A mass volunteer litter pick based originally on the three national high points of Great Britain takes place later this month. The seventh annual Real3Peaks Challenge, which takes place on the weekend of 12th-13th October, will add events on Lochnagar, Cairngorm/Ben Macdui, Bennachie, Ben Lomond, the Isle of Skye, Roseberry Topping, The Roaches, Coniston Old Man and Pen y Fan to its popular cleanups on Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.
One key aim of the Real3Peaks Challenge, which has its own busy Facebook page, is to increase awareness of the leave no trace ethic.
Originally conceived as a way to clean up at the end of the messy 'three peaks' charity challenge season on the national high points, and try to reinforce the message that charity groups need to be more mindful of their impact, the event has gradually expanded into other hard-hit upland areas.
The national three peaks are inevitably among the most heavily trodden 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 582,000. With numbers like this, it only takes a small minority of thoughtless individuals for there to be a big problem with litter. But of course the issue isn't confined to the three highest mountains.
"When I started the Real3Peaks Challenge in 2013, I was working as a full-time outdoors instructor" said event 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, from where somebody said, "Why don't you do something about it?" So, I did…
"With other keen and committed mountain people, I have carried on volunteering time towards R3P. This started as a personal crusade, but now it has become my opportunity to help make a difference, and to ultimately help change attitudes towards our common land."
While the events are a good way to get out a message, they've had a big impact on the ground too. In 2017, over 100 volunteers picked up a total of 570kg of rubbish, including 120kg on Ben Nevis, 55kg on Scafell Pike and a whopping 280kg from Snowdon. October 2018's 20 litter picks on heavily-used hills across the country netted 611kg.
As well as the unsurprising picnic detritus, fruit peels, food packaging, plastic bottles, cans, dog poo bags, carrier bags, toilet paper, used tampons, human excrement, human ashes, fag ends 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. Long-buried historic rubbish is increasingly being uncovered too.
"A while back, I was having a conversation on Facebook with regards to the littering issues and how long 'perishables' last" says Rich Pyne.
"A chap asked me, 'I understand about plastic bottles, but what is wrong with leaving banana skins…they degrade?' I responded by suggesting that 'Next time you eat a banana, do a little experiment: once you eat it, throw the skin in your garden. At 6pm put it in your fridge. At 10am place it back in your garden. Keep doing that until October when you then put it in your freezer until April. Repeat the process.' I didn't hear from him again. It can take up to two years for banana skins to degrade on a high mountain plateau."
The events across the UK rely on volunteers - and the more, the merrier.
For more info see the Real3Peaks Challenge Facebook group
To participate in a litter pick on your favourite hill, contact the local organiser: