Quantity of fly-tipped waste in small section of Leighton Buzzard river shocks environmentalists

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Lorry tyre, shopping trolleys and baskets, traffic cone, carpet among hundreds of items found in Ouzel

Horrified volunteers say they were dismayed by the volume of litter found when they mounted a clear-up operation on a section of river in Leighton Buzzard.

South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth in partnership the Greensand Trust, Central Bedfordshire Council and the Environment Agency helped wildlife and removed litter from the River Ouzel next to Riverside Walk earlier this month.

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Greensand Trust volunteers took the litter and flytipping out of the river on August 3, and did maintenance work on deflectors which help support fish and invertebrates. Central Bedfordshire Council cut back some of the willow.

Volunteers with the recovered wasteVolunteers with the recovered waste
Volunteers with the recovered waste

South Beds Friends of the Earth then collated data on the litter and flytipping that had been collected to contribute to a larger study being coordinated by the Rivers Trust on plastic pollution in the English Channel from the Great Ouse catchment and other river systems (see here for more details).

The FoE volunteers catalogued and weighed all the items collected, except for a lorry tyre that was so big it couldn't be weighed on the scales!

In total 65kgs of litter was collected, including 39 plastic bottles, 56 crisp packets and sweet wrappers, 15 plastic cups, and 162 other plastic items. There was a new item of plastic litter not found before on previous clear-up operations... part of a Covid test kit.

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As well as the plastic, there were 77 drinks cans and 27 glass bottles. Apart from the 65 kg of litter and the huge tyre, there were also a number of larger flytipped items including six shopping trolleys, two plastic shopping baskets, a traffic cone and carpet.

Gill King, of South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth said: "We are dismayed at the large amount of plastic found in a short length of the Ouzel in Leighton Buzzard. Some of it will end up in the North Sea; some of it will be encountered or taken in by fish, mammals and other river-dwelling organisms before it reaches the sea. All the plastic bottles, as well as the cans and glass bottles could have been recycled. Plastic stays in the environment for ages, threatening wildlife and spreading toxins."

Friends of the Earth nationally are calling for a new law on plastic pollution that - phases out non-essential single-use plastics now; commits to tackling trickier plastics, like in clothes and car tyres, as soon as possible; and maintains quality of life for people who need plastics, without causing worse environmental problems.

South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth is an entirely voluntary group of local residents working in partnership with national Friends of the Earth to encourage both councils and government to improve the environment. It also takes practical actions locally to help the environment.

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The Greensand Trust with the support of the Environment Agency a few years ago installed natural deflectors in the stretch of the Ouzel by Riverside Walk to give the river a more natural flow as opposed to the man-made straight channel that presently exists. The action of the river as it passes around the deflectors exposes the gravel bed on one side which is good for fish while building up the sand/silt levels on the other.