One can get into troublesome territory when contemplating a rant… there’s a danger that you’ll plummet into a pit of sanctimony or open a can of worms that crawl around your conscious and compromise other attempts at blogging debate in future.
I’m on relatively safe ground here, though.
I live in the densely populated urban fringe, bordering the spartan northern Peak District and South Pennines. I’m lucky to have such great hillwalking, mountain biking and road cycling on my doorstep.
However, maybe it’s my age or just a general lack of tolerance these days, but I find myself increasingly angered by the level of rubbish that can be found in the upland areas near my home.
Things are really bad where the towns abut the hills. Sacks of rubbish are chucked over dry stone walls, old tyres dumped in undergrowth and slung into hedgerows, while fast food packaging can be found in the remotest spots.
Away from urban areas, the problem rears its ugly head where access is provided for cars. Lay-bys where the Pennine Way crosses major high-level roads can become unofficial waste dumps. Plastic waste sacks are no match for the attentions of moorland fauna while high winds on the plateau give this disgusting detritus an Aeolian lift, extending its unsavoury effect beyond the roadside.
The rather lovely Dove Stones complex, near Greenfield, also suffers. Litter can be found regularly on the path that circles the reservoirs here. Even worse, though, are dog owners who arm themselves with scented bags for dog mess, clear up their canine’s deposition and then leave the tied bag on the ground. Give me strength…
I courted some strange looks one sunny afternoon last year when, reaching the end of my tether, I walked around the reservoirs picking up litter, stuffing into the side pockets of my Pinnacle pack. When I reached the bin in the car park, I was barely able to empty them without ripping the fabric such was the compressed volume of trash.
OK, enough of the anecdotes.
I know I’m not alone on this one. The ever-engaging blogger, campaigner and LeJoger, Alan Sloman has been outspoken on this topic in the past. Another lightweight end-to-ender, John Cromarty, also acknowledges the problem in his interview podcast with Backpackinglight.co.uk.
As ‘mountain go-ers’, for want of a better term, we have a responsibility to hike and camp with the utmost sensitivity for the areas we travel through. Most of us do, because we value the places we visit and respect others who seek to enjoy these places. I would like to think we operate a similar set of values if walking down a high street.
The dispiriting flytipping I’ve experienced on the urban fringe highlights a deeper cultural issue, though… a complete lack of respect for the environment and of other people. Big Society it definitely ‘aint.
There are no easy solutions, either.
Civil enforcement has worked in some areas, although mainly urban centres. Clean up is expensive: local authorities spent £858 million on street cleansing in 2008-09.
Although primarily ‘urban focussed’, Encams, the charity behind the Keep Britain Tidy campaign, has tried to get the root of the problem and establish why people drop litter through ‘segmentation surveys’. In 2006, the last time this was done, 46% of people admitted to being ‘tossers’, to use Encams’ laconic expression.
The charity calls for a multi-faceted approach. Land managers must ensure places are clean – to maintain a standard – and ensure the public are reminded of what to do with their rubbish. Adequate facilities – bins – must be provided, too, where appropriate (not the middle of peat moorland, but certainly in all car parks).
The charity concludes: ‘the results of this research clearly demonstrate that littering is a deeply ingrained behaviour that people ﬁnd easy to excuse. People do not take responsibility for their littering behaviour and blame it on a variety of external inﬂuences such as dirty streets and a lack of bins. ENCAMS would like to see more people taking responsibility for, and feeling proud of the places where they live, work and socialise’.
Amen to that.