SO here I am, then, standing in a filthy lay-by at Ramsdown Plantation near Hurn. The rain is pouring down. And the path into the forest is strewn, not with anemones or primroses but, rather, dirty plastic shopping bags, cans of max-strength lager and empty sandwich packets.
There’s no one about to even see me or laugh at me at the moment. And I’m about to do something really worthwhile. So why do I feel so... embarrassed, for want of a better word?
According to Tim Barnes, the original Litter Hero who started up his website to encourage all the others, it’s a common feeling. “I can only think it’s something to do with the fact that it’s like roadsweeping and for some reason, people who clean up other people’s rubbish are not very highly thought of, which is so wrong,” he says.
Tim started picking up litter from the lanes around his Cotswolds home after becoming frustrated at the mess. Now, he says: “I go out two or three times a week for an hour or two at a time.
“Typically, I’ll do a mile or two of lanes in a session.
“There are four locations I litter pick regularly, every two to three weeks or so. Otherwise, I just look out for lanes that need doing when I’m driving or cycling and I come back and pick them.”
He then decided to start a website and slowly others came forward, usually telling him: “I thought it was just me.”
There are litter heroes all over the UK, including West Dorset, with the magnificent Richard Doherty and Lilian Modlock of Gillingham. But there are none officially registered as Litter Heroes round this part of the county.
Which is why I’m standing here at Ramsdown Plantation. According to Tim’s site, all I need is a carrier bag and some gloves. I’ve got those, so I’m off.
It takes me less than 20 minutes to fill a black sack with (among other things) three half-drunk cans of Carlsberg, two empty glass vodka bottles, innumerable plastic shopping bags, sandwich packets, cardboard cups, cola cans and sweet wrappers.
But even I baulk at the idea of picking up someone’s used condom. The yuk factor is just too high so I leave it behind, in the hope that a litterbug will slip up on it.
A middle-aged man walking a dog spots me. He quickens his pace and looks away before I can even speak to him. Does he think I’m mad? Or is he one of the dirty droppers? Let’s face it, someone must be doing it.
Earlier this week author and president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Bill Bryson, lately of this parish, berated the lack of action and called for a media advertising campaign and more litter bins.
Cleaning up litter costs us a staggering £800 million a year and, as the Anglophile American points out: “You have a wonderful country, so why trash it?”
And as I proudly stick my bag of what Mr Bryson would call “garbage” next to the inadequate facilities at Ramsdown Plantation, I agree. Why indeed?
- Voluntary litter-picking must be done in safety. For tips click on litterheroes.co.uk