Last Friday, BMC Access Officer Tom Carrick attended the State of Our Trails Summit, hosted by Trash Free Trails at Plas Y Brenin. This is the third year in a row that this summit has run and nearly 100 participants joined the summit representing a huge host of organisations across the UK.
They are riders, runners and roamers, but everyone is welcome, they are individuals looking to make a positive impact amongst a community. Their mission is to (re)connect people with nature through the simple yet meaningful act of removing single-use pollution from wild places.
What was the State of our Trails Summit?
The Summit was a jam-packed couple of days, hosted by Plas Y Brenin in the heart of Eryri (Snowdonia). The two days were filled with a mixture of outdoor engagements and indoor discussions and presentations. The 'State of our Trails' report, based around research supported by data collected by volunteers and analysed by experts based at Bangor university, was previewed. The full report will be released in the coming months, however, we were treated to a range of discussions and presentations based around some of their findings.
Here is a brief summary of the story they have painted over the past 4 years.
4,523 people spent 51,208 minutes cleaning 11,771km trails and wild spaces in 350 locations worldwide
One of the key learning points from the summit was the overall impact that litter-picking is having on reducing the creation of single use pollution (SUP): essentially no impact. However, the data gained from volunteer hours spent collecting SUP is enabling Trash Free Trails to make connections between brands and where the pollution is found. One example was of what's happening on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon): within the first five minutes of walking, most of the SUP was coffee cups and cereal bar wrappers. At view points, snack bar wrappers and cigarette butts were the theme. On many of the trails, the most common brand culprits found were Lucozade, Red Bull and Coca Cola. Not only is the research showing where interventions need to happen, but it also shows which brands can have the most influence in those interventions.
An important element of the research is that the data is accessible and that it shows the human interaction with the data. Every bit of rubbish that is removed equates to time spent on the trails, the emotions that have changed due to that experience and, in some cases, interactions with animals that were often negitively effected by the rubbish are reported.
One of the most stark learning points from the day was the impact of the blame culture that we as outdoor users have developed around being angry or disappointed at others who have discarded plastics or other pollution into our trails and wild spaces. It's simple to say that discarding SUP is bad, but why is there little or no onus on the manufacturer? Millions of new plastic bottles are produced every day, but there is also no warning on the labels about how toxic SUP can be, its effects on the environment nor about its effects on us. Microplastics have been found in soil samples, snow samples and even detected in our bloodstream. It took years of research to swap out health advertisements on cigarette packets to eventually show the true effects of smoking, and the research Trash Free Trails is working on will hopefully lead to a similar change enacted upon in government and by impacting brands.
Trash Free Trails is promoting purposeful adventure - adventure that not only sustains us, but also gives something back to the world in simple but meaningful ways. We have all heard of Leave No Trace, but what if we all sought to leave a positive trace? Something as simple as picking up pollution on your walks, rides or runs, or travelling via public transport, connecting closer with nature through mindfulness. If we gain a closer connection with a place then the more we will care about it.
The Summit this September was filled with positive attitudes and groups, people and communities looking to make a positive change. The full report will come out in the coming months and in the meantime, one of the best things you can do to get involved, is to head out and connect with your local trails and outdoor spaces. And if you go one step further and do a clean up whilst you're out, why not record it and contribute to the vital data:
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