The eco-friendly initiatives you can get involved with here in Suffolk

Unclean beaches are one of the biggest threats to Suffolk's local environment

Unclean beaches are one of the biggest threats to Suffolk's local environment - Credit: Getty Images/Image Source

A definite perk of living here in Suffolk is the vast, rolling landscapes we get to enjoy. That, coupled with stunning stretches of coastline located right on our doorstep makes Suffolk one of the most beautiful places in the country. 

It’s more important now than ever to ensure we work together to keep our county – and our wider world – clean. By working together to help prevent pollution and littering, we can keep Suffolk looking and feeling beautiful for years to come.  

One man who understands the importance of keeping our coasts clean is Neil Lister. As countryside projects officer at Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB, he works tirelessly to ensure our fair county is kept looking its best - and one of the initiatives he spearheads is regular beach cleans across the region.  

Neil works with both Beachwatch, and The Great British Beach Clean - two initiatives which focus on surveying and cleaning beaches nationwide.  

Volunteers on a previous beach clean here in Suffolk

Volunteers on a previous beach clean here in Suffolk - Credit: Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB

“We’re basically a local broker for these two national schemes – organised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) - and we coordinate activities as appropriate across the whole length of the Suffolk coast, and the estuaries as well.” 

Throughout the year, there are regular cleans, and this month will see the return of the Great British Beach Clean. Taking place between Friday September 17 and Sunday September 26, volunteers across the country gather to clean a 100m stretch of beach of all rubbish.  


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The information collected is then passed on to International Coastal Clean-up for further research and conservation efforts.  

“All of this is really important in terms of both national and international action for the environment, and we’re pleased to be able to be the coordinator for the Suffolk coast,” adds Neil. 

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Findings from previous beach cleans have led to a number of positive environmental changes, including the introduction of the plastic bag charge, a ban on microplastics in personal care products, better wet wipe labelling, and a tax on single-use plastic items. 

Microplastics and plastic fragments are not only an eyesore, they're a danger to the local flora and fauna

Microplastics and plastic fragments are not only an eyesore, they're also a danger to the local flora and fauna - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Last year’s Great British Beach Clean saw on average 425 litter items found per 100m of beach surveyed. 30% of beach cleans found face masks and PPE - but there was a 55% drop in plastic bags found on British beaches since the 5p charge was introduced.  

“Sadly, plastic takes hundreds of years to disappear completely, so what it does in the meantime is break down into smaller fragments,” explains Neil. 

Over time, these fragments turn into microplastics that not online pollute the world’s bodies of water, but pose a threat to wildlife as they are consumed by species such as fish, crustaceans and seabirds.  

“What we find during our cleans tends to mostly be various plastics, polystyrene, and even small bits of metal.” 

According to Neil, some of the most common pieces of debris retrieved from local beaches include crisp packets, sweet wrappers, toiletry bottles and containers, fragments of plastic rope, and plastic cotton buds. “There’s still a legacy of plastic cotton buds, even though a lot of manufacturers have switched over to paper ones.” 

Once the rubbish has been collected, a small portion of it is taken by organisations who have the facilities and resources to separate and recycle some of it – but unfortunately this isn’t the case for most of the litter. “Sadly, there’s no overall systematic approach to recycling, and while it is good to get the debris off the beaches, not all of it can be recycled right now.” 

On Friday September 24, Neil and his team will clean up the stretch of coast at East Lane, Bawdsey. For anyone who wishes to help keep Suffolk’s coasts and estuaries clean and free from rubbish, there are a number of ways to get involved this month and beyond. 

“If people wish to organise a clean themselves and act as a point of contact, the best thing to do is to visit the MCS website. All of the guidance can be found on there if you want to set up a clean-up for the Great British Beach Clean. You will also be able to see which stretches of coast already have clean-ups organised. However, if organising a clean-up is too time-consuming, you can see on the website what cleans are taking place and apply to join a team through that. 

“It’s really important that we save our beaches and estuaries, as they’re special places. Thousands of people enjoy them for all sorts of reasons – whether that be recreational, or for the health benefits they provide. People find it uplifting visiting these places, and it’s deflating if you find litter on an otherwise fantastic beach. It’s crucial people take an interest in conservation, and make an effort in protecting our landscapes.” 

Further inland is Gale Pryor, a Suffolk resident who has spent the last couple of years working with local group Hadleigh Environmental Action Team (HEAT). 

HEAT is an active community group with over 60 members that holds monthly meetings in regards to the ongoing climate and ecological crisis. Its current projects are designed to engage the local community in environmental action, and there a number that you can get involved in - whether you live in Hadleigh or not.  

The team of volunteers at HEAT on a litter pick

The team of volunteers at HEAT on a litter pick - Credit: HEAT/Gale Pryor

One of the group’s current projects is a series of tree plantings. Back in December, members of the group planted 200 trees and hedging plants in the new cemetery extension in Hadleigh. 

Tree planting is an incredibly important tool in the fight against climate change, as trees help offset carbon emissions.  

Woods and forests absorb the atmosphere’s carbon, locking it up for centuries through photosynthesis. According to The Woodland Trust, the average person in the UK is responsible for five and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.  

“We’re also working on an initiative in Babergh, as we’re hoping to get more trees and hedgings planted this autumn and winter in both public spaces and private gardens,” Gale explains.  

“We’re hoping people who live near any of the newly-planted trees keep an eye on them, and ensure they’re watered in dry periods. If people have one near them, they should watch over it – whether it’s in Hadleigh or further afield.” 

Alongside tree planting, the volunteers at HEAT have been spending their time working on an organic allotment, in order to demonstrate sustainable and regenerative gardening to the local community.  

HEAT on a river dipping day

HEAT on a river dipping day - Credit: HEAT/Gale Pryor

“The thought of looking after an allotment is quite daunting for a lot of people, or maybe people don’t have their own, but want to get involved somehow - so our volunteers get together and help people learn about local growing, and those involved can enjoy a share of the produce.” 

Sourcing food from an allotment is a great way to help minimise your carbon footprint, as it reduces the number of food miles that goes into your grocery shop.  

Much like Neil, Gale and her team are also focussed on ridding the local area of unnecessary, single-use plastics, and have established an initiative called Plastic Free Hadleigh.  

“We were inspired after a group in Manningtree called Practical Actions for Climate and Environment (PACE) set up a plastic-free scheme in its town. The aim is to recruit businesses, orgainsations, clubs and societies in your local area to commit to reducing plastic waste.” 

Tree and hedge planting is one the best ways you can help offset carbon emissions in your local area

Tree and hedge planting is one the best ways you can help offset carbon emissions in your local area - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Originally set up by Surfers Against Sewage, the national initiative sends you everything you need. So far, we’ve recruited six businesses, which is the first step. Next, we plan to get in touch with local clubs and venues to see if they’d be interested in cutting down their single-use plastics.” 

Other projects HEAT has worked on include regularly monitoring the health of the River Brett alongside the Environmental Agency, and creating and installing over 80 swift boxes across the town to help boost the bird’s population. “We’ve also been busy clearing up Himalayan balsam, which is an invasive species that goes all along the river and needs to be pulled out, so we have a group regularly working on that.” 

With more projects in the pipeline, Gale is incredibly excited to see more people taking a keen interest in local environmental issues.   

“We’re so pleased with people’s involvement and enthusiasm - we’re just about to start a volunteer group with Babergh council, helping out the nature warden once a week in some of the reserves as they only have so many staff.” 

Stressing how important it is to get involved with local environmental initiatives, Gale adds: “There’s a biodiversity crisis, alongside global warming, and it’s crucial we work together to do what we can in our local areas, no matter how small of a task. I think there’s a lot of anxiety about what’s going on right now - but doing something practical with likeminded people can be empowering, and helps address a lot of our ecological concerns.” 

For anyone wishing to become more environmentally active in their local area, Gale suggests finding a local group to get involved with.  

Or, failing that, starting up one yourself.  

“These things come from the ground up. If you can’t find a group and wish to start one where you live, get in touch with us and we can certainly help. We’re all about sharing and enabling other people to do something similar, even if you don’t live in our area.” 

To find out more about Hadleigh Environmental Action Team, email hadleigh.heat@hotmail.com 

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