicz

I usually do my cleans alone, as in the early days, a lot of people who said they’d come along and help cancelled at the last moment.

I’m always open to work with other volunteers, though; one year, children from a summer camp came along to help me. That was great - their enthusiasm was infectious.

I also once met with researchers from UCL who wanted to know how I went about my cleans. They were looking at the possibility of programming a drone to fly over beaches, identify litter hotspots and report it to relevant authorities. I don’t know if that idea ever developed, though!

Group of people beach cleaning

Credit: Billy Barraclough

Although I started in Bossington Beach, Somerset, my cleaning has extended to Dorset, Devon and Scotland.

The most difficult clean I did was below Countisbury Hill in Lynmouth, Devon, where the steep climb up and down with bags of litter seemed to take forever!

One winter when I was on Lundy island, a fierce easterly wind blew thousands of plastic items ashore whilst the seals were popping their heads above it all. To me, it was a disgrace to let that happen.

I’m driven by anger that we’ve allowed all this to occur and by the pleasure I get from, after hours spent litter-picking, seeing a clean beach and being able to admire the landscape and seascape as they should be.

Volunteer on Budleigh Beach During Great British Beach Clean GBBC 2017 Andrew Brown

Credit: Andrew Brown

By now, I’ve done around 150 cleans, and I plan to continue for as long as I can. Sadly, I don’t think the problem will go away any time soon, but I’m hoping that regular cleaning of the beach will encourage people to take greater care.

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