IT sounds counter-intuitive almost to the point of bonkers – one of our local councils is removing all litter bins from one of its most spectacular beauty spots, in order to reduce the amount of litter left by visitors.
But there is a real method in South Somerset District Council’s apparent madness. Last summer, the district’s rangers were horrified at the amount of rubbish left at Ham Hill, the countryside park around an Iron Age hillfort, overlooking the west of the county towards Devon.
Rubbish was found strewn across the grass in popular picnic areas as litter bins were full to capacity and items left on the floor beside bins. This spoiled the appearance and the enjoyment of visitors and attracted wildlife to the bins to scavenge for food, creating more of a mess for volunteers and rangers to clear away.
The litter included food and alcohol, wrappers, bags, plastic bottles, cans and high-risk items such as broken glass and hot coals. The rubbish not only damaged Ham Hill’s grasslands but also had the potential to harm wildlife through ingestion or injury, and were a risk to humans.
The decision to remove litter bins from across the site and encourage visitors to take their rubbish home with them for recycling follows research into the results of this policy in other countryside parks, and the reaction of local people and visitors when the idea was first discussed in South Somerset last year.
Katy Menday, the council’s leisure and recreation manager, says: “Last year when the idea of removing the litter bins was discussed, we received a mixed reaction from the public. Following that, the countryside team has completed varied research and visited other sites like Moors Valley Country Park [near Ringwood] where there are no litter bins on site and found that litter is not such an issue because visitors take it home.
“We now want to instil the same ethos at Ham Hill to avoid a repeat of the litter problem that rangers were faced with in 2018. Too much time was spent cleaning the site rather than focussing on conservation management for wildlife or developing projects like the new woodland play area for families.”
The council has tried many different approaches to deal with the Ham Hill litter problem, including installing more bins, increasing the frequency of bin emptying and increasing the amount of litter picking. Now the radical decision to remove the litter bins has been taken after extensive discussions with other greenspace professionals.
The fact is that – like a lot of the rubbish put out for collection by the waste disposal teams – much of the rubbish left behind at Ham Hill can be recycled. Removing the litter bins will also encourage visitors to recycle more, whilst tackling the issue of litter being left on site.
When the idea to remove the bins was first suggested in 2018, it was supported by some visitors, who left comments on Ham Hill’s Facebook page. One wrote: “Leaving the rubbish for the rangers to deal with means that it doesn’t get recycled” and another said: “We need to start taking responsibility for our own rubbish. If you brought it with you, take it home.”
Recycling rates should improve because at present the number of bins and volume of rubbish has meant that none of the litter collected from Ham Hill Country Park is recycled.
In 2018, thanks to a grant to the Friends of Ham Hill from the Avon and Somerset Police Commissioners Community Action Fund, CCTV was installed on the rangers centre at Ham Hill to help deter car crime, livestock theft and anti-social behaviour on site. Reported incidences of car crime have been reduced since the CCTV was installed and now the CCTV includes coverage of the busy picnic area to help deter anti-social behaviour in this popular picnic spot.
Many of us who are lucky to live in this beautiful area and enjoy the fabulous coast paths, the beaches, the hills, chalk downs, Levels and Moors, woodlands and country walks are scrupulous in taking our rubbish back home with us to recycle.
The message is simple – as they say in the US National Parks, “pack it in, pack it out.” And to that, we should add, use as little plastic as possible and make as little waste as you can – and take it home with you.