A littered landscape in an area of outstanding natural beauty

The view from Maugersbury, Gloucestershire.

Photo by Ellie Lewis, University of Cardiff.

Note: Sundial Thoughts content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial team or other contributors.

For decades littering has been a hidden pandemic, often overlooked in plain sight, and this past year it has reached a new level of severity. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a space, often located in the British countryside, that has been designated for conservation due to its significant landscape value and often to protect its natural beauty. Nevertheless, these pristine, beautiful and valuable areas are the latest victims of the littering pandemic. Throughout this piece are quotes from young people on how they feel about the nature they grew up in being ruined by litter.

“Sad. Childhoods have been ruined because children cannot go outside and have the advantages that I had, spending time with friends in a clean green open space.”–  Izaak Wyatt-Buchan, 14, from Maugersbury

Where I call home, Gloucestershire, has always been recognised for its beauty. Strangers I describe it to have always been in awe of the landscape, the wildlife, the tranquility. Now, the once vibrant fields, trees and pathways are riddled with disregarded plastic, cans and boxes. Much of the litter is too far out to have been blown by the wind and must have been disposed of by the knowing human hand. 

Litter filled hedges in Upper Rissington. The polystyrene is the obvious culprit but looking closer it is possible to see bottle lids, paper straws, small squares of plastic. 

Photo by Izzy Markham, Hartpury university  

I began feeling angry and frustrated when noticing hedges full of discarded cider bottles, decades-old plastic bags from Tesco and empty cigarette boxes. Yet, the more litter I saw, the more my anger dissipated into despair, and in a sense, grief. For a long time, I thought it was silly to feel this way about litter – until I realised how it reflects the complete disrespect humanity has for the environment in which it lives, and takes for granted. 

“You become more aware of the realities of the world by seeing the lack of care about places you previously thought were unproblematic. If people don’t care about the environment do they really care about the people in it?” – Lucy Lockyear, 17, Upper Rissington

“It makes me feel really disgusted to know that other humans have ruined something that was so beautiful and nothing to do with them. Especially seeing it time and time again, it gets exhausting and feels like there’s nothing I can do to help because they’ll just ruin everywhere else even if I did fix that one area” – Meg Ponting, 16, Upper Rissington

Growing up in the countryside, I, like many others, spent a lot of time outdoors. Climbing trees, riding bikes and playing in the park were a significant part of my childhood. During these endeavours, I remember repeatedly being told to put my rubbish in the bin, or at least take it home with me. Back then, I do not recall the ground being covered in litter, albeit the occasional rogue plastic bag drifting in the air. 

I do not understand how littering has gotten this bad, especially in the COVID-19 lockdowns when being in nature was a luxury and should have opened people’s eyes to its beauty. For example, in Stow-on-the-Wold, the supposed ‘heart of the cotswolds’, human disregard and littering reached a new level when, earlier this year, police released warnings that people were throwing battery-filled tennis balls into horsefields, with intent of harm. 

A horse field, located in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Photo by Ellie Lewis, University of Cardiff.

It is perplexing because the solution is so simple. There are bins all around for people to use – but their negligence has led to plastics buried deep in the ground. What could have been easily solved is now extremely complicated.

“It’s just disappointing the countryside can look so beautiful when left alone, and all it takes is for people to find a bin and to use it. That’s such a small ask, but people litter anyway just because they’re lazy.” – Tom Westmacott, 19, Bourton on the Water.

“It is frustrating to see the increased amount of litter on the roadside as you drive past, especially on the fosseway. It was never this bad when I was younger, as you could imagine looking out the window as a passenger – I definitely would have noticed. The bushes are now covered in litter and it is becoming more noticable and more of a problem.” – Matthew Hoole-Jackson, 20, Northleach

Recently, I took it upon myself to pick litter with a friend in Maugersbury and Stow, thinking the experience would be reassuring, rewarding and constructive for the environment. It was extraordinarily eye-opening, revealing the true depths of this litter crisis. No matter how many pieces of plastic, cardboard and foil we picked up, there was always more; even deep in the ground where we did not have the strength to pull them out. In one instance, a flower bloomed through a coca-cola bottle. It was a bittersweet sight: something so beautiful growing somewhere so dark. We must take responsibility for our landscapes, our rubbish and our future. It simply cannot go on like this. 

“On recent litter picks we were disappointed to find decades-old Tesco bags half-buried in the ground in the local allotment, vodka bottles near the children’s play park and sweet wrappers in the graveyard. The lack of respect for the environment at a time we should all be working to protect it, and the dramatic impacts this will have on local ecosystems and the future of our planet, is greatly disturbing.” – Ellie Lewis, 19, Stow-On-The-Wold

“It feels very demoralising to see perfectly fine habitats and animals being ruined by reckless humans”. – William Lewis, 15, Stow-On-The-Wold.

When experiencing sensations of sadness, anxiety and grief associated with our changing climate, whether due to an increase in litter or even wildfires, it is important to know that you are not alone. Often termed as eco-anxiety, these feelings are an important step in understanding the effects of climate change and coming to terms with the uncertain future of our landscapes. It is a natural way to cope and a healthy response to the challenges we are facing. Channel your eco-anxiety into determination. Take action and fight for positive change. 

If you are feeling, or have felt, what seems like eco-anxiety, the first thing to know is that you are far from alone. I definitely feel it too. When you are feeling eco-anxious

  • Acknowledge your feelings as reasonable and valid.
  • Speak out to your friends and family about how you feel.
  • Join an activist group and work towards tangible solutions.
  • Never underestimate the power of your voice in taking action. 

Oh, and please, put your rubbish in the bin.

Article by Summer Wyatt-Buchan