Where do I begin?
I was fortunate to be invited to be one of Trash Free Trails Ambassadors last year, or this year, to be honest, time is moving so fast currently, my memory of exactly when certain actions have been taken isn’t the best. Either way, I was made part of the A Team, one of 25 representatives around the UK to help spread the word, take action and share the stoke for looking after our trail network, being mindful of our actions.
Fast forward a few months and you will have read (I hope) the news of the first ever Spring Trail Clean Tour, which took place last week at 7 Trail Centres across England and Wales. I made the decision to travel up and attend the Dalby and Grizedale tour stops. They fell on a long weekend, I’d never been to either trail centre before, but most importantly, I could get hands on with Dom, Ben and Ellie, the brains behind the operation.On the road for 0600 on Saturday and traffic free, the weather couldn’t have been better for drawing people on the trails and opening conversations. Imagine trying to talk to people as it lashed sideways in frigid conditions… well, only the hardcore would have ventured out. Arriving to the sites and sounds of families and bikes everywhere, I clocked the TFT EZ-Up and made my way over to say hello. Having never met Ellie or Ben before, and Dom once some 6 years ago, I was made to feel right at home. One of the reasons I get involved with projects and movements is the community aspect, the friendships they create. After a short time getting to know the team and waiting for other volunteers to arrive, it was time to hit the trail. Adrian Carter, the founder and designer of Pace Cycles would be our guide and the lust over his prototype RC295 was real.
The idea is simple. Ride on a trail and pick litter up. Well, you’d think so. However, it’s a little more challenging. You need to consider the terrain, individual riding ability, spacing, where items are likely to be stashed. The main aspect is how stop start it will be. Once you see some litter and you or others in the group get to around 5-10 items, suddenly you see the trail in a new light, you’ve unlocked a new sense and you see it everywhere. I’m not for one moment saying our trails are areas scarred with obscene levels of waste, what I am saying is there is a lot more trash on the trail than you may realise.
Following the flowing climb of the blue/red, corners proved to be goldmines for gels and bottles that were virtually full – the riders either must have needed to drop some weight for the climb or lost them accidentally.
When we ventured into the downhill sections, we didn’t stop as much, first due to much less litter being present but also for safety. Stopping on an open trail, in a fast, technical section was not a wise move. You’ve always got to consider other trail users and your own safety. Make sure you get off the trail and place your bike on an adjacent bank before picking anything up.
Along with clearing the trail, education for all those who volunteered was key for spreading a coherent message, but also picking up on details that at first glance may have been missed. After spotting a collection of wrappers under a tree, Dom noticed that both the gel and the drink box had both been consumed partially by the local wildlife. There is a lot of research going on into the affects of plastics in marine wildlife at present, as the plastic can not pass through their internal organs and there is an understanding about the impact on the food chain. Less has been said about their land counterparts and is something we need to start be more aware of. I live opposite a large deer park, signs are on all gates stating all rubbish can be dangerous for young deer. It stands to reason, this can apply to all deer and wildlife.
A relaxed spin back to HQ, where Ben and Ellie had been engaging with people walking past the stand and time to tally up.
Yes, we don’t just bin it, we sort, count and recycle. The above photo shows one statistic which blows my mind. At Lady Cannings, near Sheffield, 244 poo bags were picked up! 244 dog owners had seen it fit to put their poo in plastic bags and leave it for trail fairies to collect. I’m sure you’ve seen the poo trees, the endangered species, that through hard work in nurturing some 8 million furry friends in the UK, are making a comeback…. If you’re being considerate and bagging it, please do everyone a favour and dispose of it.
With everything separated, tallied and packed down, it was time to head cross country from Dalby to Windermere. My sat nav took me on a dry stone walled route through the Yorkshire Dales, taking in many a quaint village found on an advert or greetings card. Meeting up with the TFT Team in their Stance Socks Crafter at the legendary Tebay services, we refulled before heading to Windermere’s YHA, where I’d been gifted a top bunk, which did have more appeal than a night in the car spooning my bike. Cheers Team!!
A fresh morning, over looking the Southern Fells and Windermere’s vast expanse of calm water, the team headed off to Grizedale. Setting up opposite the shop, small stream running behind and shade provided by trees, it was an ideal location.
A bigger turn out for the final leg, meant more action on the trail. 3 separate walking groups and a bike team scoured the land and whereas Dalby had been sandy and flowy, much like my native Woburn trails, all be it, with additional elevation, Grizedale was different. Rocky, sharp ups in places and loose under tyre, it made the art of spotting and picking up litter more precise.
The team consisted of Dan and Jack from Ride Bikes in Ulverston, Ian our guide from Grizedale MTB and Chris who was shooting for Stance. Dan, Jack and Ian knew the trails well, the hotspots where trash may be and kept things fun….. there’s only so many times you can ask them to pose when they’ve found someone else’s rubbish.The rocky terrain provided a different mix of trail side litter. Reflectors from hire bike pedals (or so we assumed), tyre levers, small plastic items that most likely came from a bike. The trail was providing a challenge to rider and bike. Plastic bottles and gels remained a constant feature, especially in these key areas;
- The first mile
- The base of any climb of more than 20 seconds
- When the trail meets a fire road and theres a natural break
- The final climb/descent of the day
Once again, signs that wildlife had interacted with and potentially consumed part of the bottle was present. Some flat out sections to bring us back to base camp, well, would have been if I knew the trails like the locals and it was an opportunity to compare notes. With 4 separate cleans in action, it promised greater diversity in the haul.
Huge props to Ellie (above) as that was the poo bag and yes, Ellie counted each bag out individually. Pipping, gas canisters, a buff, apparel, bottles, gels, even a Madison taped box was spread out before all and it represented just two hours of searching. After a coffee & cake provided by the Forestry Comission, we packed down for the final time and headed to Coniston water for a freezing dip and time to relax, before the long drive back down south and reality. In some 40 hours I’d driven 596 miles, rode at two trail centres, cleared 11 miles of trail, met 50+ people, spent time with 3 maverick legends and above all, come away inspired. It’s one thing to be part of an organisation, but another to be actively involved and I wasn’t 100% sure where or how I would fit in prior to the weekend. I came back wanting to plan my own mini events, spread the word further afield (with some confidence I know what I’m on about) and do what I can to support Dom, Ben and Ellie in the coming months and years.
We are the custodians of our trail networks, whether you’re a rider, runner, walker, off road unicyclist, dog walker…. anyone who is a user. I am not standing (ok I’m sat in a chair) saying you need to single handedly go around on every time you venture into the wilderness and pick everything up. Nor am I accusing you of dropping litter.
What I am asking is that we as a society and community do our little bit to contribute and a couple of times a month actively pick up a handful of rubbish off the trail. We can do it as groups or individuals, do it privately or tag Trash Free Trails on Instagram or your chosen social media platform. Momentum is our ally, our compatriot and it is our task to generate, but more importantly, keep it in motion. The results of the Spring Trail Clean Tour are being collated and the team at Trash Free Trails will be issuing their state of the trail report in the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, if you have any questions feel free to comment below or reach out to the team at Trash Free Trails.