By Gray Elkington – Little Rissington Parish Councillor, and Rissy resident since 1959.
A work colleague once told me a story. It was the mid 1980s and he was walking to our office in north London with our boss, the CEO of a 400-employee corporate culture change firm. They were in deep conversation about the plans for a new client. The CEO was in full flow when, without missing a beat, she led the way across the street, picked up a fish-and-chip wrapper, placed it in a litter bin, and crossed back over the road. My colleague, surprised and impressed, remarked, “Not many people would do that.” She replied in a matter-of-fact tone, “My world, my litter.”
That’s not a comfortable mindset to have. Far from it. Adopt it and you end up feeling embarrassed by the state of “your” roads, especially if a visitor from abroad is expected and your roads are messy. But, once thought, it’s difficult to unthink the idea that it’s my world and therefore it’s my litter.
For over a year now, Little Rissington parish has been litter-picked at least once a week by volunteers who have come to think of litter in the same way as that CEO. This is our manor. This is our litter.
The upshot is that because we prefer to live in a clean parish, or a pristine parish as we have come to call it, we are compelled to make sure it is always pristine. That doesn’t mean neat, or kempt, or tamed. It simply means unspoilt by rubbish.
How clean is pristine? Having dealt with litter in and around Little Rissington since early 2018, I reckon that a couple of picks of the entire parish road network per week is not only doable but leaves the place looking as if litter were incidental and not pandemic. In order to guarantee at least a once-a-week pick in the face of the unpredictable, we actually organise, with the aid of an online rota, to pick the parish twice a week. And most weeks, that is what happens.
Picking up litter is not all we do. We report offenders to the police where identifiable – they have issued two fixed penalty notices and a caution – and report fly tips and abandoned vehicles to Gloucestershire County Council. In fact, they don’t get removed unless someone reports them. In addition, while litter-picking, we notice potholes, loose manhole covers, and suchlike. These we report to Gloucestershire Highways.
Because we are out so often, enjoying the flora and fauna in our verges and hedgerows while noting the destructiveness of human activity, we have come to think of our litter-picks as ecosystem patrols. By the sixth time you find a dead shrew or mouse in a wine or beer bottle, you realise that litter-picking is not just about aesthetics. It’s a matter of some importance for small animals and the red kites and foxes that might otherwise have fed on them.
What’s the point?
Why are we doing this? Isn’t it the council’s job? Well, yes and no. While Cotswold District Council will undertake litter picking on request if a road gets really messy and is reported to them – and they agree it’s messy enough to justify sending a team and closing lanes to traffic – and will clear a fly tip within days of being notified, they are under no obligation to keep our roads and verges pristine.
In short, there is no fairy godmother. Doing it ourselves is the only way we can keep our parish pristine and our local ecosystem healthy.
I’m loving it
Fast food packaging is a frequent find and I have to give credit to McDonalds for the support they have given us in terms of tracking offenders. Consequently, I’m loving them!
Apart from the support from unexpected quarters, there are some other wonderful side-effects of patrolling, not least the regular exercise. I work from home and, while a keen city walker, I was a very intermittent country walker. As a result, my knees used to hurt going up the stairs. They don’t anymore. Strava, an app that tracks activity, tells me that last month I walked 45 miles while patrolling and my knee muscles are strong and now taking the strain away from my joints.
What’s more, I now enjoy walking, because I am doing it with a purpose that is more compelling to me than my own fitness. And I am loving being out and about as I used to be when a child in this parish, where my parents settled in 1959, noticing the changes in the countryside as the seasons unfold.
Also, it’s nice to know that the frequent sight of someone picking provides reassurance to parishioners that someone is on top of the problem, as evidenced by the many heart-warming “Thanks!”, thumbs-up and smiles.
Earlier this year, I began to take photos of the parish while out patrolling, some of which are reproduced on this page, and others here.
I’m hoping that sharing my positive experience will encourage a few more parishioners to act as patrollers, even if that’s just as reserve patrollers to cover the (very few) times when the regulars are unable to do it, and the looming probability that I will need to spend an extended time abroad.
Patrolling is not suitable for young unaccompanied children. Walking the roads requires volunteers with road sense, who know how to keep themselves safe and avoid getting in the way of people using the road – who we need on our side. The need to slot patrols around the weather means it is actually ideal for adults who control their own diary, who have retired or who work or study from home.
There are two circuits, each covering about half the parish’s road network, the West Circuit and the East Circuit. West (3 miles) takes 60-80 minutes, East (2.5 miles) takes 50-70 minutes.
I hope you are tempted to take part. If so, please contact me using the form on this page and I will explain what’s involved and give you a litter picker, a hi-vis vest and some useful tips.
Before volunteering you may want to see how much litter we normally pick up during a patrol. If so, let me know and I will give you access to a Dropbox folder that has photos of every haul dating back to November 2018.
Here’s just part of what you will see. Each photo is the haul from one pick of one circuit and represents the accumulation of litter over 3 to 4 days.
Our need for volunteers is constant so the fact this was written in 2019 doesn’t mean we couldn’t accommodate another volunteer today.
So please step forward and join us! The patrol calendar can be seen here. When you volunteer, you will be given access to the schedule so that you can enter the days you wish to patrol.