Teams of volunteers joined a mass litter pick over the weekend of 7th-8th October to clear a mountain of rubbish from some popular hills. The haul included a few kilograms of chewing gum and 2kg of cigarette butts. Formerly staged on just the national three peaks, the fifth annual Real 3 Peaks Challenge was rolled out this year across seven UK upland destinations.
As well as making a practical difference on the ground, the aim of the event is to raise awareness of the problem of littering that blights Britain's busier hills.
"The National 3 Peaks - Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon - were initially chosen as they are household names amongst mountains" explain Rich (event founder) and Monika Pyne (Ben Nevis co-coordinator).
"It's been a long held aim to expand the event, and over the last four years we've had a lot of enquiries from folks that wanted to help out, but found some of these were just too far away. This year new Leaders have stepped up and we've been able to add Lochnagar, Ben Lomond, Ben MacDui and Mam Tor and Dovestone (Peak District)."
"We hope to expand even more in 2018 and are already working on some exciting ideas."
This year the teams, numbering 109 volunteers in total, picked up a staggering 570kg of rubbish
"The weather we had across the country was pretty appalling, with strong winds (74mph on Ben MacDui!) and persistant rain" say Rich and Monika.
"On Scafell Pike two teams made the wise choice to turn back on safety grounds. I don't think so many happy people have been so wet at the same time."
"We've been speaking to a few of the Coordinators, and all have noticed a marked reduction in the volume of single use plastic bottles. Most of the litter found was of the small variety - hard to find, until you start looking, that is..."
The haul this year included: Tissues, banana skins, orange peel and apple cores, plastic bags, foil, several kg of chewing gum (just off Ben Nevis alone), cigarette butts (c.2kg of them on Snowdon), plastic bottles, ring pulls, drinks cans, food tins, flags, commemorative plaques, sanitary products, crisp and sweet packets (one peanut packet on Ben Nevis was dated Best Before Jan 1987), a corrugated iron sheet, a plastic survival bag, clothing, boot soles, rucksack covers and a soggy £5 note, no longer in circulation.
"I did find a lot of chewing gum!" said multiple Munro-round-record-holder Hazel Strachan, a regular at Real 3 Peaks litter picks (we've a Munro interview with Hazel coming soon - watch this space).
"Picking it up has become my specialist area on the clean up. Chewing gum is not a particularly obvious piece of rubbish until you start finding it and there is a lot of it. The best places to look are in drainage gullies and around any places where people would sit for a rest. I never thought that I would spend a day up a mountain picking up chewing gum – I mean who eats chewing gum up a mountain and a big mountain at that?"
"I've participated on the Ben Nevis part of the Real 3 Peaks mass litter pick for three years now" Hazel went on.
"I look on the event as giving a day back to the mountains. It's a great day out – everybody is so enthusiastic to clear litter off the hill even in the wet weather. There is much amusement when the oddest piece of rubbish is found. There is always good feedback from other hill goers which is appreciated. However there are people who think we are up there everyday picking up litter so we explain the purpose of the Real 3 Peaks clean up."
The star find, says Rich, was a small horseshoe on Ben Nevis, which may have belonged to one of the ponies used on the Pony Track when the summit observatory was in operation in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
"One sad thing we have noticed is the increase of human ashes being spread across the hills" say Rich and Monika.
"On the Three Peaks alone, there are currently at least 15 sites. Unfortunately they do not blow away with the wind, and are not absorbed into the rocks; they just linger in small pockets for a long time and can impact on the delicate ecological balance with soil acidity. Whilst we understand people's desire to commemorate their loved ones in a special place, this isn't the most appropriate way and we hope to engage with land owners and the NPAs to look at advising the public in good practice, or establishing dedicated remembrance areas."
"We do believe that we have been making a huge difference to these wonderful places, being able to get down into the nooks and crannies clearing stuff that has accumulated over many years. We have had lots of support and interaction on the hills with passers by offering to carry a bag for us, and picking litter on our behalf - some even asking to take a bin liner from us so they can carry more."
"Hopefully after this huge effort, and the continuing efforts from the Trusts, other charitable organisations, conscientious hill walkers, mountain professionals and land management agencies, these beautiful places will remain free from waste throughout the winter and into the spring... at least until next year's summer high season."
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