After a challenging few months, being able to meet up with friends and family outdoors has come as a massive relief to so many, as we rediscover the connections and activities that are so vital to our lives and mental health.
It’s great that local parks, beaches, playgrounds and seafronts are busier than before: why not enjoy the warmer weather and get some Vitamin D?
Current government advice is to minimise travel and stay local to your area where possible if you are heading outdoors. But, ultimately, no amount of government guidance can replace personal responsibility.
‘Don’t be a Tosser’ is quite a striking message isn’t it? It’s used by Keep Britain Tidy and councils across the country to convey a simple message – please don’t litter and always pick up after yourself. Put your litter in bins. If they’re full, take it home with you.
In the last week, we’ve seen litter strewn across our beaches. One of the most striking images was from Exmouth, widely shared on a local social media group, where a group of people felt it was acceptable to leave a metal BBQ and every bit of plastic they had brought with them. Another person found a portable radio, needles and other unmentionable items.
I really can’t understand the mentality of people who visit a beautiful place and decide to ruin it for others. It’s incredibly selfish, lazy and suggests they believe other people should clear up their mess.
I know this is an issue close to many people’s hearts in East Devon. Volunteers in our towns and villages take part in regular litter picks, with bigger events organised by the Budleigh Lions, Litter Blitzers Exmouth and the Sidmouth Plastic Warriors. I’d like to thank them for all their hard graft and I’ll be joining future events.
We do also have people employed locally to keep our area clean. You may have seen the excellent East Devon District Council StreetScene team doing a superb job in our communities. But these teams cannot be the replacement for personal responsibility and pride in the place we love. It’s not fair to expect them to take care of it when they have many other jobs to do.
I’ve spoken with the police and I’m pleased they plan to use more patrols in known anti-social behaviour hotspots. For Exmouth, that’s on top of extra CCTV covering Marine Drive, Orcombe Point and the seafront brought in last summer. It’s worth remembering that littering is a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty on conviction of a fine of up to £2,500, although most enforcement is carried out by local authorities using fixed penalties of up to £150.
There’s sadly no quick fix to this perennial problem. Throwing more council taxpayers’ money at the issue with more StreetScene patrols might look like a tempting option, but it doesn’t address the real attitude problem we have to solve.
Some councils have chosen to place signs in strategic places to remind people to pick up their litter. It would need to be quite a hard-hitting message to really hit home. Perhaps it’s time we took a leaf from the Keep Britain Tidy approach because this really isn’t an issue to be tossed aside.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 7th April 2021 and in the Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald later in the week.