Last month saw an unexpectedly high turnout for a clean-up session in Wanstead Park, which has joined many other beauty spots across the country suffering from lockdown litter louts. Richard Arnopp reports
The coronavirus lockdown coincided with a long spell of warm, sunny weather. The Friends of Wanstead Parklands are delighted that so many new people have been discovering and enjoying our green spaces during this difficult time. However, the increased number of visitors has unfortunately included a minority who spoil the experience for others by leaving their rubbish behind.
This has been a nationwide problem. On 1 June, the BBC reported: “There have been widespread cases of littering at beauty spots and public spaces over the weekend as warm weather coincided with an easing of coronavirus restrictions. Rubbish piled up in areas including Cornwall, Dorset, Birmingham, London and the Peak District.”
Epping Forest, the 15-mile swathe of woodland and heath which helps to make this part of London so special, has not been spared. A number of volunteers already collect litter in Wanstead Park and the Flats, but their efforts were being overwhelmed. To help, the Friends announced monthly litter picks in Wanstead Park, initially from June to September.
The first event was held on 7 June, in collaboration with Epping Forest, which provided trigger-action litter pickers and builders’ bags. It was publicised on social media and we expected about a dozen volunteers. We were astonished when nearly 40 turned up – a measure of public concern about littering. Fortunately, we had erred on the side of safety in terms of providing equipment: most individuals got a litter picker, and most couples got at least one between them! Fanning out across the park, they collected a huge quantity of rubbish.
Although, in an ideal world, they shouldn’t have to do this, a number of our volunteers commented that litter picking is actually quite fun! It’s also satisfying and appreciated by the local people who love and respect our open spaces. As we worked, many said they were grateful for what we were doing.
Littering is, sadly, just part of a spectrum of antisocial behaviour on Epping Forest land. In recent years, fly-tipping has become a major problem, with hundreds of incidents each year. Epping Forest has become a leader in tracking down those responsible, accounting for a significant proportion of prosecutions nationally. Also, despite recent devastating fires on Wanstead Flats, there have been a number of barbecues on Forest land.
Epping Forest keepers need the public to act as their eyes and ears. If you spot any problems in the Forest – fly-tipping, fires, obstructions – please let them know.