Tackling the source of the problem rather than picking up after people

Many people will remember the scenes of litter carelessly strewn across the Lake District in the summer, and the toll taken on the British countryside from extra numbers of visitors after the worldwide pandemic curtailed holidays abroad and many other summer activities.

You may be aware of how hard many organisations worked to clear up the mess left in our beautiful countryside by a small minority of visitors. 

Landscape conservation charity Friends of the Lake District held a socially-distanced Great Cumbria Litter Pick in August, in which volunteers took part in a big clean up right across the county, while staff from local councils, the Lake District National Park and National Trust Rangers and many other groups and individuals spent vast amounts of time and money cleaning up after the litterers.

Pictured: Rubbish collected at Thirlmere - Great Cumbrian Litter Pick 2020

Kate Willshaw, Policy officer at Friends of the Lake District said: “This situation led us to thinking that people are looking at the problem from the wrong end. By clearing up after people who drop litter we are not actually addressing the problem, only tidying up after it.  Litter picking is an extra strain on the resources of already stretched councils and landowners and unless something is done to prevent littering taking place, the situation will just continue. 

“We want to find out why people are dropping litter in the first place, and what can be done to persuade people not to do it, so we approached the experts on this issue, Keep Britain Tidy (an independent charity that aims to eliminate litter, end waste and improve places). We hoped they would be interested in working with us to look into the littering in the Lakes that took place this summer, and try to work out how to get people to change their behaviour in order to keep the Lake District's landscape rubbish-free."

Friends of the Lake District is pleased to announce that it will be working with Keep Britain Tidy over the next four months to look at why people are littering and leaving waste behind, and to try and understand the triggers to littering and barriers to responsible waste disposal in the National Park.  We hope to be able to use the insights from this research to recommend targeted interventions and activity to change visitor behaviour and prevent littering from occurring across the National Park in future.

Pictured: Rubbish collected at Thirlmere - Great Cumbrian Litter Pick 2020

Our experiences here in Cumbria tie in with a national ‘Litter in Lockdown’ survey that CPRE and YouGov, published today, showing that ‘Over a third of adults in England (38%) have seen more litter near to where they live since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and over three quarters (76%) have noticed more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) being littered, according to a new YouGov poll, commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity.’

The poll has also revealed stark changes in where the public is spending their time in light of coronavirus-related regulations and the ‘Litter in lockdown’ study shows that where people go, litter follows. These include:

  • One in three adults (34%) reported spending more time in the countryside since the start of lockdown;
  • One in three adults (32%) have spent more time in parks and this rises to 44% for those who have children under the age of 4; and
  • Three quarters of the public (75%) have spent less time in inner city high streets and 69% have spent less time in local high streets showing a major shift in where people spend their time."

Litter is a very avoidable blight that currently scars our countryside. As more people than ever before venture into their local green space or countryside, it's crucial that the government redoubles its efforts to tackle litter and stops it pilling up in our beautiful countryside. Friends of the Lake District, which represents CPRE in Cumbria, joins CPRE in calling for the Government to introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles as a solution to some of the littering.