'It breaks my heart' - is more litter being dumped during lockdown?

Donna Clarke, from Stibbard, collects litter along the A1067 near Fakenham every weekend

Donna Clarke, from Stibbard, collects litter along the A1067 near Fakenham every weekend - Credit: Ben Elwes

The scourge of litter on Norfolk and Waveney's countryside has "dramatically increased" during lockdown, say campaigners, as they look to keep the county tidy and protect vulnerable wildlife.  

Frustrations have grown in recent weeks over an apparent rise in rubbish being dumped across the area, most notably at the roadside. 

Rubbish collected by Donna Clarke and friends along the A1067 near Fakenham

Rubbish collected by Donna Clarke and friends along the A1067 near Fakenham - Credit: Donna Clarke

And, while the amount of fly-tipping in Norfolk has declined by 30pc compared to 10 years ago, new data has revealed there was still an average of 28 incidents per day from 2019 to 2020.  

Moreover, rules on social distancing and public gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic mean fewer voluntary groups are carrying out their usual litter picks. 

But among those continuing the fight is Donna Clarke, who lives in Stibbard, near Fakenham. 

Rubbish collected by Donna Clarke and friends along the A1067 near Fakeham

Rubbish collected by Donna Clarke and friends along the A1067 near Fakeham - Credit: Donna Clarke

She and friends collect rubbish every Sunday on their local roads, including the busy A1067 running towards Norwich, and believe the problem has worsened. 

An average weekend will see the group fill several bin bags with rubbish, most of which has been dumped from car windows.  

North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has, however, said the number of litter reports it has received in the past 12 months is less than half of the figure for the preceding year.

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"I've been keeping track of this for a while and I have seen the amount of litter dramatically increase over the last few months," said Ms Clarke, 60.

"I used to be involved in waste management and litter policy, so it really breaks my heart. I think one of the causes is people who are bored sick going for a drive and tossing their rubbish along the way.

"The problem is, people chuck away rubbish in places where there is already litter. When a neighbourhood has already been trashed, people think it is fine - what does it matter?"

She added: "Another issue is education. Most children growing up will copy their parents and behave the same way... It would be nice to emerge from lockdown and for there to be a call to arms for people to do the right thing."

Donna Clarke, from Stibbard, collecting rubbish along the A1067 near Fakenham

Donna Clarke, from Stibbard, collecting rubbish along the A1067 near Fakenham - Credit: Ben Elwes

To the east of the county, Great Yarmouth's own war on litter has been waged in recent years by retired surgeon and founder of the town's civic society, Hugh Sturzaker. 

He launched the society in 2017 to encourage a heightened sense of civic pride in the town, and key to the cause has been cleaning up the borough's streets. 

Mr Sturzaker admits, however, that lockdown has had a detrimental impact on that end goal.

Great Yarmouth Beach Clean 2018 Picture: NEIL PERRY

A beach clean takes place in Great Yarmouth in 2018 - Credit: Archant

"The towns themselves are really quite clear, but places in between do get a lot of litter," he said. "It tends to be rubbish from takeaways and there are an awful lot of beer cans - dog poo bags as well.

"Litter on our roads is a big problem. Several months ago there was a big clean-up campaign between Gorleston and Great Yarmouth, but it is beginning to accumulate again.

"It is a really terrible habit. I belong to several organisations involved with schools and we have spoken to them about the importance of educating their children about it.

Hugh Sturzaker outside St George's Theatre in Great Yarmouth.Picture: James Bass

Hugh Sturzaker has made it his mission in recent years to rid Great Yarmouth of litter - Credit: Archant

"If a place is clean and tidy, people tend to respect it. If they see rubbish, they think 'oh well, it is not going to make it any worse.

"Ultimately, it is really up to us as individuals. It is a very small minority spoiling it for the rest."

While the effect of lockdown is difficult to categorically pinpoint, CPRE, the countryside charity, concluded in a recent report that increased use of PPE and face masks meant there was a higher potential for litter. 

Bags of rubbish collected by Donna Clarke and friends along the A1067 near Fakenham 

Bags of rubbish collected by Donna Clarke and friends along the A1067 near Fakenham - Credit: Donna Clarke

Town centres across the UK "became rubbish-free ghost towns" in the early days of lockdown, the report said, with people instead flocking to parks and coastal resorts. 

Chris Dady, chairman of the CPRE's Norfolk branch, added: "I think a lot of people believe lockdown has had a negative effect.

"Even though people are going out less, there seem to be more instances of littering. There is certainly more potential for it with PPE.

"Heading into Norwich on the A11 at the moment there is a lot of roadside litter, especially from fast food restaurants.

Chris Dady, chairman of the Norfolk Council for the Protection of Rural England.Picture: ANTONY KE

Chris Dady, chairman of the CPRE's Norfolk branch

"People are probably having more takeaways, but what we ideally want is for people to take responsibility for their own rubbish."

NNDC said it had received 244 litter reports in 2020/21, compared to 509 in 2019/20. 

Commenting on the perceived rise in litter, a spokesman for the council said it had worked hard to monitor and combat any issues. 

They added: "Inspections by NNDC officers - albeit fewer than would be undertaken in a normal year - have shown dropped or windblown litter has not been as widespread as previous years, certainly at the roadside.

The busy Cromer beach on the hottest day of the summer so far. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Beachgoers flocked to Cromer in the summer of 2020 as lockdown restrictions were eased - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

"While this is likely to be as a result of fewer journeys taking place, it may also be attributed to improved working and litter management processes with a new waste contractor, Serco, as of April 2020.  

"Waste generation did increase during the busy summer period when lockdown restrictions were eased and there was a significant influx of visitors to the district."

But the council said there was a large number of bins in the area, meaning generally litter had not become a problem.

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