A mass volunteer litter pick based originally on the three national high points of Great Britain will this year aim to expand its horizons. The sixth annual Real3Peaks Challenge, which takes place 13th October, will add events on Lochnagar, Cairngorm, Ben Macdui, Ben Lomond, Goat Fell, Coniston Old Man and areas of the Peak District and North York Moors to its popular cleanups on Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.
"When I started the Real3Peaks Challenge in 2013, I was working as a full-time outdoors instructor" says founder Rich Pyne.
"Whilst my group were eating lunch, I decided to pick up some rubbish from the summit of Ben Nevis, as it was looking rather sad. I managed to fill two carrier bags in as many minutes. From this point, rather disappointed in humanity, I wrote about my findings on a Facebook page. Somebody said, 'Why don't you do something about it?' So I did…
"Initially, my aim was to complete a Real3Peaks Challenge myself, cleaning each hill, one after the other, but I soon realised that wouldn't be effective enough to make a difference. So I soon got together a modest group of like-minded Mountain Leaders, used to working in the outdoors with individuals and groups, to manage each mountain."
The National three Peaks are among the busiest mountains in the UK. Over 2016, for instance, it's estimated that 150,000 people climbed Ben Nevis, while Scafell Pike saw 190,000 visitors. Snowdon was way out in the lead (perhaps passengers on the railway are counted?) at a staggering 582,000. With numbers like this, it only takes a small minority of thoughtless individuals for there to be a big problem with litter.
The previous five events have between them removed nearly 2.4 tonnes of litter from the hills:
- 2013: 265kg cleared off the major routes on Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon
- 2014: 423kg (they knew where to look!)
- 2015: 513kg October
- 2016: 568kg (including a toilet on Ben Nevis)
- 2017: 570kg from 109 volunteers split between: Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon, Lochnagar, Ben Macdui, Ben Lomond, Mam Tor & Dovestone
As well as the predictable picnic detritus, fruit peels (which take years to biodegrade in the moutain climate), food packaging, plastic bottles, cans, dog poo bags, carrier bags, toilet paper, human excrement and discarded clothing, Real3Peaks teams have over the years found some unusual items, ranging from a sex toy (we haven't asked) to an octopus.
The name Real3Peaks Challenge is an ironic nod to the fact that the real challenge on these heavily used mountains is clearing up after the hordes have departed at the end of the charity 3-peaks season. October is the ideal time to give the litter-strewn paths and summits a deep clean before winter snow covers the ground.
As well as making a differerence on the day, the aim of the Challenge is to raise awareness of the issue of littering, and promote a leave no trace ethos.
"Those working in the outdoors, landowners, conservation charities and land management teams have all been managing litter issues for a long time, but we do not believe these efforts have had enough exposure with the general public, as well as those visiting these particular mountains" says Rich Pyne.
"Now there is more potential to increase visibility. As children of the 1970s/80s, we remember the widespread anti-littering campaigns of our childhood! Where is that ethic now – what has happened to a generation of people that are too quick to absolve personal responsibility for their actions and think that it's someone else's problem…?"
For more info see the Real3Peaks Challenge Facebook group
To participate in a litter pick on your favourite hill, contact the local organiser: