Trash Free Trails

Words and images by Chris Goodman at UninspiredRamblings.

At a time when so many global environmental problems are becoming ever more critical – plastic pollution, climate change, urban air quality, species extinction – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and a little bit helpless. Whilst serious, coordinated action is needed to make headway on these issues, it’s useful to look at what action you can take locally, in your everyday life, and how you can perhaps cause a little ripple that encourages others to do the same.

The team behind Trash Free Trails have form in facilitating this, having established the Surfer’s Against Sewage beach clean initiative through a combination of organised events, education, and providing communities with the tools to organise their own events.  They’re applying the same principles to build awareness and action targeted at cleaning up the local trails that we all love to walk and ride. Their aim is to build a community, improve awareness and provide the tools to enable people to take responsibility for looking after their local trails in their own way, and to provide a platform on which this action can be shared to build a wider awareness and engagement.

They’ve kicked this off with the first week long Spring Trail Clean Tour of some of the most popular mountain biking trail centres in the UK – including Bikepark Wales, Llandegla, Coed-y-Brenin, Dalby Forest and Grizedale Forest, supported by Trek Bicycles and Stance Socks.

The Grizedale event fortuitously coincided with my journey back down from a week in Scotland, and so I found myself in the Lake District heading out onto The North Face Trail with about 20 other volunteers equipped with bags, gloves and eagle eyes, heading off in small groups by bike or on foot. 

In just a couple of hours we collected bags full of rubbish including 66 small bags of dog crap (why, oh why, do some dog walkers do this?), 35 plastic bottles (6 of which were Lucozade), 124 wrappers, 24 cans, and a load other random stuff including part of a car hub cap, rope, bungees, a buff and a whole load of pedal reflectors, presumably from hire bikes. These were often in the same spots, victim to pedals striking rocks on techy obstacles.

Whilst out collecting rubbish on the trail, and chatting around the stand outside Grizedale Mountain Bikes, enough interest was sparked in other riders to say that they would also pick up anything they saw. The thing with litter is that it’s everywhere, and so it’s incredibly easy not to ‘register’ its presence. Even if you do, it’s easy to feel that it’s not your rubbish and so it’s not really your responsibility to remove it. But once you go out with other people on an event like this, actively looking to collect it, you start to see it everywhere and realise that you can take responsibility to remove it, you can make a small difference yourself, and you can make a bigger collectively. I guess it should really be the norm for those that love these trails to routinely take the responsibility to maintain and clean them, to set the standards and expectations for those who visit.

Three small but fundamental things that you can do to help tackle trail trash are:

  • take your litter home with you;
  • carry a small bag in your backpack to collect any trash you find when out riding or walking. You don’t have to collect everything you see, but if everyone collected a few pieces, it would have an impact;
  • gently explain to other trail users that its not acceptable to dump this stuff on our (their) trails, and even better, get them involved in collecting rubbish thats already there.

You can follow Trash Free Trails on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. They have a further Trail Clean event at the Tweedlove Festival at Innerliethen on 9th June, so if you’re in the area be sure to take part, and look out for future events!