Two Girls Go Wild in Suffolk: Rubbish Walks on our county's coast
PUBLISHED: 12:12 25 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:12 25 April 2019
Sarah Lucy Brown
Naomi and Sarah meet Jason Alexander, a man fighting to eradicate a blot on Suffolk's wild landscape | Words: Naomi Gornall - Photos: Sarah Lucy Brown
Our beautiful county is in danger of being ruined by an ugly blemish. Whether it is discarded on the land or washed up on the shores, litter is like a stain on humanity, and sadly, Suffolk is not exempt.
Its presence has not only catastrophic effects on the environment, it also harms our general wellbeing and robs us of our pride of place.
One man who is on a mission to turn the tide on this is Jason Alexander. Just over a year ago, Jason launched Rubbish Walks, now a social enterprise company, and thanks to his daily posts on social media to highlight the problem, and his ever-increasing media profile, he is becoming Suffolk's real-life Womble.
When I went with my photographer friend, Sarah, to Thorpeness beach for a swim a few months ago, as part of Two Girls Go Wild in Suffolk, we were aghast at how much litter there was at low tide.
From fishing ropes to bits of plastic and even a crabbing bucket which had floated all the way from Devon, the waste seemed to spread across the sand like an angry rash. Without a litter pick, gloves or a bag, we tried to remove as much as we could but it didn't seem to make a dent. We left, vowing to take action.
We contacted Jason, who enthusiastically agreed to take us on one of his walks. We met at the East Lane car park at Bawdsey and he led us on a path to one of the most stunning wild beaches I have seen in this part of the world.
We reached a small hill overlooking the beach and stopped to stare in wonderment. The sun was still creeping up, hiding behind dramatic clouds, and the tide was out, exposing a vast stretch of apparently treacherous rocks.
But with a specific job to do, we stopped taking photos, left the scenery behind and each took a litter picker before heading down to the beach. It was only on closer inspection as we approached the tide line, that we saw the extent of the problem.
Plastic and other materials gleamed in the shingle like pieces of worthless jewellery. It was shocking. Such a naturally beautiful beach, in danger of being ruined by our wasteful, disposable culture.
The first thing you notice about Jason is how passionate he is about the cause. He first began to get interested in clearing litter in 2014 during his year-long personal challenge to photograph 100 sunsets.
Often, he would arrive at beaches to capture the start of the day but then noticed how much waste was being washed up. So he began get rid of it. “It soon became an integral part of my routine,” he says.
He started to post on social media about his findings and as he gained more engagement and interest, in 2018 he set up Rubbish Walks. Since then his campaign has gone from strength to strength, and his enthusiasm never seems to wane, with many exciting projects and collaborations on the go.
“I like to think that one day I might be a grandparent and my grandchildren will be able to say, my grandad was part of the solution not the problem.”
Jason has seen his fair share of unusual and disturbingly old bits of rubbish, from drink cans more than 30 years old, dozens of Smarties caps, messages in bottles, and live shotgun cartridges.
We were surprised to hear it's not all from the sea. In the sandbanks were reams of rubbish, a hangover from days gone by when people used to bury their rubbish. Erosion is making the bank more exposed and the litter has started to fall onto the beach – and into the ocean.
We all pitched in, silently grabbing as much as we could. Chunks of polystyrene, a plastic petrol container, straws, a tennis ball. As our sacks became heavy, we decided to call it a day, but my heart sank when I saw the amount of litter that was still left behind. We hadn't scratched the surface.
Jason agreed it can be depressing. “It's heartbreaking to leave rubbish,” he says, “but the things you've cleared up today would still be here if you hadn't made that effort. I will come back again and do a bit every time.”
Raising awareness of the global issues is important but Jason wants to make it relevant for the local community too, and to show how all our actions have an effect on the environment.
He once found a dead gannet with a balloon ribbon wrapped around its neck in Bawdsey and posted it on social media to highlight the problem.
“As individuals we have the power to make an impact on the planet with what we chose to do in our daily lives. We can choose to use less plastic, we can choose what companies we buy products from, and therefore affect their profits, and we have the power to dictate politics with exercising our right to vote.”
As we finished our walk, we spotted some people searching for fossil, amber and prehistoric sharks' teeth.
We scanned the shingle furiously for any treasures, but they remained elusive. Unfortunately less elusive was the amount of rubbish we had come across.
As 2019 is the Year of Green Action and the year we began our wild project, Sarah and I have made a pledge to do a two-minute beach clean every time we go to the coast for one of our features.
After all, it's the little changes that add up to something big.
If you know any secret wild spots in Suffolk, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'd love to hear from you. Also tag us on Instagram (@twogirlsgowildinsuffolk) if you are out and about being wild in Suffolk.
Jason is juggling several projects under the badge of 'my plastic promise'. Alongside regular 'rubbish walks' – anyone is welcome to turn up – he is working with a young people's charity to raise awareness, visiting schools, launching a campaign to stop mass balloon releases, and creating an Ipswich litter picking group.
He aims to collect 1 million cigarette butts on his walks, has met with a water company about the problem of discarded wet wipes and is in talks with councils, businesses and other organisations to gain support.
His next big project is to make Ipswich a 'plastic-free community' through the Surfers Against Sewers accreditation scheme. “It sounds cheesy but my aim is to make this world a better place.”